The Night My Dad Died

Sunrise againI have been writing a poem about the night my dad died. It was a very special night for me, a moment that has shaped my going forward, a moment so powerfully about resurrection I have never been the same. I thought it might be appropriate to send this out over the blog waves on this Dad’s Day Weekend. I hope you find it meaningful.

This poem is about the deepest experience I have ever had of resurrection. Sitting there alone in that barren room, I suddenly, deeply, could not imagine this life had suddenly unraveled into nothing. Of course in one’s grief of that moment, it would be easy to deny any ongoingness. How could we ever know this life was resurrected, that my dad was enjoying singing?

Well, I knew. I knew beyond grief. I knew beyond understanding. It was about singing and light and comfort. It was about a life—created in precious love, sustained through turmoil—now come to rest in the comfort of singing. Yes, I knew.

I hope you enjoy this poem. I hope you then think about your own fathers, about how their stories shape your life, about how there is singing out ahead for all of us. 

Here is my poem:

 

The Night My Dad Died

Mary Magdalene: “I have seen the Lord!”

 

The night my dad died I sat on a plastic chair

next to the dead body. There was only the bed,

a few hard chairs, and the two of us in that room.

No pictures of the desert in bloom. This was the house

where the worn and weary come to die.

 

Earlier that night I talked to him. My plane was late.

My brothers and sister and spouses and all the children

had made their pilgrimage. When we arrived

he must have said, “all my children have come now,”

before fading deeper into his own special darkness.

I could see his eyelids flutter slightly as we talked.

The nurse told us he could hear us, and so we told him

his legacy will linger long, for his children,

for our children, even our children’s children,

and for all the people who were swept

into his stern, severe drama. We told him

there was always the story, the story of how

he created something out of nothing, the story

that lingers in all the days of our lives.

 

Sitting alone later with the body, I glanced

shyly across his withered arms. They flopped out

over the covers in meaningless restfulness.

What will happen, I began to think, to all those hours

hunched over his precious Bible, so caught up

in rapt attention to the unfolding drama? How about

the holy, mystic prayer? What about the yearnings,

the few complete joys, always the driving dream

to rise above the hard hovel of his childhood?

I thought about an old baseball unraveling

in the relentless sun, feeding finally

only the eucalyptus trees.

 

It was then I began to hear the singing: “Precious

Lord, take my hand, lead me on, let me stand.”

I looked around the room. “I am tired, I am weak,

I am worn. Through the storm, through the night,

lead me on to the light, take my hand

precious Lord, lead me home.”

 

When the men came to take the body,

I walked out into an early sun, now spreading

out over the desert floor. The mesquite still glistened

with dew. Mourning doves sang their old

plaintive song. I thought about my dad singing.

I thought about his hands, those mysteriously strong hands,

holding the hand of God. He always knew it would come

to this. He always knew there was a way home.

He knew one day there would be singing. He knew

one day the reasons would be clear, a wistful song

would give way to gladness and comfort and singing.