“You, my Father, There on that Sad Height…”

The greatest gift I could give my husband right now would be to love his father. In the nearly 1/4 century of our marriage, I have never really bonded with my in-laws. Particularly not with Grandpa. I resented the way he treated my children–though I grant they could often try anyone’s patience. Grandpa was sharp, particularly with my oldest son. There were times I wanted to make a statement, remove my son from the harshness, and say that we wouldn’t be coming back. I never did, at least not verbally. But I quietly withdrew. And I understood why my son reached a point where he simply refused to visit Grandpa.
Today, Grandpa is dying. My son went to visit him in the hospital, and wrote this poem. It’s wonderful to receive good instruction from my own child. Here is what he wrote:

Of Confession, Retreat, Love, Anger, Pain, Life, Death, and Acceptance

For him, time ticks slowly backwards,
retreating into his first infancy.
Much like from the womb — sparse hair,
a plump and frail body,
eyes dazzled by the slightest light.
Ticking backwards, in preparation
for retreat into the womb of earth.

Lucid, but with eyes strained against drowsiness.
Incoherent as he tries to speak,
lips and tongue straining to form words
against the weight of age and morphine.

On arrival, I lean down to give a gentle hug,
putting no weight into it. Only a light touch.
I am worried by looking at the bruises,
all down his arm where they check his pulse,
all down his legs from a single fall.

I watch the procession of people,
who look at him with pity, and most say
“How sad” and “poor thing,”
and I wonder if those are the right words.
His sons and daughters reminisce,
standing around his table-bed.

A pretty young nurse comes in,
and says, in a loud voice, to all of us,
that she needs to check his vitals.
She must be used to speaking to the near-deaf.
I sit back and look at his labored breathing.

A man comes in with two needles.
He scans a bar-code on them.
He scans a bar-code on the blue bracelet
on his wrist. Taking inventory.
“Have you decided what you’re doing
from here?”
“Hospice care.”

I stare at his face.
The sunken cheeks, and a vein that
bulges along his right cheek.
Oh, father of my father.
Retreating backwards in time.
Retreating to find a lost wife
and two daughters.
Oh, blood of my blood,

Eventually, my father turns to me.
“Would you like some time alone with him?”
I nod. A half-dozen people leave.
I stand slowly. I walk to the side of this table-bed.
I, the orator, have no words.

“I love you,” I say.
A clumsy start.
He’s mouthing words that I can’t understand.
“I’m sorry I can’t understand.”
He breathes heavy.
“Are you in pain? Are you having any trouble breathing?”
He shakes his head.
I grasp his left shoulder. I look into his squinting eyes.
“I love you. I do.” I’m trying to express it better. I fail.
I gently stroke his head.
There is silence for a while, as I try to comfort him
with clumsy clenches at his hands
and strokes of his wispy hair.

Now I’m mouthing words against a weight.
“This particular life hasn’t been easy for you, has it?”
He says nothing, but he looks at me.
“You are loved by so many. I bet that’s good to see.”
Such juvenile words.
“I love you. I do.”

There is silence again. He mumbles, and I lean in to understand.
He’s saying it’s okay for the others to come back in.
I nod. I retrieve them. I take back seat,
and look at his heavy breathing.
Oh, father of my father.
Blood of my blood. Retreating.
Did you understand what I was saying?

I forgive you. My lips could not form these words.
I did not know if you would understand if they had.
I forgive you. I love you. I understand.
That this life, for all your effort,
would treat you so unfairly.
That wars and betrayals and chains
would have you so angry.
That there would be so little equity in this universe.
That sometimes anger needed an outlet.
I forgive you. I understand. I love you. I do.

Oh father of my father.
Blood of my blood.
I see your anger in my blood.
I have known my own betrayals.
I have felt the cold hand of the universe.
I know that whatever happens now for you,
will be a relief.
I hope you find your lost wife, and two daughters.
I hope you find your peace and your justice.
Oh, father of my father,
blood of my blood,

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  1. Margaret Young says:

    Sorry for the typos in the title. I’ve tried to edit it, and know my fellow permas will likely do it for me, because I’m quite a lost cause when it comes to technical things with blogging. The blog title should read “You My Father there on that Sad Height…” which is from Dylan Thomas’s “Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night”–thankfully, a piece more familiar to most readers than _Twilight_.

  2. Beautiful Margaret. Thanks for sharing this gift from your son.

  3. Natalie B. says:

    Wow, that’s moving. What a talented son you have.

  4. Thanks to you and your son for sharing this with us. It was very touching.

  5. My father-in-law, as my son’s poem indicates, did suffer a serious betrayal as a young man–something he never fully recovered from. (In fact, he left instructions that that event not be mentioned in his obituary.) I think he thought himself not really loveable. Often people with that kind of self view manage to create proofs of its validity. I wonder how long it will take him to believe in the love he will experience after death. I absolutely believe that we are encircled in love after we die. I don’t know if we are always able to accept it. Maybe that’s part of what the post-mortal missionary work will involve.

  6. This is beautiful and moving, Margaret. Thank you.

  7. What an amazing gift.

  8. My thanks also for the timing of sharing this poem couldn’t have been better. My father passed away in the mid-90’s and I have been having to deal with my mother who’s now in her late 80’s (and still living on her own). Her “cross” has not been the harsh tongue but the inability to control her spending and as a result, coming to me or my sister for “loans” that will never be repaid. yet, that’s been the pattern of her life since I can remember and there is many a time when I am amazed my father endured it all….
    But this poem reminds me (having recently just given another “loan” to my mom) of what I should not only remember but focus on…..
    And for that, I am truly thankful….

  9. Jennie Hale says:

    Thank you for this. It was very moving, and as I mourn my own Father, and witness my complex Mother’s ‘retreat’, your phrasing and sentiment have really helped me think, and put me in a better mind frame…Much needed, and appreciated.

  10. Donna Wilson says:

    Although my connection to the Wilson/Young family is through marriage and only for the past 35 years, I am quite astonished that many of my perceptions about Uncle Daren
    are mirrored in this moving poem. I am struck by the imagery and I feel as though I were in the room with your son. I believe he accomplished the beginning of the healing moment they each needed and there is a great deal of peace in that. To be able to capture this moment in such an
    extraordinary poem is both a gift and a blessing. Thank you.

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