3 Poems for My Father On the 9th Anniversary of His Passing

I had hoped that this New Year's Day would be different---that the specter of Death would not haunt me. But the news of two stars' deaths---Wayne Rogers, the handsome actor of my father's generation, and Natalie Cole, the smooth and sassy singer of my generation---have pulled me back in time. The pain of of loss does fade over time, but the memories continue.... [NOTE: The dates mark when the poems were written. These three poems are from my privately  published collection of poems, "Mo(u)rning Songs."]


The Slow Death

April 8, 2008

He took early retirement



from Soc. Sec. Adm.

in 1985,

believing his heart–

not diabetes–

would soon kill him.

The first stroke

occurred in 1996.

He was looking

at himself

in the bathroom mirror.

Saw his mouth


Called out

to his wife,

“Dot, I think

I’m having a stroke.”


His wife rushed him

to his doctor’s office.

It was a Friday;

few hospital doctors

would be on call

over the weekend.

So his doctor

sent him home

with aspirin

and told the wife

to keep an eye on him.


In time, he recovered.

But the light fixture

he’d been repairing

was left


No more household handyman.


Then came

the second stroke,

leaving him weak

on one side,

forcing him to walk

with a cane.

His face drooped again,

more noticeably

when he smiled.

No more family chauffeur.


In 2001, on Christmas Eve,

his kidneys suddenly failed.

He nearly died.

But dialysis rallied him,

and he soon adapted

to life

ruled by machines.


The next stroke,

in 2003,

left him unable

to care for himself.

His family urged him on

as he relearned to walk–

this time with a walker,

to dress himself,

regain clear speech,

cook safely.


He moved downstairs,

sleeping each night

on the living room couch.

His wife kept the bedroom



Furniture was moved around

for easier access;

his easy chair was raised

for easier sitting/standing.

He learned to maneuver,

carrying food or drink

in one hand,

while pushing the walker

with the other.


A folded wheelchair was kept

in a corner,

just in case.


After several years,

the wife,

plagued by arthritic hips,

moved the bedroom


They slept together again.


TIAs and full-out strokes

continued to hit him,

as did diabetic neuropathy

and retinopathy,

vascular problems,


high blood pressure,

mild dementia.


He still managed to enjoy life,

his humor intact.

He read the newspapers daily,

talked politics and current events,

played computer games

and pinochle,

watched tv,

constantly changing channels

with the remote.


Short family trips

to Silver Spring

or Richmond

or Randallstown

were fun diversions

from the work of staying alive

on dialysis.


Not even falls

or incontinence

or bleeding

from the shunt in his arm

or myriad trips to the hospital

for stomach ailments,

erratic blood pressure,

or the other ravages

of all his diseases

deterred him.

Though he would sometimes

tell his grandson,

“Don’t get old….

Don’t get diabetes.”

And to anyone else in earshot,

“I don’t know

how much longer

I’ll be here….”


Nothing deterred him.


Until the fateful October day

in 2006,

when a simple breakfast

of bacon and eggs

turned him

into a human inferno.


His pajama sleeve

brushed an open flame

on the stove,

torching his right arm.


He had the presence of mind

to douse himself

in the kitchen sink water.


Only then did he call out,


to his wife,

“Dot, I need help.”


Rushed to the hospital

by car,

he insisted on

eating his breakfast sandwich

on the way.


In shock,

he joked with the nurses

and carried on conversations,

as if nothing was wrong.


Transferred to Bayview Burn Center,

where skin grafts were performed.

The skin grafts did not take.


He was sometimes lucid,

but more often semiconscious

and, unable to breathe

on his own

after a lung collapse,

he was placed on a breathing machine.


Weeks turned into months.

The family kept trying to reach him,

talking and touching

and marking the passage of time.

The mention of Halloween

and Thanksgiving

roused him briefly;

his eyes would open

in recognition of the date

and then fade again.



he managed to apologize

for burning up the kitchen.

When assured

that he “only”

burned his arm,

he faded again,

but with visible relief

on his face.



just after his birthday,

Bayview decided

he would need long-term care.

That’s how they put it.

He was moved to

University Specialty Hospital,

where he was left

to die slowly,



He held on

until the New Year,


At 12:36 am,

he gave up the ghost.


Burn Unit

September 8, 2007

After spending another Saturday

at another funeral–

Miss Gee’s sister

passed on–

I opened up today’s mail.


Unfolded the latest

Johns Hopkins University Magazine

and saw


on the cover

a burn-scarred arm.


I walked away.

Let the dogs out.

Settled in.


Picked up the magazine

again and looked

at the burned arm.


The magazine dropped

to the couch

(like a hot match).

My hand flew

to my mouth.


My breath caught,


How Dad died.

How his arm looked;

how the scars

from the lesser burns

on his right arm protruded

from the gauze

covering the killing burns.


“Johns Hopkins—

Saving Lives

and Giving Back”

the cover read.


But they did not


my Dad.

New Years Day

September 15, 2007

New Years Day

has always been

a day of sadness:

of memories of the year

gone by

tangled in hope

and trepidation

for the year to come.


A day of artifice:

Rituals of

Auld Lang Syne

and black-eyed peas

and finding a male

to be the first

to enter the house.


New Years Day

will always be

a day of sadness


replaying the phone call.

The sobs from Mom’s room.

Marty running downstairs

in disbelief,

apologizing for eavesdropping.


The icy chill that spread through me

from the inside out

at the moment

Dad passed on.

2 thoughts on “3 Poems for My Father On the 9th Anniversary of His Passing

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