Go Out and Help Your Dad

It was hard work, dying, harder
than anything he’d ever done.

Whatever brutal, bruising, back-
Breaking chore he’d forced himself

to endure—it was nothing
compared to this. And it took

so long. When would the job
be over? Who would call him

home for supper? And it was
hard for us (his children)—

all of our lives we’d heard
my mother telling us to go out,

help your father, but this
was work we could not do.

He was way out beyond us,
in a field we could not reach.

~Joyce Sutphen, “My Father, Dying” from Carrying Water to the Field: New and Selected Poems.

We will grieve not, rather find                     
Strength in what remains behind;                     
In the primal sympathy                     
Which having been must ever be;  

Thanks to the human heart by which we live,
Thanks to its tenderness, its joys, and fears,
To me the meanest flower that blows can give
Thoughts that do often lie too deep for tears.
~William Wordsworth from “Ode: Intimations of Immortality from Recollections of Early Childhood”

Twenty-six years ago today
we watched at your bedside as you labored,
readying yourself to die and we could not help
except to be there while we watched you
move farther away from us.

This dying, the hardest work you had ever done:

harder than handling the plow behind a team of draft horses,
harder than confronting a broken, alcoholic and abusive father,
harder than slashing brambles and branches to clear the woods,
harder than digging out stumps, cementing foundations, building roofs,
harder than shipping out, leaving behind a new wife after a week of marriage,
harder than leading a battalion of men to battle on Saipan, Tinian and Tarawa,
harder than returning home so changed there were no words,
harder than returning to school, working long hours to support family,
harder than running a farm with only muscle and will power,
harder than coping with an ill wife, infertility, job conflict, discontent,
harder than building your own pool, your own garage, your own house,
harder than your marriage ending, a second wife dying,
and returning home forgiven.

Dying was the hardest of all
as no amount of muscle or smarts could stop it crushing you,
taking away the strength you relied on for 73 years.

So as you lay helpless, moaning, struggling to breathe,
we knew your hard work was complete
and what was yet undone was up to us
to finish for you.

A new book from Barnstorming is available for order here:

9 thoughts on “Go Out and Help Your Dad

  1. 5 months and 5 days ago,
    my father labored as I watched at his bedside.
    I wish I would have known it was our last hour together.
    The nurses and I knew his end was drawing closer,
    but didn’t think it was so close.
    Yes, dying is hard and letting go is also hard work.
    Before and since father’s day,
    I’ve experienced many sentimental moments.
    During the Pandemic only nine immediate family members attended the funeral.
    And there were three by video call.
    At the time, I felt a sense of closure,
    but now I struggle with the question to have or not to have
    a Memorial or Celebration of Life Service
    for his many, many friends and extended family to attend.
    I’m torn. Not sure what to do.
    My father attended many,
    many funerals and no one was allowed to come to his funeral.
    COVID has changed our world in so many ways.
    So many ways.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. A memorial service, even delayed, can be an important healing time for everyone. I just attended one 6 months after the death and we all were so appreciative. Hope you can do it.


  3. I cannot find the right words to say here what is in my heart (and in my revived, relived memories of my father’s death in 1977).
    One thing that rustles my heart when I recall it was when I came downstairs
    the morning after his death, my first burning, strange thought was: “I know that I have just lost
    something forever, but I do not know now exactly what it is.” As the years passed, however,
    I know — in my heart and, in my sad, still-grieving soul, what that ‘something’ was and is.’
    I still miss him and his story-telling around the holiday table and so much else. I feel guilt for
    the times that I should have told him how I loved him and that, finally, after so many years, I realize
    and appreciate how much I understood and appreciated him for the example that he set for others as he worked so hard to provide for his wife and six children.

    Thank you, dear Emil for the the sometimes bittersweet memories that you have shared with us, your readers, over the years on your blog.

    Liked by 1 person

  4. Today, July 17, it is 32 years since my mother’s death early Monday morning on our way to babysit her great grandchildren. This morning, I reflected on her sudden death and was in tears, as I shared my reflections with a few close friends.

    I went to the funeral of a friend later this morning and they read The Dash.
    We do Dash.
    I have been Dashing about too much lately.
    I need to pause and make good use of the time left in my Dash.

    I too miss my father’s storytelling.
    I heard them so often, but would love to hear them again.
    Sentimental moments indeed.
    Since my father’s passing,
    I have thought more about my mother and life as it was.
    Certainly not perfect, but precious.

    Liked by 1 person

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