Why the Silence

IMG_0040As some of you know from Facebook, as some of you may have guessed through my recent silence, my dad passed away last week. On Thursday, March 7. In a hospice room at St. Francis hospital in Wichita. With the sun shining and the Hallelujah Chorus playing on my brother’s ipad. Facing his bride of 42 years. (They celebrated their anniversary in the hospital on February 27); holding the hands of his granddaughters; being touched and loved into the next world by his son, his daughter, his son-in-law, his daughter-in-law.

We found out just last Tuesday that he had aggressive natural killer cell leukemia/lymphoma. (In case you can’t tell by the name, you do not want to get this disease.) As a former hospice chaplain, my dad weighed his treatment options (horrifying and ultimately unsuccessful) with the care he knew he would receive on the hospice floor. He could not wait to get up to his hospice room.

If he had been 98 instead of 68, I would say it was a perfect death. Peaceful. Mercifully quick. Full of love. Infused with the holy.

But he wasn’t 98, he was 68. And he wasn’t done being a grandpa–or a dad–or a husband. And so his death wasn’t perfect. It was, and is, agonizing.

It’s too soon for me to draw out profound insights on life and death and God as related to Dad’s death. I just want you to know about this bit of my life.

And I want to share with you the poem I wrote for Dad’s funeral. (When your dad asks you, on his deathbed, to write a poem for his funeral, the answer is “yes.”) My dad was so peace-filled throughout his entire hospitalization (11 days), I couldn’t help but think of the contrast with the sentiment in Dylan Thomas’ poem for his dying father,”Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night.” Ultimately, I needed a strict form like the villanelle to help me start the poem–and to help me stop. The cycling, the repetition of this form echoes the swimming timelessness of these past two weeks.


Villanelle for Dad

You died the way you lived, with love and grace,
The Hallelujah chorus in the air,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

Disease so sudden we could scarcely brace,
Yet you accepted, took the load to bear.
You died the way you lived, with love and grace.

Unhinged we cried and questioned, wept and paced;
Sustained somehow by holy words and prayer,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

They say that slow and steady wins the race.
We wish you’d gone more slowly toward death’s glare.
You died the way you lived, with love and grace.

A pastor to the end, you made your case:
You said, “If you’re in God, know I am there.”
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

And you, my dad, whose sacred life I trace,
I thank you for this final gift you share:
You died the way you lived, with love and grace,
Our gazes fixed intently on your face.

25 thoughts on “Why the Silence

  1. Beautiful, beautiful poem.

    My mom passed away from an aggressive brain cancer a little over a year ago. My sister, dad, and I moved into the hospice home with her and lived there for five weeks. So my heart especially aches for yours. This is yet another testimony to the brevity of life. Praying you sense the strong arms around you and your family at this time as you grieve.

  2. So, beautiful — and so achingly sad. I do hope you and your family have felt upheld by all the prayers coming your way. Your Dad touched many lives…he made a difference … he will be remembered.

    • We have definitely felt supported by prayers. There were moments in the hospital that I would just close my eyes and relax into the prayers for a few moments.

    • Thank you for sharing this, Robert. I am finding that, while everyone’s pain is unique, we are also able to understand each other’s pain through our own experiences. It is a grace and a gift when people keep company with me in my grief.

  3. I am so sorry to hear about your father. I had just met him last August, and I looked forward to meeting him again and again at some conference or joint project. I thought we had some things in common, with strong daughters and similar temperaments. Thank you, Joanna, for sharing this very personal reflection.

    • Oh yes. You and my dad could have raised a lot of hell together (holy hell, of course). Thank you for your condolences.

  4. thank you so much for sharing joanna. i am so sorry i wasn’t able to be there, present, with you and the family. i am thankful for prayers that stretch the distance between us. i love you and your family. and i love your dad very much. he will be greatly missed. thank you for so beautifully expressing your emotions/thoughts/prayers.

  5. This poem really captures the waiting mixed with the intensity of showing love on a timer. I could feel it again. The front guard has fallen away and we are faced with mortality–in its terrible beauty–up close and personal. I’m so glad you had this holy time with your sweet dad.

  6. Although I didn’t know your father, I’ve been following the saga by way of my sister for the past several weeks. One thing I do know about him — how well he knew what to ask of you. Thank you for this Lenten poem. I’m only sorry it came at such a price.

  7. What a beautiful tribute to your dad — both the poem and the honest words about the agony of grief. Still saying prayers for you and yours …

  8. Simply beautiful. To live with love and grace – what a great example. I hope that when the day comes for me to leave this life my kids will be able to say of me – that I live by love and grace. Prayers for you.

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