In memoriam, Richard Allen Clark, August 20, 1929 – April 9th, 2007

Twelve years ago, today’s early morn,
I watched my father die.
An eerie, unsettling event,
an occasion so far removed
from this daughter’s typical realm,
jet-black, deep-set shadows surround its memory,
a bereavement-fog in slow motion.

Together, we waited.
We watched over him
lying there
on that hospice bed,
an awkward encumbrance
taking up space in my childhood living room.

Unsure as to how death would feel,
how it would touch us,
what its impact would be
once it arrived.
We knew it was imminent
yet impossible to fathom.

The night that led us to his passing,
so dark and long and difficult
and yet bittersweet.
Moments of shared grief,
both lovely and frightening,
for they could not
have been known to us
but we welcomed them still.

What else could we do?

I have no words
for any of it.

How to convey the panic
of having nodded off
at his bedside
terrified we’d missed his passing?

How to describe
the bizarre moment
his false teeth fell
away from his clenched jaws,
the hospice nurse’s regret
she’d not removed them in advance?

How might I tell you
of that exquisite moment
of his last gasp
and the unexpected shock
of that long, slow, final exhalation?

How can I explain
what it’s like to see
the undertaker
zip up my Daddy
in a black, glossy, human trash bag?

Or the anticipated horror
they might slip
on the icy steps
as they carried my father
to the hearse that awaited his body?

Can I ever give voice
to the utter exhaustion,
the new reality
that followed
the pale light
of that early dawn
of his demise —
the surreal relief,
the staggering numbness,
the foreign alteration,
the changed dynamic
of our family forever after?

I don’t know that I can
or even that I should.


Leave a Comment

  1. I could also feel your words, which is so true about so many of your writings! I, too, watched my parent (my mother) take her last breaths in the hospital bed in my childhood living room. I’m forever grateful that I was present at her death, sharing the experience with my brothers and sisters. When it came time for the undertaker to take her body away, I left the room to the comfort of her kitchen to bury my face in a dishtowel and at last, have a good, hard cry.

  2. Losing a mom or dad who’ve been a blessing in this life is such sorrowful stuff. Your words are heartfelt and took me back to the 2005 hospital room when I sat with Mom as she left us at 4am. I was as ready as a daughter might think she could be. Ultimately I felt gut-punched. Tough stuff. Thank you for sharing!

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