For My Father

This poem is dedicated to you, Dad.

It reminds me of the day you died – a day, and a time since, that I have pondered often these 17 years.  A day I’ll continue to recall, along with many other days – significant and seemingly insignificant – that were your gifts to me.

After Years  – by Ted Kooser

Today, from a distance, I saw you
walking away, and without a sound
the glittering face of a glacier
slid into the sea. An ancient oak
fell in the Cumberlands, holding only
a handful of leaves, and an old woman
scattering corn to her chickens looked up
for an instant. At the other side
of the galaxy, a star thirty-five times
the size of our own sun exploded
and vanished, leaving a small green spot
on the astronomer’s retina
as he stood in the great open dome
of my heart with no one to tell.


Dad and Kissie

A Heroic Narrative for Death

I agree with Amanda Bennett that we need this: a way to think and talk about death as the heroic act it can be, and sometimes is. An accomplishment at the end of a life well-lived. A good death.

I’ve asked myself the very questions she asks in the video that follows: why is our thinking and our system of dealing with serious illness not built to accommodate our tenacious hope? What do we do with the stories of ourselves as fighters, as invincible, as survivors? And not just patients and their families, but medical professionals, too, and maybe especially. Can we embrace a new story, in which, as she describes it, we move eventually toward a “graceful retreat?”

Christine did, and her graceful retreat was every bit as courageous and sublime, as it was painful and heartbreaking. Like Ms. Bennett’s husband, Terence Foley, Kissie was a force of life that few could resist. Though no longer tangible, that force is still very much discernible.

As soon as I watched this video, I wanted to read the book about their story, “The Cost of Hope.” I waited, hesitant about my capacity for reading a vivid recollection about a cancer death so soon. I read it last month, and while it was part-investigative report, it was above all the story of their fierce love of each other, and of life.

In this TED Med talk, Ms. Bennett wonders aloud, and with deeply felt conviction, about a “noble path to dying,” a heroic narrative for letting go that could be the capstone to our beautiful lives.