A Poem + Thoughts on A Father’s Legacy

My dad passed on January 29th of lung cancer. This is us last November,  just after he was diagnosed. (I think we have the same smile.) He went quickly, only 3 months from diagnosis. None of us was ready for it.

Early on when we knew his time with us was going to be so short, I became overwhelmed with thoughts of how I might help him through this impossibly difficult journey he was facing. I knew it wasn’t an end; it was a passage–a transition, the Hospice doctor called it–but I was afraid for him, anxious that he wasn’t ready yet and might need something more. Something that maybe I could give him. I know that sounds kind of silly, but I visited him every day, and kept looking for some task or duty I could perform that might help ease his passage. Nothing other than just being with him seemed right.

I did, however, decide to put some of my thoughts in writing and read them aloud to him. It seemed so small and insignificant, compared with the hugeness of what he was facing, but I did it anyway, reading my poems to him when he was still coherent and “with us.” I thought there would be time for more, but he became too ill, then left us more quickly than we imagined he would.

This one was his favorite. I wanted to post it here to share  some of the wisdom, compassion and generosity of heart that he sowed into my life.


what can I give you for this passage
this cold, unfamiliar, necessary journey
to your new self
your new home
dear father
except what you have already given me?

can I offer words of comfort–
“do not fear”
for the dark nights ahead?
the same ones you spoke to me
a thousand childhood nights
at my bedside
your gentle, warm hand
resting on mine,
to chase away the demons.

can I offer wise counsel–
“let’s think this through”
for the uncertain decisions along the way?
the insightful perceptions you shared with me
at countless forks in my early roads
sitting across from me at the kitchen table
your calm, patient voice
bringing clarity
to ease my anxious thoughts.

can I offer two strong hands—
“it’s no bother”
to help with your burdens?
like your hands,
that lifted, moved, carried
my heaviness over the years
without complaining
to make my weight bearable

can I offer lessons—
“there is good in this, too”
on the most brutal and senseless days?
lessons you taught me
during storms too dark to see my way through
your presence and love
steady as the ground under my feet
to reassure me all would be well

surely all that a daughter has
to give her father
is what he has so generously
and freely
given her