Thursday, June 16, 2011

Parting Gifts

On a hot June day when wildflowers spread their brightness across the countryside in Eastern North Carolina, when daylilies are in full bloom along every rural ditch bank, when butterflies swim through muggy air in slow motion, my father lies at death’s door. 

Thin as a skeleton – his flesh gnawed away by cancer. 

I stop en route to the hospital and pick daylilies by the dozen, carry them to his room and fill every plastic cup by the sink with water and wildflowers, hoping to brighten the place a bit with those wide-awake blossoms.  

But when darkness falls the lilies close like hands in prayer and my evening vigil begins.

The doctor had told me earlier that the last thing to go when one is in a coma is the hearing, so I utilize the lonely time with my unresponsive father to sing his favorite songs: Old Dan Tucker, When the Roll is Called up Yonder, and a hundred others.     

With one particular song he bolts upright in bed and moves his lips in effort to speak.  With every ounce of strength his frail body can muster he struggles to communicate with me. 

Next day my father is taken from sight and within days he’s laid to rest in the lonely family cemetery.   After his going I write this song of him.        

A dirt road weaves through fields and pines

And leaves a world of life behind

It leads on down past weeds of green

Where granite stones on graves are seen

Faces of the ones we knew

Have vanished like the morning dew

Voices that we long to hear

Like fleeting birds have disappeared

Weeping may endure for a night

But joy comes in the morning

All our darkness turns to light

When joy comes in the morning

My father tilled his land with love

In blazing sun the man would toil

And when his maker tolled the bell

We laid him in his native soil

But when that final morning breaks

And heaven and earth are made brand new

Our deepest sorrows he’ll erase

God is faithful and he’s true

All our tears like pouring rain

Will vanish when he appears again

No more nightfall we will see

He’ll be our light eternally

Weeping may endure for a night

But joy comes in the morning

God will be our endless light

When joy comes in the morning.

How would you describe your father?   What is/was he like?  Feel free to share your memory of him in the comments below.


  1. What a beautiful poem Debra. I never had that luck. My father passed away suddenly and I was hundreds of miles away. My mom was alone when this happened, neither my brother who is a doctor was there nor I. I remember my dad as someone who always indulged in me. I had to ask and he would go looking for it but that didn't make us spoiled brats. He wasnt much of a talker but his actions spoke loud. He wouldnt let my mom lift a finger, he took care of everything for her. I miss him a lot but I know wherever he is, he is happy.

  2. What a lovely song Debra, and a wonderful tribute to your father. I have no doubt he's smiling down at his remarkable daughter. :-)

    Thank you for sharing this with us!

    Have a Blessed Day!

  3. I love the line: All our darkness comes to light, When joy comes in the morning.

    Thanks for sharing this. Reminds me of my gramps whom we lost 4 years ago. :(

  4. Beautiful -- my favorite part: "My father tilled his land with love, In blazing sun the man would toil, And when his maker tolled the bell, We laid him in his native soil..." Divine order. A season for everything.

    I must admit, I'm jealous that you have a father for whom your heart longs.

    Every father's day I look for the card that says, "Dear Dad, Thank you for not killing me even though I know it was an accident."

  5. @ Rimly - Your dad sounds like your hero, and I know how much you miss him. You must have been his pride and joy; no wonder he’d have done anything to make you happy.

    @ Phil – Thank you! Now that you mention it I can picture him smiling : )

    @ lost for words – If your gramps could, he’d send you a postcard from heaven. How cool would that be?

    @ Linda – I didn’t consciously think of Divine order when I wrote these lines. But, as you know being an artist, that’s often how the creative process works; images emerge from nowhere and somehow end up making sense. Yes, a season for everything under the sun. LOL – you’ll just have to create that card! On a different subject… This Sunday is family reunion day. Pray for me. My brother had to call me again to ‘remind’ me. Actually, I’ve not been able to escape the thought of it. It’s been hard to enjoy living in the moment when a shadow is hanging over your head.

  6. Debra, You scare me sometimes.. I just wrote a poem about my own Dad, which I too am posting in honor of the day, and fathers and daughters. Your words resonate with me today. I lost my own father a few years back, to Cancer as well. He loved singing cowboy songs, writing poetry, which he started to do after they remove his tumor. After reading this poem through a couple of times I have to confess you had me with tears on the brims of my eyes. I reserve the right to come back and visit this one again. Thank you for reminding us (me) of the strange beauty in the father-daughter connection. Hugs, Brenda

  7. Debra this is so beautiful, moving, sad. I've had a difficult relationship with my Dad, but underneath, there is always love. I nearly lost my father a few years ago to a heart attack, and came face to face with the truth of that love, and the loss of him.

    Love to you friend as you move through these times. Thank you for warming our hearts even through your own sadness and loss.

  8. @ Brenda – Bronco Bill was one handsome man, lover of music who introduced his daughter to a new world of songs and lyrics and walks down the boulevard to Wallach’s Music City. “Music is the companion to seek when the wind and the wolves come a-howling…” Now I see why your words are interlaced with memories of music: it’s a legacy from your father. Powerful poem of love and memory.

    @ Kristen – There’s something about facing the loss of someone that seems to endear us to them. Having lost everyone in my family of origin, except for one brother who remains, I know what you felt when coming to terms with the possibility of losing your father. A movie I saw years ago called My Life had a profound impact on me. Bob, who is dying with cancer, goes to the Chinese healer, who encourages him to let go of the anger residing within himself over his past relationship with his father. At the end, Bob realizes that his less-than-perfect father did the best he could. This was just a revelation to me.

  9. Debra, I love your poem and it makes a little bit sad too. I miss my father everyday but on Father's day, it's pure torture. He used to love receiving our early morning calls wishing him happy father's day. It's my second father's day without my dad and I am feeling nostalgic. Thanks for sharing your poem with us. Happy father's day to all the Dads...god bless

  10. Lovely beautiful memories of our father, you were lucky to have such a relationship with your dad. Thanks for sharing them with us!!

    I don't really have many fond memories of my Dad growing up and that's a touchy subject; that's why I strived to be such a great Dad to Erin as I had no father as a kid. That said I've forgiven him in my heart for his sins as everyone makes mistakes and I've moved on in life.

  11. A beautiful and touching poem Debra. This post had me in tears. The image of you putting touches of life and color everywhere in his hospital room and singing him songs tirelessly by his side stirred my heart...what a blessed man to be loved so much in his final hours! You honored your father with your compassion.

    My dad used to love taking us fishing and hiking in the woods. I have many memories of him patiently untangling my line, from tree or some unseen rock in the water, while the sunlight played on water's surface and the birds chirped happily all around us.

  12. @ Sulekkha – Oh I’m so sorry to hear that Father’s Day is torture for you. This being your second year without your dear dad, the pain is still deeply felt and the grief still fresh. What helps with this sorrow is to memorialize him every Father’s Day with a written tribute to him. As you know, writing can be a healing.

    @ David – That’s all any of us can do, forget those things that are behind us – especially the sins of our fathers – forgive the wrongs, and redeem the time by living and loving in the moment, which you are doing to the fullest capacity with your memoir writing. The music that Erin was to your ears (and still is every time you memorialize her) will never die.

    @ Jessica – I remember my dad taking me fishing too. I just recall a creek bank and black water and the fishing pole, but no patience on my dad’s part with untangling lines :) And he took me hunting too. I can still see his high-strung bird dogs racing wildly about the yard, eager to get out in the woods and hunt. Those woods have the sharpest briars!

  13. Debra- you have such a wonderful way with words. What a tribute to your dad's memory. And the words to the song speak straight to my heart as Father's Day nears and I think of my own dad, gone these many years.

    Thank you so much. I blogged about my dad here:

    ~cath xo

  14. Cath, I read the post about your father, and how stoic you’ve managed to be around the family no matter what your emotions or what the crises may be. A stretch of 10 years not seeing your dad?
    I remember the golf ball signs! Yes, and I can see the uncanny resemblance between that boyhood picture of your dad smiling for the photo shot and Maddie Kate. What great memoir writing, full of pathos and humor.

  15. Your song is beautiful. It's both sad with death and joy in our eternal Father. I hope it is or will be set to music. My mother's family are eastern NC farmers. I know how proud the men are of their families and their land. It's often a hard life. But just as often comes that real, unshakable faith in God which makes it all worthwhile. BTW, I was in a coma and my family sat and read to me. When I came out of the coma I could clearly remember them being there. I'm sure your father was aware of you and the lovely gospel songs you sang. When the Roll is Called up Yonder is one of my favorites as is I Come To The Garden Alone. I know your father found peace from your songs. My father was a strong, independent Connecticut Yankee. He taught us so many important lessons in life - I've always felt the most important is to judge a person by their character and nothing else.

  16. You have touched my heart many times Debra...and you know that I have a very soft spot for "father posts"...

    I haven't a very good relationship with my dad and as much as I truly want to pour my love for him, I couldn't. Some things just have to be for the moment. But that wound gave way for me to trust in God as my Father. I saw myself a beggar for a dad's attention and most probably that's why I have strong affinities with my spiritual directors and men of wisdom instead.

    I wish I could sing him a song before he gets sick...I wish I could tell him how grateful I am for the things he did...I wish I could say something good about him before he dies...

    I wish it's this very special day...

  17. Mari – When Joy Comes has been set to music. It is from a collection of songs I wrote in the 90’s, which was recorded and released. I wish I knew how to add music to my blog, but as of yet I don’t. I’m just behind the times in so many ways. Your comment is so rich and meaningful to me. So you can testify to the fact that in a coma one can still hear and is aware of the presence of those around them. Your mother’s family are eastern NC farmers too? I’d have never guessed. How right you are in saying that these men are proud of their families and their land. Almost an understatement where my father is concerned; it was sacred ground – particularly the family cemetery hidden down the long dirt path and surrounded by crops.

  18. Melissa, you have touched my heart with your words. Having experienced a lack of relationship with your earthly father has indeed opened your heart wide to receive divine love and healing from your heavenly Father – as you show so well in your writing. It flows with compassion and tenderness. And thank God for spiritual fathers, those whose wisdom and guidance have led us along the journey toward the kingdom. God’s grace will sustain you and give you the ability to share your love and gratitude with your natural father when the time is right, when his heart is ready to receive. Timing is everything.

  19. I love your post ...My Papa passed away almost 3years back. I had called him for a holiday to my place,and it happened all of a sudden.He didn't give me time to even call for a doctor.I can never forget that day,I still remember beating at his chest,calling out to him to open his eyes once.I have moved on with life,but the pain never goes away.No matter how old one is,losing of a parent is heart breaking.I ave wonderful memories of him,as he was an extremely gentle soul,his family meant the world to him.I miss when something good happens,and when I am sad..They say the body leaves the soul behind and the spirit of your loved ones is always there for you. Why on earth can I then, never feel his presence? Somebody once told me that now I will always have my personal GOD up there. Has he felt my pain? Does he see my problems? They are not going away. They are getting worse as each day goes by. If he can hear me, why did he do this to me? I am living.. Everyone loves their father and I am no exception from this. But, ask someone who has lost a parent as to what a difference it brings in life. To write about Papa is not tough. What tears my heart is to write about him in “past tense”; we never really associate DEATH with our parents.

  20. Alpana, your Papa’s sudden death was too traumatic for you to have completely recovered from the shock, even after three years. And though you’ve moved on with life, that distressing moment will be forever in your heart. The process of grieving may go on for some time, for death leaves a heartache no one can heal, but love leaves a memory no one can steal. When you write about your Papa, try writing in the present tense, from love’s memory. You just need to grieve, no matter how long it takes. As Shakespeare said, “He that lacks time to mourn lacks time to heal.” And another quote I’ll never forget regarding grief and sadness is this one by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The best thing one can do when it is raining is let it rain.”

  21. Oh, Debra, what a beautiful thing you did singing for your father. Also a beautiful song you wrote for him. Thanks for sharing this. <3

  22. Sweepy Jean,oh you’re so sweet. Love, light, joy, peace… and a big hug from NC!

  23. What a beautiful tribute Debra and I am so sorry for your loss. I am very fortunate to have both my fathers alive. Yes I say both because I have a wonderful stepfather who raised me since I was 2 1/2 and then my biological father who only came much later into my life.

    The two men are very different but complete my life. They are both part of me. I am so blessed to have them both in my life!

    The song you have written for your dad is beautiful! Have a great week!God bless!

    Nelieta travel blog

  24. Nelieta, you are blessed to still have both your dads. I wonder how it felt to have your biological father back in your life after having been raised by your stepfather… What a charmed life you lead; you seem to have the best of both worlds, and you get to celebrate not one but two dads!

  25. My father was a farmer, too, cotton. Both my parents were avid gardeners also -- vegetables and flowers. I've often commented over the years that I was born with dirt under my fingernails!
    If you put your song to words, be sure to post it on YouTube and send us the link!

  26. Chip, I was born with dirt under my fingernails too… have picked some potatoes in my day! My dad was the watermelon-growing champion, and claimed to be the best farmer in eastern NC. He used to ride up and down the road critiquing others’ crops. But hey, that’s what I do with others’ writing :) Is that what you do with others’ photography?
    The song about him… it’s been recorded but not posted on You Tube. Maybe next year…

  27. A father is someone who holds your hand and helps you take the first step of your life and remains by your side till you are strong enough to stand all the odds by your own.He is like an angel sent by God just for protect you and keep you safe.

    Loved the poem you wrote for your touched my heart.I love my father for what he did for me and now it's my time to do whatever I can for him.


  28. Abhisek, Perfect description of a father: one who holds your hand and helps you take the first step and keeps holding you up until you can stand on your own - like a guardian angel sent from God. Your father must be one proud man to have such a caring son as you. How blessed you both are.

  29. Oh Debra, you never fail to move me with your words. What an incredible song! Your love for your father shines through your poem and touches my heart as I think of my own father who passed away last year. What I most remember about daddy was his generous spirit and his intelligence. Ever since my sisters and I were children, my father encouraged us to strive for excellence. I always laugh when I think of what he used to say about second place--second place is first place loser. When my mother used to scold him for saying that, he would say, "You're the one who's always saying we are made in God's likeness. Then if that's true, then they can be perfect!" And his words made sense. No matter how old I was, his name for me was "Baby Girl." When I turned 30 I said, "Daddy, I'm afraid I'm no longer your baby girl," and he replied, "You can turn 50 and if I'm still alive, you'll still be my baby girl." I miss him so. I've tried not to think about today being Father's Day. To me, every day is Mother and Father's Day, but even so, it's been difficult. I know he's driving a Mustang up in heaven, tearing up the road, and that makes me smile. Thank you, Debra, for such a lovely post.

  30. Bella, this explains everything. Now I know where you get your fun-loving sense of humor. It must run in families. You are your father’s daughter though and though with such wit, playfulness, and lightheartedness. Somehow, I can easily imagine your dad tearing up the road in heaven with that Mustang! Thank you for introducing me to this wonderful man. How much you must miss him.

  31. Awh, Debra what a beautiful, loving tribute. Your dad sounded like a very special man. My dad is too. I almost lost him once to a heart attack and I can't imagine my life without him. He is one of the few good men. xo

  32. Pam, I know. Your dad sounds about as perfect as a mortal father can be… catching you when you fell… kissing scraped knees… Yep, a dad’s love is worth more than pricey jewelry or any possession money can buy. You have the real deal girl.

  33. Debra..this is such a beautiful story of the journey you took with your Dad in those last days of his life. The love you gave in the little things you cheer up his room. When you sang to him and touched his Spirit..he rose up...and even thought he was unable to speak..his actions of recognition touched you.

    In that moment, when you wrote the song for your poured out all your love intertwined with the memories of his life...and began to grieve. It is truly beautiful...the compassion and love hangs in every brings tears to our eyes when we have known that loss...Thank you ....

  34. Ravenmyth, likewise, I was stirred by your father tribute today. His spirit was present in your writing, hovering about like a hummingbird. And from now on, every time you see one of those swift fairy-like birds you’ll think of your dear dad, you’ll remember his lovable spirit. Every time you hear a whispering wind, you’ll hear his kind voice. For I know he inspired your writing today ~ Hugs

  35. What a beautiful song/poem! Truly touching.

  36. What a beautiful poem. What a precious memory. I found it truly touching.

    Thank you for sharing.

    Linda Della Donna

  37. @ Rachel and Linda – Thank you!

  38. Debra, what a touching tribute to your father. When my wife, Maryann, and I had been married only a few years her mother, Michele, passed away from cancer. Michele's best friend, who was with her when she passed told us this story. Suddenly Michele awoke from her sleep and shouted, "Don't leave me." Michele's friend told her that she was not going anywhere but Michele replied, "I'm not talking to you, I'm talking to Jesus" and a second later she went home to be with the Lord.
    Psalm 56:8, Put my tears into Your bottle;
    Are they not in Your book?
    The Bible
    was written in tears
    and to tears
    it yields its treasures. (Oswald Chambers)

  39. Bill, what an amazing story. Thank you so much for sharing this, and Psalm 56:8. Do you have a blog? I can go to your website but couldn’t find a blog with updated posts.

    When my mother was in the Hospice home the nurses and staff said their dying patients see clear visions toward the end… like green meadows and rolling hills. One man saw a stairway extending skyward and a man with a beard resembling Abe Lincoln seated in a chair at the very top. The night my mother died I held her hand all night and walked her up those stairs, saying to her, “Let me know when you reach the top. When you see Jesus he’ll take your hand, and then I’ll let go."

  40. Hi Debra, here is the link to my blog, I should have a new blog up on this Friday. I am having difficulty leaving comments using Google so I am forced to use my LiveJournal account to leave comments.

  41. ~beautiful post.
    heartbreaking & sweet at the same time....

  42. What a wonderful way to have eased your Dad on his way home, Debra. I remember when my granddad was dying, his children did the same. I've had a strange relationship with my Dad many ups and downs...but we are now learning once again to appreciate and understand each other. Our main problem is that I like to sort out issues openly and he keeps things inside and finds my style 'aggressive'.....

  43. Thankfully we have hope in Jesus thus joy definitely comes in the morning!

    Five years ago, my father had a cranial surgery and was in a coma. Nine specialists gave up on him and no medical treatment could help anymore.... My mother, brother, and I didn't give up on praying though... and there never was a day that we didn't sing to papa's ears trusting that he could hear us.

    Today, my family is still enjoying my father's presence. He's our daily miracle. Although half of his body is paralyzed, he can still walk, talk, and enjoy God's daily blessings. Today, he sings with us the song that we constantly sang to him when he was in a coma - 'Surely goodness and mercy shall follow me all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever...'

  44. @ Corinne - In my eyes you are far from aggressive. In fact you have a gentle spirit, quite the opposite of aggressive. Fathers are strange like that.

    @ Shyll - What a MIRACLE! Love Psalm 23, all of it, especially “Surely goodness and mercy shall follow my all the days of my life, and I will dwell in the house of the Lord forever.” Tried to friend you on FB but saw no place to send request. So here’s my link.

  45. This poem is beyond beautiful, Debra . . . Reading it soothed my heart and soul. These were words I so needed to hear today.
    Thanks for sending me this link and for taking time to share.
    Much love to you!!!


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