Tag Archives: dying

Here, for you

IMG_5663On the day my parents renewed their vows
I was empty and tired—all I could think of was,
now you know
.

Around and around it went, inside my head,
crowding out whatever the priest,
who hadn’t known them then, was saying.
Now you know, I thought, what the reward is
when 
the burden of new
is balanced by 
the weight of certitude:
how soft it is to fall in love,
how rough those years are to carry.
Now you know as I know,
like I know now, as you knew then.

I remember standing there,
looking down at my father’s casket as it
hovered over their double plot and thinking:
there’s not much, but there is this—I made it.

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Even into the 1960’s, Newfoundland, my birthplace, was similar to the religious separation of Northern Ireland: Catholics and Protestants did not mix or socialize, and they certainly did not trust one another. Thus, my parents wedding in the late 1940’s (my mother was Protestant and my father Catholic) was a shock to the community in general and the two families in particular. It was made worse when, years later, so as to instruct her firstborn in Catholicism (a promise she had made when she married my father) my mother first took lessons in the church, and then to complete the unity of the family, converted to being Catholic.

And although with the years such religious ignorance faded and died, for much of their early marriage they both bore the brunt of religious prejudice—much from the Catholic Church itself and more from within their own families. I believe that the greater part of who I am and what I am is in honor to their decision and I am grateful that at their end I was able to stay faithful to their love and courage and bear witness to it.

This is (thus far at least) the last of a trilogy of poems about my father’s passing. I hope you have enjoyed them.

Thank you for reading Here, for you. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken last year in Newfoundland from my father’s hospital window. Sadly, it tells you what the weather in Newfoundland is usually like: dreary. Luckily, the kindness and generosity of the people there make up for it. To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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Roar

Old lion
The old lion left his pride behind and went out
into the night. It’s a hard life on the high plains:
it takes courage, strength and endurance,
a belief longer than the day and a love as deep
as the hunt is hot.
Yet, now readied, this last time he went,
not rustling the grass, not raising the dust,
not even stirring the air, lighter then light.
And while he should have ranted at it,
chased after it, torn into it and bought it down,
it was he who fell instead, going quiet and still
at the last. What a terrible silence that was
and still is. It was only later, under the sun,
as we lowered him into his grave, I realized
that I—if no one else—could still hear him roar.

swril2

Jack Etheridge Sr., my father, passed away recently. You may have recalled that last year, about this time, he experienced a heart attack and the family feared losing him them, an event I captured in the poem Free to Fly. And while, since then, we had the bounty of his presence, at the end he was failing fast and we were glad to let him go; he was just one month shy of his 90th birthday. But do not grieve for the family, please, as we do not grieve for him. His was a life to be celebrated, not a death to be mourned.

While flying to be with my father before he died, I decided that when the time came I was going to text the message, “The old lion has fallen,” to my family and friends, as it seemed to me this would sum up the greatest part of the truth of his passing. The  idea stuck with me and en route I started this poem, finishing the first draft on the flight home afterwards.

This is the first of (at least) a trilogy of poems about my father’s passing that I will be releasing over the next little while. I hope you enjoy them.

The photograph was taken at Newport, RI at one of the once stately homes of the rich, and now the gawking place of us merely ordinary people.  To see my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use in any way without the expressed consent of its creator.

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As it will

branches

Worried he’d die,
hoping he would,
angry he might,
sad he could,
confused he had,
thinking he should—
tired, so very, very tired.
We are made from
chaos, regret and guilt,
Why, why, why, we ask,
but does that really matter?

We are so very, very
we very human humans,
and ought as naught
we stay awake to hear their murmurs
’til the dawn comes ’round again.
Thus they melt, one to the other,
next and next and next,
until that day by the hospital bed
when it all focuses in, even easier
than it had once slipped away.
Let it go, you are,
that’s enough, let it go,
just breathe.
Again.
Hear that?

swril2

Thank you for reading As it will. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken from the rim of the Grand Canyon in Arizona. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Not by half

Building detail

I would like to write a poem about the death of Mírzá Mihdí, the Purest Branch,
who burst open the doors of his prison and broke the shackles of an empire.
It would tell of his mother’s grief, his sister’s misery, his brother’s pain
and of course, his Father’s love…

But most of all it would tell of the seven, small, shiny, black beach rocks
with worn, rounded corners found in his pocket and which comprised
all that he possessed in this world. “Where did you get them?” I’d ask.
“What was it about these seven that caught you and held you so that
you’d leave them behind? What were you trying to tell us?”
And then I’d tell of his Father releasing His son from his duties
that hot afternoon, knowing in advance what would happen to him:
that he would go to pray on the windswept prison rooftop;
that he would become enraptured in his meditations;
that he would forget the skylight was there;
that he would fall to his doom and lie there, pierced and broken;
that he would beg leave to offer his life as a ransom,
thereby opening the doors of Reunion;
that He, the Father, would accept, and that, days later, when He placed
His son in the grave, an earthquake would shake the ground so that
He would reveal, thereafter, When thou wast laid to rest in the earth,
the earth itself trembled in its longing to meet thee.

I would like to write such a poem, to eulogize one so perfect, befittingly,
but I am not, I know, good enough to reach into my soul to find it.

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Mírzá Mihdí, whose title was “The Purest Branch,” was the youngest son of Bahá’u’lláh, the Founder of the Bahá’í Faith, and His wife, Navváb, to survive infancy. His death happened as described here: falling through a rooftop skylight in the early evening while enraptured in prayer and then offering his life so that the throngs of pilgrims who longed to visit His Father in His incarceration in the prison of ‘Akká—then the penal colony of the Ottoman Empire, but now a small city in Israel—could do so. Previously, pilgrims who had traveled the 1,500 miles on foot from Iran would either be turned back at the city gate, or if they managed to be admitted to the city, would be frustrated to enter the prison. Now, they would be allowed, finally, to enter and tarry therein. Mírzá Mihdí was but 22 at the time of His passing.

I saw the seven, black, shiny beach rocks when I was on pilgrimage to the Bahá’í Holy Places in Israel. I do not think any one thing on that journey moved me more than those simple little stones, except perhaps walking into the prison and suddenly realizing what the roped off spot below the skylight was.

And so thus did I, and so still do Baha’is from the world over, go to that Spot, we for whom the doors of Reunion were, on that fateful day, flung open…

Thank you for reading Not by half. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

The photograph was taken in ‘Akká during our family’s pilgrimage there. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Photograph, poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

The quotation from Bahá’u’lláh is quoted by Shoghi Effendi in This Decisive Hour: Messages from Shoghi Effendi to the North American Bahá’ís, 1932–1946 (Wilmette, IL, USA: Bahá’í Publishing Trust, 2002) 64.12: 47.

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The long wait

IMG_5576

God, but don’t I just know it—
that greedy little glutton
sucks the life right out of you:
all my grandparents, one by one,
then my brother, and now,
Stage IIIB in my father’s lungs.
I mean, one year? What’s that?

And then?

swril2

 

Phil Wilke,  my best friend from Kansas (and just one of the funniest, most genuine and upright guys you will ever want to meet) recently emailed me to let me know that his father had just been diagnosed with Stage IIIB lung cancer. In that email he had written a small haiku detailing his family’s history with the dreaded disease, a poem which ended with “cancer sucks.” I asked permission, which he granted, to work on the poem for the Book of Pain.

I cannot imagine there is anyone left today who has not had a close friend or family member who has been struck by the disease. Even as our ability to fight it slowly increases, so too does its rate of occurrence seem to be increasing. And yet we persevere and support those we love because that is all we know to do.

Thank you for reading The long wait. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

The photograph was taken in Newfoundland, which I visited recently, to visit my ailing father. For more photography, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem © 2014 by Phil Wilke and John Etheridge; all rights reserved. Photograph and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge and Phil Wilke,  https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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Free to fly

upWhen that first, open-the-elevator-door smell,
that antiseptic, bleached hospital smell hit me,
I thought of Pip, our pet budgie bird.
(I named him that, from Great Expectations,
and hadn’t thought of him in years.)

Bought from the egg with markings down to his beak,
the lines had receded over time; when he died
he looked and moved like my dad, an old, bald man.
He went soon after my mother passed
and just after my sister and nephew moved away,
so that for the first time in 40 years my father was left
with a home that was—let’s say the words—deathly quiet.
I talked to him on the day he was bleaching out
the cage and, despite my urging, said he would
never have another budgie; none could equal Pip.

Anyway, the thought passed in a fleeting
second as I stepped out of the elevator
and into Intensive Care to see if my dad
had survived the heart attack,
or if I would find, as I feared,
an empty bird cage of a bed.
It’s funny what you think of when, isn’t it?

swril2

Budgies are small, colorful parakeets from Australia that make wonderful and personable pets. At birth, the line markings on their head go all the way to the beak but recede over time; in Pip’s case his head was pure yellow when he died. The only budgie we ever owned, he was a delightful little creature that my father adored and cared for. Pip lived, I think, to a very ripe old age (for parakeets) of around ten years and was, as I said in the poem, named after the protagonist in Charles Dickens’ Great Expectations.

The ICU stands for Intensive Care Unit, where my father, who is 89 years of age, was taken after his recent heart attack. Last week, we (my sister, her son, and I) had rushed back to his home province, Newfoundland, in Canada, to be with him. Happily, I can report that dad survived the heart attack and at this writing is still, wonderfully with us. I have written several poems about him but the one I love the most is That tree.

Thank you for reading Free to fly. I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain, and as always, I look forward to your comments.

For my photography blog, please visit the Book of Bokeh.

john

Poem and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com.

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It is in the quiet,

NoiseInTheQuiet

in the echoes of five rambunctious kids pounding
pall mall in and out of doors, up and down steps,
slamming the porch’s storm door, Mom, I’m gone!
But now it’s mom is gone and dad is gone and
the porch, home as it was to loud cribbage games,
louder family ‘talks’ and louder yet thunderstorms
sits soulfully silent, the spare key no longer
hidden in the super secret spot of the rusty metal box
on the windowsill. The trick-or-treaters no longer
come squealing up the walk, the chaise lounge
no longer protests under her weight and nor do we
under her eye. Buyers today see only chipping paint,
the splintering wood and the loose screens,
the things that need fixing and not the things fixed.
They don’t hear the wind chimes or the whispers,
the laughter, the tears or the life—the life, that life.
But listen to this quiet and you can hear it,
I remember, and until there is no one left that does,
You are not gone.

swril2

This post is being made simultaneously with a photo essay of the house at the center of this poem, Dick’s not there anymore and posted on the Book of Bokeh.

Dick Brodeur was a wonderful man and we were lucky enough to have him as a friend and next door neighbor from the very first day our family moved to Putnam. What’s more, we were able to meet all of his children (and grandchildren!) and have become especially close with his youngest daughter, Michelle (now Foronda) and her beautiful family as well.

Sadly, last year, Dick—who was well into his eighties, but still boisterous and funny until the end—passed on and was finally reunited with his dear wife, who had passed on before him and whom he missed very much.

On Easter Sunday I was leaving my house and walking by his when I realized that for the last years of his life, even though Dick had slowed down and was not so mobile as he once was, the house had always had a lived in vibe to it, but that now that he was gone, I could sense the quiet and stillness radiating from it, the silent loneliness of a house that had raised a passel of kids as rambunctious as they come, but that now had no more noise to make. I ended up shooting a photo essay of the house trying to capture that feeling and afterwards, in asking Michelle’s permission to post it, she responded not only with a yes but some deep and fond memories of growing up there. Those memories (I merely knocked them into shape) are the heart of this poem.

Thank you for reading It is in the quiet,. I sincerely hope you have enjoyed it and I humbly appreciate your visiting the Book of Pain. As always, I look forward to your comments.

john

Poem © 2014 by Michelle Foronda and John Etheridge; photograph and notes © 2014 by John Etheridge; all rights reserved. The poem and accompanying notes are licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 Unported License. This applies to all original written work found on this site, unless noted otherwise. The attribution claimed under the license is: © 2014 by Michelle Foronda and John Etheridge, https://bookofpain.wordpress.com. The photograph is not licensed for use or reproduction in any way, unless so granted in writing by the copyright owner.

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