Category: Death and Dying

Died Too Soon,Too Late?

One of my nephews (age 58) suffered a massive stroke on January 16 that left him with greatly diminished ability to communicate. He could not walk or use his right arm much. He went from hospital to rehab to a care facility where he lived (?) until he died on May 16. On June 16, I attended his memorial service and read this poem I had written for him. I loved him dearly. 

For Ken

I remember you as cherished child—
the faded photo featuring 
      three little cousins sitting on a step
      you were the two-year-old
      sweet little blond boy
      with big brown eyes

I remember you as terrible teen—
      every issue requiring debate
      every topic subject to argument
      nothing beyond questioning

I remember you as maverick man—
      your kind and generous heart
      your tender thoughtfulness
      your gentle spirit

sometimes buried beneath 
blankets of indignation
      eyes shooting fire of outrage
      voice shaking with fury
            at the injustices of the world
            at the unfairness of life

Your illness and death a lesson in unfair—
       untimely, unexpected, unwanted—
       You were not through with living
       We were not prepared to lose you

But you slipped away that spring afternoon
      free from the fetters of frustration
      liberated from the long loneliness
      ready to roam without restraint

And when you are ready to rest—
Rest in peace, beloved grandpa, father, son
Rest in peace, beloved brother, friend
Rest in peace, dear one, rest in peace

©2012 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad


Father’s Day – Celebrate

I have spent this week remembering my father. Now I turn my focus to the beloved father of my children. This poem both mourns Dad and celebrates Les:  

But I Have You

Endless schedules
reduced to a small mound
of fragile bones and cold flesh
all the sound and fury
flamed into an urn of ash

Impossible to believe
that Dad is gone

Orphaned beyond all comprehension– 
I have no father

But I have you, my love—

father of our children
keeper of our safety
guardian of our gates
sanctuary for my soul

We will go on

(Excerpted from This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage © 2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)

Father’s Day – Grieve

Two months to the day after I found my father dead in his bed, it was my birthday. I was on a speaking tour in the Northwest. Early that morning, I walked along the shore of the Pacific Ocean: 

A Birthday Mourning

A birthday morning—
an ocean shore, far from home
whitecaps blend
into the mist above
driftwood lies gray upon the sand
relics of places distant, days of yore

A birthday morning—
my first as an orphan,
the woman who bore me gone three years and more
the man who sired me, ashes encrypted

A birthday mourning—
for the two who gave me life

and where am I
under this threatening sky?

Who am I
and when
shall I die?

(Excerpted from The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, Moving Beyond Regret ©2022 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)


Father’s Day – Death

This week of Father's Day, I'd like to share several posts about fathers. I will start with this one about my dear father:

On Saturday morning—exactly one week after my ovarian surgery—I awoke at eight forty-five. It was late. Dad had not checked in at six forty-five as he had every morning in the three years since Mother died. I quickly dialed his number. He answered.

“Are you okay?” I asked.

“Yep. I had a restless night, but I’m getting up to make breakfast.” I had trouble hearing him, enveloped in pillows and covers as I was.

“Fine. I’ll get up, too,” I said. “Call me when you finish eating your oatmeal.”

Forty-five minutes later I abruptly set down my cup of coffee. Dad had not called back.

“We have to go over to the house. Right now,” I said to Les as I threw on a top and some casual pants and ran a comb through my hair. “Hurry.”

The two miles seemed extraordinarily long. I couldn’t see or hear anyone stirring when I passed the big windows on the patio. No one answered my knock.

“Dad? Dad? Dad, I’m coming in,” I called as I turned my key in his lock.

Les followed me into the bedroom.

“He’s dead,” I said.

Dad lay there—covers neatly arranged, pajamas buttoned to the very top, arms and legs already cold.

I knelt down by his bed, trying to will him back to life. “I just want to talk to you,” I wailed. “I need to ask you what to do now. I want my daddy back.” I could not be consoled. Les patted my shoulder, waited patiently, and then took me home so we could call my brother, sister, and our children. It didn’t seem right to use Dad’s phone without asking.

When Les and I returned to the house, Dad was still lying there, still peaceful, even colder. The family and some neighbors came to say good-bye to Poppa. We sat in the hot, humid living room and talked while we waited for all of the local grandchildren to arrive. No one sat in Dad’s recliner. We crowded into his small bedroom and formed a scrunched circle to pray. I asked that the mortuary not take his body until everyone was there.

Sometime during the long hours, it occurred to me that the house was just a shell that now belonged to my brother, my sister, and me. Then I realized that I was the matriarch of my family of origin.

And at five thirty that evening—right after everyone went back to whatever they had been doing, right after the men in black carried Dad out of the house feet first—Les and I rushed off to attend the six o’ clock garden wedding of one of our granddaughters. We were still wearing the clothes we had thrown on that morning.

We were startled once again by how much of life consists of andness. It is pleasure and pain, health and illness, joy and sorrow, life and death. And sometimes it is all rolled into the same day.

(Excerpted from This Path We Share: Reflecting on 60 Years of Marriage ©2010 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)



Can You Visit Your Childhood Home? (Mother’s Day8)

Can you still visit your childhood home? I lost mine when my mother died.

Childhood Home

When I lost my mother
somehow I lost
my childhood home

Father always greets me
at the door—
hat in hand
eager to escape
ready to run

I feel quite sure that if
I could only get inside
I would find her—
by the African violets
near her teacup collection
in the closet still filled
with clothes and gentle scent

Maybe he knows something
I don’t know. . .

(Excerpted from The Last Violet: Mourning My Mother, Moving Beyond Regret, copyright 2002 Lois Tschetter Hjelmstad)