by Scott Thomas Outlar
In late 2014, I wrote a piece titled “Some Poems Are More Serious Than Others.” It was still less than a year since my father had passed away at that point, and the poem was written about the final two days of his life. The period described was exactly five years ago today, the same date on which I am writing this essay for Credo Espoir. Here in the woods of Mountain Park, January 31, 2019, searching for the right words to explain how that great man would soon depart us on February 1st, exactly six months after the diagnosis of cancer had been given. Here, now, at this same park where he once taught me to play baseball as a child, where we spent hundreds of hours together through the years, moving progressively to each larger practice field as I grew from a boy to a teenager. Here, now, again, remembering…
We had stayed awake and kept a vigil the night before, my mother, sister, Aunt Nini, and I, sharing stories and watching VHS tapes from birthdays, Christmas mornings, and other special occasions through the years when we’d experienced magical, memorable moments together with dad. The family dog, Tally (named after my grandmother on my mother’s side), became anxious, agitated, and unusually unnerved at one point in the middle of the night, shaking and whimpering sadly for a few minutes. I realized she was sensing on some deep level that dad was making his final peace somewhere in his consciousness and preparing to say good-bye.
I sang a song called “Home” at one point in the early hours of that morning, an excerpt from a book I’d written a few years prior that had often been discussed with my father during the time it was being worked on. I poured my heart out to him in those moments spent singing as I tried to mimic his strong, stoic voice that had resounded with such wisdom and patience through my life.
We told him that we understood that he needed to let go now, that it was OK, that he needn’t suffer any longer of this mortal realm’s tragic circumstances, that he had lived the noblest life possible, that we knew his unconditional love would remain with us always.
Dawn arrived. Then afternoon. More family members and friends visited during the day, each spending a moment alone by his side. Dad lay in the bed that had been set up by hospice care the week prior in the middle of the family living room. His breath slow, shallow, yet steady in a strange sort of rhythm as if hooked to a machine. His body may have been weak in those last hours, but to us he was still high on his throne, crowned at the heart of the proud home he had secured by sacrificing 30 years of his life working at Delta Airlines. A castle he had established and then maintained well, a place of peace, of honor, of goodwill.
Having suffered the tumor in his lung and the metastasized cancer that spread to his liver, his lymph nodes, and his very bones. Having suffered the radiation, the burning of his esophagus, the loss of taste, the scratching soreness in his throat while trying to eat or simply swallow a sip of water. Having suffered the chemotherapy, the nausea, the newly developed pains in his back, the loss of weight, the decline of physical strength. Having suffered the effects of morphine that put him into a final sleep. Having suffered the loss of his eyesight from cataracts to the point where he could no longer read books; an activity which had brought him so much joy through life stripped away at his lowest point. It seems cruel to recall the cards he was dealt in the end. A lesser man would have complained throughout and blamed God for such treatment. But not my father. He did his best to try and heal, and he bore the burden of his own illness from the beginning, stating that the situation was born from the consequences of choices he had made through life. Never playing the victim. Never shaking his hand at the sky. Never lamenting his fate.
Then, as if the world was coming to a sudden halt, his breathing pattern changed. He released a final breath, giving up the ghost before those of us gathered by his side. Eyes opened for the first time in over a day, flashing with total awareness and enlightenment, a smile curved on his lips, and, in an instant, his soul left the flesh behind. I kissed his forehead and prayed to God to guide him safely.
Five years later, during this biting cold of winter, the sun still manages to shine brightly through the pines of these woods, and I know truly that the love we share with my father is stronger now than ever. And that his spirit burns purely in this world through those of us who carry on in his name.
I waited several years to send “Some Poems Are More Serious Than Others” to any publisher. The poem was too emotionally poignant for me to release when it was first written, and then it strayed from thought until I recently came back across it a few weeks ago. I submitted it to Alien Buddha Press and it was accepted for one of their anthologies. My copy arrived in the mail yesterday. Fittingly.
The grieving process has no expiration date. It does not operate on specific terms and conditions, nor does it move along a linear path. It plays out through inward cycles that we each must experience in our own time and space. I am thankful for the synchronicity of recent events coinciding around this anniversary and for the opportunity to write this essay. Most of all, I am thankful for my beloved father. Rest in peace, now and always.