Saturday, January 15, 2022

Surly Bonds

My dad slipped the surly bonds of earth on January 13.  He'd had a massive stroke on the ninth and doctors were clear he was not going to survive.  He did not go quietly, even with considerable brain damage.  He could still track conversations and try to talk.  My older sister was there with him, around the clock.  I was able to speak to him on the phone and I know he heard me. He fussed and fretted, and asked for food even though he failed every swallow test.  We asked that he be given some pureed food just for the mouth feel, since he was, as my sister said, "food obsessed."  A good cook.  For his 70th birthday we sent him to a week long course at the Culinary Institute of America in Napa Valley.

I have been reading his various books over the last days, and they remind me what a witty intelligent man he was.  Like most of us, he was complex and many times had my sisters and I figuratively pulling our hair out.  To his neighbors and friends he was charming and gregarious.  He usually did not go on his political rants, suspecting he would not be agreed with.  (At least he could read a room.)

Mom passed away eight months ago, and dad had been her diligent caregiver for over twenty years.  Upon her passing, he admitted that he suddenly, and for the first time, felt very old.  He would have been ninety next month.  He was doing well until the stroke.  He traveled at Christmastime to see family, and spent the day with my younger sister two days before he was felled.   They ran errands and had lunch out.

I was on pins and needles the whole week, wishing him a swift and easy passage.  I contacted many of his friends to let them know what was going on.  I was anxious, and hyperventilating, so I did a deep clean of the bathroom one day, and the next cleaned out and reorganized my considerable pantry.  

Today I am in zombie land. I had fitful dreams last night and woke up in a daze.  It will be like this for awhile, I know.  In the past two years I lost my husband, my ex-husband, a friend, and now dad.  "No more death!" I say. 

"Oh, I have slipped the surly bonds of earth, 
And danced the skies on laughter-silvered wings; 
Sunward I've climbed and joined the tumbling mirth of sun-split clouds - 
and done a hundred things You have not dreamed of - 
wheeled and soared and swung high in the sunlit silence. 
Hovering there I've chased the shouting wind along 
and flung my eager craft through footless halls of air.

"Up, up the long delirious burning blue 
I've topped the wind-swept heights with easy grace, 
where never lark, or even eagle, flew; 
and, while with silent, lifting mind I've trod 
the high untrespassed sanctity of space, 
put out my hand and touched the face of God."

This poem by John Gellispie Magee, Jr. is particularly fitting.  Magee was a pilot for the Canadian air force, and my dad was a great fan of all things flight related, especially military flight.  When they lived in San Diego for decades, he joined the Navy Club and was treated to many flights on and off aircraft carriers.  It was the thrill of his life.

I hope he wheeled and swung high in the sunlit silence, knowing he was loved.


  1. I was typing a comment here, and it disappeared. I don't know if will publish or not, so I'll try again.
    I am so sorry for your loss, Tara. Even when we know these passings are coming and are inevitable, they still take our breath away. After losses like this we know and remember that love lasts forever. May he Rest In Peace and be dancing out in the universe with your mom!

  2. Truly a loving post honoring your dad's long life and marriage with your mother. Sending love to you, Tara.

  3. PS... I love this poem so much. I googled the poet's name and found that he died quite young in 1941. He died in a plane crash/accident. His words touch our hearts all these years later. Everlasting love and life.

  4. So sorry to read of your dad's passing, Tara. These things hit hard even when they are inevitable and predictable. And then they have a habit of sneaking up on you when you think you're back on an even keel. My mother relied on me for all her care needs in the last year of her life and I still occasionally hear her call out when I'm on the edge of waking. I like the poem very much, it expresses the very feelings that a friend of mine often tried to relate of his joy of flying, though much more succinctly and poetically. Take care.

  5. I'm so sorry for your loss. May the good memories comfort you. A beautiful poem.

  6. I am so sorry for your loss. We might know it's better for them but they are still gone from us.

  7. Thank you, all. I am grieving. Sleeping a lot. Going through tissues like nobody's business. Remembering good times and not so good. He was a complex man, he loved his life and sucked all the juice out of it. A lucky man, and a hard working one. His care for my mother was remarkable. I hope their spirits are together now.


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