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A Poem: To Tell Him 

Grandpa’s cancer
Was another grown-up problem, I thought
It would be over soon. Just like tax season
Or retirement or an oil change. The
Mayhem of cousins and ringing telephones
Was exciting for a while but I wanted my house
To be focused on happy things and
Me again.

It seemed just days since the doctor
Didn’t mention cancer, but apparently
He was wrong. They’re saying something
About two weeks and Grandma’s crying
Again while a curtain goes
Up around him and I know to
Stay away when the ladies come in their
Nurse uniforms.

It was all I could do not to shudder
When Grandma told me to hold his hand
And tell him I loved him. I whispered the words
In a voice cold and jaundiced like his
Hands. They gave small
Response and I wished I could bring him
A banana to make him smile
Like he used to.

Dad pulled up a chair and a hymnal,
And we sang of when this passing world is
Done, and it sounded like glory
While the dying pastor looked beautiful for
A moment. I thought I must have
Impressed him with my voice
And pretty Christianity.

The new morning routine of peeking in to see
What kind of flowers or crying
People had appeared had become
Comfortable and I didn’t know what to do
That time there was an empty bed
And nothing else.

Where did he go, Dad?
He said that day was the happiest because
Grandpa was with Jesus. I
Thought that sounded nice but wondered
What it had to do with me. I didn’t seem
To love him as much as everyone else did.
Grandpa or Jesus.

My seven-year-old heart didn’t break at death
Or melt at glory
Until it became sixteen, reading
A letter from
Sixteen years ago—words from
The heart of that quiet man who
Loved me and Jesus, from his knees at my birth
And ever since. Too much time and sin later,
Love
Finally rings real in my heart too, once-dead but now
Throbbing heavenward
To tell him.

Speaking of...

  • A poem by Katherine Estes.

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