Song of the Whippoorwill
At dawn, on the last day of my fathers life, a Whippoorwill sang beneath my
window. His song carried toward the fields of golden corn to the south and to the woods on
the west. The gray birds melody was lonesome as it drifted sharply into the warm
August morning. It sounded like a farewell message, and indeed it was...an ugly stake
driven deep into a daughters heart with a sledgehammer. It was a beautiful yet
sickening song about living, loving, and dying.
My loving, handsome father was gone by 7:30 that morning. His quick demise from
this world seemed fitting. He wasnt a man who cared much for sterile, impersonal
hospital settings, detested it so much, in fact, that he wouldnt see a doctor unless
he thought one foot was in the grave.
A heart attack 24 hours earlier left him in the dreaded hospital bed with a wall
clock ticking away the final minutes of his life. Red and blue lines on vital sign
monitors slowed to a crawl and then stopped completely. The clock continued to tick but my
beloved fathers heart was still.
My father died luckier than most men. To say that someone died lucky is, I
suppose, an arrogance only the living can afford, yet my father lived 84 years. Eight
years more than the predicted male life span but a million years less than I wished for
him. He lived through the stock market crash, the Great Depression, world wars, racial
eruptions, social revolution, a less than perfect career, and a stormy marriage. He was
blessed with a loving wife, four children, and a several grandchildren who loved him
beyond description. It is a terrible thing to watch someone so beloved collapse and drift
toward certain death. Nothing makes it acceptable and nothing makes it easier. He was my
father and I loved him as much as one person can love another. He was born with a zest for
life and a powerful will to live each day to the fullest. He grew old gracefully and he
My fathers ashes were laid to rest on a Saturday morning in lovely old
cemetery in Northwood, Iowa. His was a private farewell attended only by family members
and a few close friends. The air was heavy and sweet that day, filled with the heady
fragrance of old roses and freshly cut grass. The promise of an early fall tipped the
leaves of Maple trees beneath a cobalt blue sky. It was a dripping 82 degrees by 11
oclock that morning, yet it wasnt difficult to distinguish the sweat from the
tears. I couldnt forget that August had always been my fathers favorite time
of the year, a time when he should have been fishing instead of dying.
In the fierce silent heat of the day, I concentrated on the huge billowing clouds
hanging in the eastern sky. I wanted the service to begin and end quickly for there
wasnt anything left to say...except good-bye. I fought the will to break down and
fling myself upon the tiny opening in the earth that would forever house my fathers
remains. I wanted to let fly with the grief that filled every inch of me. I needed to kick
and scream and weep and smash the sterile, white foam containers filled with flowers. I
wanted to strike a bargain with God and beg Him to give me back my father because
hed been there for a lifetime and I couldnt imagine the rest of my life
without him. I wanted to hold him one last time and tell him hed been the most
wonderful Dad that any daughter could have.
Acting like a jerk at my fathers funeral wouldnt have been a good move
for my exhausted, aging mother. She needed all the strength she could summon from each of
us. I swallowed my grief and stood like a statue among the heaps of flowers and the
single, long-stemmed roses covering a cemetery marker already in place. The hunk of cold
granite with a blank date-of-death space had marked an empty grave site for eight
years...pre-arrangements, you know. Get it taken care of early so a survivors burden
of losing, burying, grieving, adjusting and moving on is easier, as if that was humanly
possible. My mother had made the pre-arrangements without the cooperation or approval of
my father. He stayed in his chair and watched the Chicago Cubs that day. It seemed like
the sensible thing to do. The Cubs were playing a respectable game of ball that season and
Dad had no present plans to die, not then or ever. Certainly he wasnt remotely
interested in discussing such a loathsome event with a perfect stranger dressed in a
mortuary gray suit. Dad never cared for the notion of a pre-engraved cemetery marker
buried in the ground before he was...and he never again visited the cemetery until it was
time to retire there permanently.
With an exhausted heart, I looked around the semi-circle of family who had
gathered. My two sisters, my brother, our children and grandchildren. I wondered what the
future could possibly hold. My mother couldnt stay alone in the huge house she and
Dad had shared forever. It didnt seem likely that my sisters, both divorced, would
move back to Iowa. My brother was married with two girls at home and, although we lived in
the same community, neither did it seem likely that Mom could, or would, live with them. I
was not only the oldest daughter, I was the oldest child. And she was not only my mother.
She was my friend and the one person left of two who had given life to me. I didnt
want her alone and I didnt want her in a strange place. I lived on a lovely acreage
with my husband and a teenager who insisted on torquing his digitals to the max. We had
two aging dogs, a 21 pound cat with an attitude, and a Whippoorwill who lived beneath our
bedroom window. It was like living in a zoo, yet I knew then that this was where my mother
would live, too.
This is the way to the zoo
The crazy house is nearly full
But theres room enough for you...