In July, my dad was diagnosed with a brain tumor and given six weeks to live.  I took leave from my job to care for him and those weeks were both a gift and a weight.  Fear often brought me to my knees; bent over in anger, sorrow and disbelief. Clinging to the lifelines of the friends, family and kind strangers kept me from sinking under a sea of sorrow. The doorbell would ring and we would sit down to feast on laughter, shared memories and tears.  These visits would lift us above the cancer, weightless as a cloud in the present moment.   This poem came at a dark time when I needed to personify my fear of death in order to breathe again and gain the courage to let go of my dad’s hand when he needed to step through that next mysterious threshold.


I am tired of taking care of Death,

this unsolicited visitor who throws open the door

and won’t wipe His feet.

A grim fog clings to Him, dampening the room,

The chill slaps my face;

such cruel company!


I try everything I can to turn Him out:

heap enticing food on a plate and leave it on the doorstep

or better yet on the porch of the house next door.


But Death lingers like a tired sailor over a pint,

and is not taken in

by my bluffing or sleight of hand.

Heaving His weathered black bag

with a smack on the kitchen table—

slowly He unpacks.

Dirty socks

and soiled underwear

pile up.

And the smell,

the smell!

It permeates even the very walls.


I resort to shoving and pleading,

but Death is a cold, granite slab,

Like a three-year-old, he’s focused,

With tunnel vision and a private plan.


Weary from wrestling, I give in:

“You can stay downstairs”

“OK.  Upstairs, but out in the hallway”

“Alright. Come in, but stay off the bed!”


How will this end?

Has the clock stopped?

Am I still breathing?

A friend holds my hand.


I am tired of taking care of Death, but I have met Death and lived.

—Jill Townley