Son I love you

LtJG, William C. Harbour, USN, 1943

My father never said he loved me,
Except on his death bed through cracked lips.
The stench of cancerous death rancor,
Hugging the memories and the tears.
He had a peculiar smell about him,
A mixture of cigarettes, whiskey, age,
Not unpleasant but uncomfortable.
There was a clamoring in his passing
Something unseen pulling at his body
Until there was nothing left but a shell.
When his failing lungs finally gave up life,
It was with a sigh escaping a gasping mouth.
Death is not pretty, it is a morphine stupor,
Life slipping, hastened by a drugged nightmare,
Dulled feeling, the inability to nod to reality.
The touch of where there once was pulse,
A simple choice of words, “Well, he’s gone!”
Still, after all these years the words echo,
Flailing in a darkened room of my mind,
Trying to find a finger hold, a grasp,
But they cannot for their utterance was,
Too late, too overshadowed by death.
That halting whisper, dulled by an antiseptic pallor,
“Son, I love you,” is there truth here…is there?
The question is a stone to carry, its weight burdens life.

Copyright: 2009, Donald Harbour


17 thoughts on “Son I love you

  1. Donald, my father never once said ‘I love you’. Asian reticence. But his actions spoke volumes. I love your question, ‘Is there truth here…is there?’ I too remember the morphine stupor. I thought it helped in the slipping off. I am bothered by the body as shell thought.


  2. This is a beautiful and touching poem Donald. I appreciate your sharing this moment with us.

    I could not but relate, as light sporadically comes through clouds, my own experience during my mother’s passing away. There are differences, but I understand. This poem states the moment with such clear sentiment yet also without becoming lost within the obvious challenges. There is a strength of word that stands above the circumstance here. I think there is meaning also in just that by itself.

    “Not unpleasant but uncomfortable.” These moments do paint our lives. Thank you.


  3. Hi Donald,

    Our parents came from a generation where showing emotion was not a masculine trait. Positively alien in comparison with today’s touchy, feely world. If you’ll forgive my saying so, the morphine probably removed that final inhibition. A very moving poem, Donald.


  4. Agreed with Derrick….that is the same impression I got..

    And your words evoked two things for me: 1) a scene from years ago for me…I had a uncle that pass in the same way and the “A mixture of cigarettes, whiskey, age,” line brought back the smell and the memory — an old steel mill worker, redneck, working man, seeded in Appalachia. And 2) I remembered that I never got to say goodbye to my own father.

    Thank you for sharing.



  5. Donald this is very powerful and moving. I like how there’s an unflinching honesty about how a dying person becomes at the end death personified, and how on a level one can’t feeling repelled even as one is drawn to them in a wish to hold on. I also like the details, and how they’re presented in the fog of details that surrounds a person in such a situation, so that one notices and then obssesses on the odd things others say (Well, he’s gone!”Still, after all these years the words echo,/
    Flailing in a darkened room of my mind,). As to the end, I like the way you wrestle with the honesty of something which went unconfessed for so long. It seems it took a final act of bravery for it to reach the lips. I do think there’s a reason “deathbed declarations” receive special consideration. It’s hard to imagine such words not meant.


  6. If a feeling of love did not exist between father and son, how did his death come to be shared? Love does not happen in a vacuum. There are actions, gestures, comfortableness, it’s not always words that tell you. The words seal the deal. My father’s parting words were, “Take care of your mother and brothers.” I know he loved me, even though it was never said. I thought your description of the experience was very real and truthful. Thank you for sharing, Donald.


  7. “The question is a stone to carry” – a wonderful line. I am thankful every day for parents who told me and showed me they loved me every day. Sometimes the words are what we need.


  8. This touches me more than you can know. I’ve been trying for years to find the words to write of my mother-in-law’s death. The morphine stupor image brings it all back.


  9. I agree with David….”it’s hard to imagine such words not meant.”
    This is one of the most personal and intimate poems I’ve read and it’s bravely written – I don’t know that I’d have the nerve to be so open.
    The end of a life is so bittersweet and difficult to witness and something one never, ever forgets.


  10. You used “shel”l to great purpose. I was particularly taken with the lines “A mixture of cigarettes, whiskey, age, / Not unpleasant but uncomfortable. / There was a clamoring in his passing ” because it seemed as if it could be applied to son as well as father. It added to the emotional weight of the poem without being maudlin. And the weight of the stone is a good way to leave the poem.


  11. Thanks for sharing this intensely personal reflection, Donald.

    My own father never told me he loved me until, as an adult, I proved a disappointment to him. Now he says it every time we part or say goodbye on the phone… Psychology. We aren’t at the stage of the morphine stupor yet (knock wood).

    The entire poem was strong and expertly rendered, but I felt it particularly strongly at these lines:

    A simple choice of words, “Well, he’s gone!”
    Still, after all these years the words echo,
    Flailing in a darkened room of my mind,


  12. nicely done….I dearly loved my grandpa and dad..BUT….i cant remember them saying the loved me….but i kinda think they did…thanks for this


  13. I used to work as a hospice nurse, you certainly brought death back in a very vivid way. I enjoyed this piece for its brutal honesty on death and relationships.


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