Poem: Sorrow

The Backstory

We had to place my dad in a care home.

Just a few simple words, holding nearly unbearable pain.

My dad had Parkinson’s disease. We helplessly watched his inexorable decline, from a strong and fiercely independent do-it-yourselfer to a frail and unsteady man whom I barely recognized as my dad.

He became confused at night, getting up frequently and often aimlessly, sometimes staying in bed only a few minutes at a time. My brother and I started taking turns being on “night duty.” We assisted him to the bathroom and made sure he didn’t do anything weird, like fill up all the waste baskets in the house with water, or decide to pull down a ladder to paint the house at 3 AM.

It was constant. All night.

Our sleep was completely disrupted.

My dad began to resent our hovering. We would remind him, “Don’t get up by yourself,” and within seconds of turning our backs, he would stand and fall. We wanted to keep him safe. He didn’t think he needed safekeeping. Frustration on both sides rose; tempers flared; ugly words were said.

We were all exhausted, physically and emotionally.

In the months leading up to his placement, I became emotionally fragile, and found myself fighting tears in public. Standing in line at the post office, the person behind me would want to engage in friendly small-talk. Couldn’t she see my pain, my suffering? I stumbled through answers.

Picking up a prescription at the pharmacy, I would glimpse the style of walker my dad used, and almost start sobbing. No one seemed to notice as I fought back the tears threatening to overwhelm me.

At the check-out counter at the grocery store, the cashier would brightly ask, “How are you today?” and I would whisper, “Fine, thanks,” desperately hoping I could contain the flood of tears until I was safely away. Sometimes they came as I was still walking across the parking lot.

In the refuge of my car, I would bow my head to the steering wheel, and cry and cry.

I cried driving to work. I cried driving home from work. I fought tears during my shift. I was a wreck.

I felt like I had an enormous neon sign above my head, flashing to the world “Unbearable pain and suffering! Right here!” but somehow no one seemed to see it. How could that be?

The pain was so pervasive, so front-and-center, I could barely breathe.

And yet people treated me as if nothing were wrong. Even worse, I was supposed to act like nothing were wrong. How could I possibly go about my day, conducting business as usual? Every single interaction for which I had to say “Fine, thanks” or otherwise act “normal” felt disrespectful to my dad and his situation, as well as blatantly and profoundly untrue.

I was not fine. Things were not normal.

I was losing my dad! I was losing him, and couldn’t do a thing to stop it.

Ordinarily a happy person, I found myself drowning in pain and sorrow.


I walk through the streets and nobody stares,
Nobody points: people seem unaware
I’m an alien person – totally changed
By alien feelings, brimming with pain.

I guess they can’t tell that my world’s upside down;
I guess they don’t know I’m just stumbling around.
It’s amazing to me they can’t physically see
The dense cloud of sadness that suffocates me.

So I go through the motions, barely alive,
Say “Fine, how are you?” while I’m dying inside.
I chit-chat and smile and swallow down tears,
And my heart screams “I’M BREAKING!” but nobody hears.

I go out in public and try not to cry;
I pretend all is normal, a staggering lie.
By alien sadness I’m trapped, never free
In a prison of pain, in an alien me.

5 Comments Poem: Sorrow

  1. Tracy

    Carol…..amazing expression of ones feelings in losing or watching a parent lose the battle of life. Thank you…..I faced a couple of friends wondering why I haven’t gotten over the loss of my mom a couple of months later. It’s very hard to be OK for everyone else. Hugs…..Tracy

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  4. Abigail

    The weird conundrum of psychological pain: there’s a wish for people to get it, like they would get it, if you just got hit on your bike by a car. But there’s an anonymity people also sometimes want to get lost in. I’ve been fooled by a year from known-depressed patients just because they were used to hiding. I personally have made a point of saying the truth when people ask me how I am. Of course sometimes I just give the social answer. But often I will actually say the truth that they didn’t think I’d say. What I find is that people are amazingly compassionate. It doesn’t happen all the time but it’s amazing how often it does happen that people reach back in a genuine way.

    1. Carol

      Sometimes I tell the truth, too, especially if I’m not in deep despair like I was back then. But I never tell the truth if it might result in me bursting into tears in front of a shocked cashier who was just trying to be polite. 🙂


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