A Story about Dying

My father’s death was a hard one.

He had emphysema and liver cancer, and in the hospital they gave him morphine to ease the pain, but the morphine did the opposite.  It brought back memories of his four years as a slave laborer in the Buchenwald concentration camp.

My mother and I sat in the hospital room with him and tried to comfort him, but he thought we were German guards come to take him to the ovens.  Dying, he tried to crawl out of his bed, pleading all the while for us to spare him.  Finally, the nurses had to strap him down and gave him more morphine.

My mother sat next to him all the time — holding his hand, whispering “Janek, Janek,” the name his mother called him, but he still struggled, wept, tried to loosen the straps around his hands and feet.

In the corridor, there was some noise, and my mother looked up.  Four nurses stood there talking.  One of them smiled and then laughed, and the others started laughing too.

My mother looked at me, nodded slowly, and said, “Half of us are going to the grave, and the other half are going to a wedding.”



About the author:

John Guzlowski’s writing appears in Garrison Keillor’s Writer’s AlmanacThe Ontario Review, Chattahoochee Review, Atticus Review, Modern Fiction Studies and other journals both here and abroad.  Guzlowski’s poems about his parents’ experiences in Nazi concentration camps appear in his books Lightning and Ashes, Third Winter of War: Buchenwald, and Language of Mules.  His novel Road of Bones about two German lovers separated by war is forthcoming from Cervena Barva Press.  Writing of Mr. Guzlowski’s poetry, Nobel Laureate Czeslaw Milosz said, “He has an astonishing ability for grasping reality.”


More from John Guzloski:

http://lightning-and-ashes.blogspot.com/ – Guzloski’s blog about his parents.

http://writersalmanac.publicradio.org/index.php?date=2007/12/28 – Garrison Keillor reading ‘What My Father Believed’