in memory of my father-in-law, Pietro Lorefice (1938-2020)

The bell now tolls, dear Pietro, for this hour
When we must bid your faithful soul adieu,
And lay to rest that mortal frame we knew,
Now spent, like withered grass or faded flower.

I knew that you were likely to precede
My soul in death, since you had been so ill
And had begun your trek up life’s steep hill
While I was but a yet unplanted seed.

Yet, since we never know how life will go,
I did not know for sure if I would grieve
Your sad demise, or be the first to leave
This earthly sphere, while you stayed here below.

My heart still beats—but yours is still as stone;
My flesh is warm—but yours is cold as clay;
Your dust returns to dust this solemn day,
Your temple falls, and earth reclaims her own.

The die is cast, the process has begun
To thoroughly undo your earthly frame,
For nothing here on earth can stay the same,
And all that time has built must come undone.

You change, yet we who stay are changed as well,
Diminished by your death, for when you stole
Away, you left in hearts a gaping hole,
A space within us where you once did dwell.

Yet, as we are reduced, we are made rich
With truth to build our mortal lives upon:
The truth that we must go the way you’ve gone
And leave this passing world without a stitch.

Then all we have accrued while on this earth,
From wealth to fame to family and friends,
Must all be left behind, for when life ends
We leave as naked as we came at birth.

Death comes for all! Yet when death comes, may I
Depart this life as blessedly as you,
Beloved and cherished by all those I knew
Anointed by their tear drops as I die.

How sweet to leave this world as you have left!
Surrounded by so many caring souls
Who ring out tributes like a bell that tolls
And sing sweet songs from loving hearts bereft.

Your memory is honoured by your own
Who walk with pensive steps behind that chest
That bears your body to its place of rest
Where it will lie unmoving and alone.

How blessed, I say, to exit life like this,
Extolled by one’s own family and nation,
One’s life a source of thankful celebration
By all—yet you’ve a greater source of bliss:

For you have kept the faith and battled well
And borne the summer’s heat and winter’s blast;
You’ve crossed the finish line and rest at last
From wrestling with the world, the flesh, and hell.

O, may I likewise fight and not yield ground,
Advancing still in faith and hope and love
Until I claim the victor’s crown above
The day my soul in glory will be found.

You leave behind the countless lives you’ve blessed,
A crumbling, vacant house, and little more;
Behold now, Pietro, what you’ve laid in store
Rejecting lesser riches for the best!

The cypress trees are whispering of you
As we process in silence toward your tomb:
“Make way for him whose life cast out death’s gloom;
Behold how he was loved, and not by few!”

 

 

Martin Rizley grew up in Oklahoma and in Texas, and has served in pastoral ministry both in the United States and in Europe. He is currently serving as the pastor of a small evangelical church in the city of Málaga on the southern coast of Spain, where he lives with his wife and daughter. Martin has enjoyed writing and reading poetry as a hobby since his early youth.


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24 Responses

  1. Sally Cook

    “Like withered grass or faded flower..” I respond to this lovely phrase.

    Reply
  2. Peter Hartley

    Sometimes I think there can’t be much more left to say about death. But you say it, and it’s different, and it breathes originality, and you use some original language that is very felicitous in context. I like the adverb “blessedly” on L34 and I don’t know why, and “toward” pronounced as one syllable in the third to bottom line. I NEVER hear anyone say “tord” but I know it is correct standard English. Altogether a very fine tribute to your father-in-law of which I’m sure he would be very proud

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Hi Peter,
      I responded to you below– the comment starting “thank you so much. . .”

      Reply
  3. Terry L. Norton

    I enjoyed your elegy on your father. Its many elegant phrasings, especially some of the antitheses and similarities between the dead and the living, capture universal reactions to loss and resonated highly with the family losses I’ve experienced in the last two years.

    Should “process” be “progress” in the last stanza?

    Reply
      • Peter Hartley

        (To move in procession, stress on second syllable)

      • Terry L. Norton

        I was thinking of “progress” as in a royal progress. I hadn’t considered the aptness of the connotation of procession.

  4. Leo Zoutewelle

    With quiet praise for this elegy you wrote and my condolences to you!

    Reply
  5. Martin Rizley

    Thank you so much for your critique of the poem and for pointing out certain features of the poem you that you liked. I appreciate your feedback!

    Reply
  6. Martin Rizley

    Hi Terry,
    I am glad that the poem resonated with your own experience. It is very gratifying for me to know that you were able to respond to the poem on that personal level. Thanks for your feedback!

    Reply
  7. Susan Jarvis Bryant

    A truly beautiful poem that speaks of love, loss, and a cherished life lived well. The penultimate stanza touched my heart with its wisdom and the closing stanza is simply perfect. Your insightful and graceful elegy is a privilege to read – thank you, Martin.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thank you, Susan, for your kind words which summarize well the theme of the poem. I appreciate your feedback!

      Reply
  8. Rod Walford

    Martin I can only echo Susan’s words – it is a beautiful poem to read – somehow very different – strikingly so in places. Thank you for sharing your grief so eloquently.

    Reply
  9. C.B. Anderson

    As many others have noticed, Martin, this poem is lovely and, I daresay, fairly sublime. Somehow, while expressing every natural sentiment, you have avoided any triteness.

    Reply
  10. Satyananda Sarangi

    Hello Mr. Martin!

    I will summarise the poem like this :

    “It’s common to die many deaths throughout life but to know the emotion of death and express it while one is alive is the rarest thing to do.”

    From now on, this becomes one of my favourite poems.
    Thank you.

    Regards

    Reply
  11. David Watt

    I am really impressed by this moving elegy. The description of whispering cypress trees in the final stanza brings to mind a particularly vivid image.

    Reply
  12. Ujwal

    I lost my father early this year, he was 60. I’ve been trying to come to terms with it, and your poem really resonated with me. Beautifully written and a fitting tribute to your father-in-law.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      My condolences to you on the loss of your father. Thank for letting me know how you were able to identify with the words of the poem during this time of loss in your own life.

      Reply
  13. Martin Rizley

    Thanks, David. In Italy, where we attended my father-in-law´s funeral, it is generally the case that cypress trees are found around the perimeter of the local cemetery. It was for me a moving experience to walk silently in the funeral procession with no sound but that of the wind blowing through the cypresseses.

    Reply
  14. Monty

    This is a beautifully-written, warm, and touching piece, Martin; and the further I read into it, the more it became, for me, not only about your mourning of his death, but also your celebration of his life: the type of person he was: his values, attributes, etc: and the moralistic legacy he left to those close to him. You’ve conveyed your feelings poignantly.

    Reply
    • Martin Rizley

      Thanks you, Monty, for sharing with me your feedback. I’m glad you liked the poem.

      Reply

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