I should be used to burying

People, I thought to myself.

And now, at my father’s service,

Grief reminded me without fail

That I had outlived them

All, my entire family.

Survivor’s guilt is

Alive and well.

Mother and brother and now

Father, ashes to the nonchalant wind

And now even laughing stars

forget their Mortal names.

During the Eulogy I didn’t

Even remember speaking,

And after everyone had

Already been settled in their


That’s when she slipped in,

Stayed hunched in the back row,

dressed in black finery and

adorned with a vintage

Hat of netted lace veil

Hiding her mysterious face.

She left before I could reach her,

Before the service was

Finished and after I’d already


Others prodded, who was she?

I didn’t know.

They joked, she must have been

Your father’s concubine, who

          Else could she be?

I didn’t see the humor until

I realized no one was laughing.

My husband and I were last

To leave with Pastor Paul,

Laden with flowers and cards.

We finally made

It to our car.

Rain started.

I looked back at the brick façade

Of the Leitz-Eagan Funeral Home

Knowing I’d never see it again,

Carrying what little remained

Of father in my hands, then

placing it gently on the backseat.

That life,

That anger, torment,

Successes and failures,

Ice words and

smoldering fires of passion

He left behind for us to


It’s the secrets

He took with him,

Remnants perhaps

Sealed in this porcelain vase,

Or in that dark pool of sky,

Trapped somewhere in

An ebony coiffed bonnet

Of some stranger that whisked in like

A terrible, but small hurricane to pay

Respects to someone she


I feel a draft as like a door, left ajar

Where you can’t see in from standing

Outside as hard as you try to

Peer in.

Oh Winter, so on this sweltering

New Orleans July  Saturday,

You have arrived early!


© Susan Joyner-Stumpf

  1. drtruthman says:

    A very touching and real poem Susan. Having preached literally thousands of funerals over the years, I must say that you have captured with great sensitivity the emotion and often surprises found at a funeral. I found myself standing in the minister’s place in your graphic as the family witnessed the surprise guest. I have encountered such surprises in funerals many times at the unsettling experience of family and friends. A very excellent poem in capturing the reality of a subject few care to discuss but all will experience. A job well done.

  2. Thank you Dr. Lee. As you noticed, this is a Biographical Poem, meaning, of course, it’s true. To this day, we don’t know who she was. I hate to have to think that my father did have “another woman” as awful as that sounds. But she flew in like the wind, and left in a hurricane, not wanting to call any attention to herself or be met by anyone, especially “the daughter.” To this day it haunts me, and I feel sorry for my mother, who loved my father and sacrificed her entire life to be a wonderful, doting wife to him, gave him her best years, and everything she had. She’d already died of a broken heart after the death of my brother. I can’t jump to any conclusions, even when conclusions jump in ours. I’ve moved on with this. It is what it is. Stranger at the Funeral, at my father’s funeral.

  3. debbiebrooks37 says:

    Hey Susan another lovely poem.. BRAVO … sorry i haven’t been on lately having personal problems.. and a lot of pain ache.. lol..Love you…

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