I wrote this poem about a patient that I spent a considerable amount of time with before her death. As a chaplain resident, I become so used to compartmentalizing difficult, residual emotions that I’m left with after patients’ deaths (that’s my job). I don’t notice how much the emotions affect me too. It’s hard to see death almost everyday and fully be present with families and patients, and then move on to go and visit other people. This patient was an African American Buddhist woman, who I’m calling Beverly (pseudonym) who died of metastatic breast cancer that spread all over her body. I felt all sorts of things while in the room with her at the end; here are some of them in a poem form.
it’s like there was a creature
clawing back the curtain of stillness
in the room
the only din an IV and oxygen
and CNN on the TV
a stillness and quiet
paradoxical to the life
fighting, clawing past the silence
past the swelled stomach walls
past the hopeless prognoses
and white coats, warm, steady hands,
and smiling but somber faces.
I’m thinking and saying
all the things and words I couldn’t think
in the moment.
Couldn’t quite grasp that creature
clawing for breath
couldn’t say that I felt her too
but also felt a deep darkness and
felt a moment ending.
Felt the lifeblood,
the vigorous, vibrant, radiant lifeblood
swirling, foaming, flailing, being engulfed
by that mysterious and unknown darkness,
a creature that claims all other creatures.
I felt both in that room.
In a moment, darkness swelled to engulf light
and the noise of the silence stopped by thoughts in their tracks.
Was that silent darkness too vast to be overcome?
What would endure beyond?
What would endure on the other side?
What is it like, Beverly, what is it like?
For the creatures within you to flee
at the sight,
at the sound,
of the light,
for the brightness to know
for there only to be
the din of good things
of joy and hope and something
wonderful yet to come —
the feeling of good yet to come.
It may have seemed so far in your last days on this earth,
but now I hope it