Monday, April 13, 2009

I Came to Nurse Him to His Death: Sid Straley

The following poems were written by Sid Straley, as she was dealing with the recent passing of her father.  I am very pleased to be able to share them here because they give a clear and beautiful glimpse into the experience of death and grieving.  Understanding how the mind and heart work at times like this can help those of us who grieve, to know that we are not alone in this fog.  This work is also for those who want to help and comfort the grieving, because to help, one must first understand the reality of grieving. 
Thanks to Ms. Straley for sharing this work and the photos that accompany it.  More can be seen on her Stumbleupon blog.

i came to nurse him to his death.

sunday, i sat in the home, holding his hand,
reassuring him, between tears, "we are taking you home."
he whispered to me, "you sound like a little piggie."
i snorted back my running nose and laughed.

monday, his body, half-paralysed,
he demanded tylenol as the ambulance crew
loaded him onto the gurney to make the short journey.
it was the loudest i would ever hear him speak again.

settled at home, tylenol administered, i asked,
"are you in any pain?" he felt the need to define this term.
his reply: "i am not in pain like i hit my thumb with a hammer.
i am in discomfort. my head, my neck, my shoulders.
when am i getting the good medicine?"

rather distressed, he waited as patiently as possible.
he asked again, "when is the good medicine coming?"
he stated, "my body feels all messed up." in a small voice.
a voice that required my ear to press nearly to his lips.

"what is happening to me?"
i answered honestly, as he would want,
"the tumour in your brain is growing. it is shutting down your body.
we talked about this happening. your brain is sending wrong messages
to your body because of the tumour in your head."
he did not reply, but he winked at me. a signal of understanding.

the delivery from the chemist finally arrived. i walked to his side
and announced, "i got the good stuff! hardcore!" he gave me a smile
and a thumbs-up sign. i began the task of drug administrator.
syringes to the correct mL, log book detailing meds and times,
white cranberry peach juice with a bendy straw to wash away
the bitter flavour. his favourite balm to soothe his dry lips.

learning to roll and reposition him. always checking his pain levels.
sitting by his side. holding his one strong hand, his right hand.
trying to understand as his voice faded even more. a cool
flannel applied to his forehead. talking to him about nothing...
about everything. knowing our time together was limited.

tuesday evening, he mumbled...
"fox hunt!" more mumbling...
"ah, what the hell do i know?!?" he clearly pronounced.
he slept, he snored. we sat, in turns,
holding his delicate but firm hand.

my respite would come at 11pm each evening,
the night nurse. i was to rest. i was to sleep.
instead, i stared at the ceiling in the dark.
anticipating the knock on my door.

wednesday, no words. his breathing slower,
deeper, but strong. he still sought us out with
his right hand. waving it in the air until one of us
took hold and stayed with him. sat with him.

voluntary swallowing was no more.
i crushed tablets and mixed them with juice.
syringe to spoon,
who knew how useful that skill would prove to be?
speaking all the while, sliding it deep into his mouth,
waiting for an involuntary "gulp" of his throat.

thursday, his temperature rose to 104F.
the nurses let me know what to expect in the
next 24 hours. medications were precisely dosed,
even though i knew it was almost over.
his hand no longer reached out to us.
it lay calmly on his chest.

i sat. i held his hand. i spoke.
i swabbed his mouth with cold water. i applied lip balm.
at midnight, i told him what he already knew,
but what i needed to say.
"i love you... thank you... you can go now..."

my brother at my door, crying. we sat on my bed for a few minutes,
holding one another. preparing to wake our mother.
we walked down the stairs to her bedroom, both sitting
on her bed and told her, "he's gone."
the three of us sat together and cried.

his death certificate reads "time of death: 6.00am"
it was 4.09am.
i plan to bet the fourth horse in the ninth race.
i can only hope the odds are 13:1.

the back story.

we all took turns with him,
except for her.
she busied herself in her kitchen
as much as possible.

she greeted guests at the front door,
as if it was totally natural
that he lie in a hospital bed
in their formal dining room.

"may i offer you a drink?"
friends and acquaintances shuffled
through the foyer, past him, to the large lounge.
"here is a coaster for your glass."
lord forbid the wood be marked,
sweating, little circles,
shadowed halos, on her tables.

"how is he?" she would ask me.
he was feet away from her, but
she could not go to his side.
i was to report to her regularly.

in manic moments, she would break free
from the safety of her kitchen.
almost run to his bed, hugging him.
his once athletic physique, frail and withering.
kissing his forehead, telling him over and over,
"i love you. i love you. i love you."

she had spent six weeks nursing him.
without our knowledge. she did not
want to "bother" us. this strategy landed both
of them in the hospital for a week in february.
she is fighting her own battle with cancer.
she was "clinically exhausted" - she had
not slept a full night in weeks.

they shared a hospital room.
the staff all thought they were so very cute.
they would argue; they would make nice with one another;
they would behave as they had for
53 years of marriage.

i could not be angry with her.
for retreating to her kitchen.
for smiling to guests as he lie dying.
she was in denial that he was leaving her.
after all these years, she could not face it.

the day he died, she repeated to us,
"how dare he do this to me?!?"
she had always threatened to leave him,
but he went first. he beat her out the door.

it was no longer a competition.
it was a loss. it 
is a loneliness.
an emptiness that she never expected
to grip her so tightly.

Photo Credit- George Poellot

leave of absence, week two - the immediate · Apr 3, 10:23pm



his body was still warm,

no longer burning with fever.

i stroked the peach-fuzz on his head.

his eyes had been closed for two days.

i gently repositioned his jaw,

closing his silent dry mouth.


as my remaining family

shuffled briefly from his side,

seeking out coffee at this early hour,

i quietly recited kaddish over his body.

my traditions would not play

a role in the coming week.


nor would his. he was an agnostic.

he had experienced the divisiveness

of organised religion first-hand.

he taught us right from wrong, but

always stressed independent and

critical thought. ask "why?"


he could not openly protest as

he had less than a week ago,

as the hospice "spiritual counselour"

had us join hands around his body,

reciting prayers now foreign to me.

i stood next to her. all decisions to follow

would be of comfort to her. within her faith.


the hearse arrived to remove the body.

i will never forget earl. the archetype of

funeral parlour employee. his appearance

made me fight off giggles; he was right out

of general casting at any large studio.

in his over-sized black trench coat, head bowed,

he solemnly asked us to leave the room.

it seemed we were only in the bedroom

for seconds. but when we emerged, the body

was gone. bed was stripped, a soft blue cotton

blanket professionally draped across it.

her body shook with more sobbing.

i held her close, supported her,

as i had promised him i would do.


everyone else went back to bed.

she and i drank more coffee,

between her crying jags, we began

to organise. the week ahead of us -

a series of events to coordinate.

no sitting shiva for me.

1 comment:

Lenette said...

Well that one choked me up. blink blink.

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