{Content warning: this poem is about death, about witnessing death as a nurse and about the privilege that it always is, to be there in that moment for the one leaving, and for those staying behind. If your grief is still raw, this might leave you with deep emotions.}

the moment arrives, it always does
doesn’t knock, just arrives
walks in quietly
it is not here to ask your opinion, your desire
you simply know that it is there, now
you wait
the last pages will not be rushed
they want to be read
the temple is emptying

hold the hand until the breath leaves, to go
where the breath goes
now is not the time to wonder
others will do that, have made a life drawing maps
to a place nobody knows, but you know
that everybody leaves, that
something beautiful
waits for them to shed the skin, the body
the getting up
the leaving the bed
it doesn’t matter
the how
something beautiful

as you lay your living fingers on the holy place
where life danced against bone
just a second ago, how can that be
the mystery
keep asking the body, send your hands all the way up the peripheries
search for signs of life along the road
this is what you do
move up
move up
until you have found your way to the heart, then
place your stethoscope gently
on the silence
you know
that all that is on the other side
is watching you with breath drawn tight
make sure of what you already know, but
what she is hoping
is not the thing that is being given to her, today
the thing that you cannot stop, although
she begs you to
when she bends down to lay her body on his chest
in front of your eyes
fully clothed, but
you must look away, you are uninvited here
look at the clock ticking on the wall
write down the time
there will be paperwork
so much
it will bury her, cover her grief
she does not know any of this yet, she does not know
anything but the stretching of her skin, the trying
to hold on
to what has slipped from her hands
there is the long goodbye, after
she has wet the hollow
at the bottom of his neck, her tears spilling
into the place where once
in the living dark
she would kiss him, place her hungry mouth
on him, give her body
to him
for pleasure
just the two of them
you are uninvited here
never forget what you have witnessed
leaving the room for the other side, her
to stay behind
the loss
the size of it
remember, it is not finished
there are tubes, and needles to remove, remember
there are things to write down
the red thread of death, always
leads back to life, to the living, remember
to look up, remember
that you are soft, that you are glass
see all that he has left behind
that he loved, you will put your hand
on her shoulder, you will lift some of the weight
sitting there, only a little, but still
you will give her water
from your cup
see, it is not empty, even now, not yet
the miracle of this, how it never dries up
how you are a mountain, made up
of rocks
this is what they call you
a rock
you were not taught this
nobody can, there was a time
when you were new
all your skills
do not cry, do not
hold the mask, hold
the mask
there is work to be done, life
does not wait
you must bind up what is broken, what is left
you know
that all that is on the other side
is watching you with breath drawn tight
later, you will leave from the door at the side marked private
staff only
this is what they call you
you will breathe deeply, draw in deep mouthfuls of ice-cold air
you will leave a part of yourself behind, do not take it with you
into the night you will go
you will have missed the sun saying goodbye
but the last of the wild geese will fly overhead, you will catch them
that moment will be given to you, and
you will think of her
years later, and often
you will think of the way
she folded herself in half, how she folded in
onto her world, how her words were wet with love
how her love suddenly had nowhere to go
how she said,
it’s ok now, my love, you can leave, thank you for loving me
thank you, thank you
how something beautiful was waiting
and you will go home, and you will
take your heart out of its skin
allow it to break, let it go now
the mask
let it go
for a small moment you will think
that you are not enough for this, too
but still
you will plant another seed, tomorrow
it will rain
there will be more, there will be life
you were not taught this
nobody can
you will hold it in your hands
you will go back
you will give.

— rock

© Liezel Graham 2020

Image by Lawless Capture on Unsplash

Anybody who works alongside death, will know that you don’t remember the details of every moment that you were privileged to be a part of, but there are some that you will never forget.

Death is a part of nursing, as much as life is, but it is never easy.

It always leaves a small mark on the heart muscle, but still,
we go back, we go back, we go back, because we know the work that we do is big work. Holy work. Holding water to the mouths of those who have no strength left to drink, is holy work.

But we are glass, we are fragile, we are strong, we are soft.

But still, we go back.



2 thoughts on “Rock.

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