I have a good friend who worked for years in a hospice. Her work was valuable and profound, comforting people at the very ends of their lives. The subject came up about the inordinate number of people who came to the hospice and had no family or friends – who spent these last days entirely alone, often in pain, grief and desperation.
This poem is a challenge to me, because I feel that once you look into something, to a degree, you become responsible to do what you are able.
There are echoes in these silent rooms,
Of lives half-lived, of days half-spent
Second-guessing, or waiting
For someone who won’t show.
Even now, opposite the woman who,
Surrounded by grandchildren weeping
Goodbyes, the wizened man
In desperate silence hopes
That his estranged son may
Learn to forgive, that the grandchild
He has never met may hear
And want to come, that the man
At the club may wonder
At his absence, that one other than
The nurses, who have just learned
His name, may come because they
Have no agenda other than him.
Being made “comfortable”
Merely forestalls the moment that
He hopes is the end, for the greater
Terror looms as desperation
Curtains drawn create the image
Of his world, his withered cheek
Cradling a tear as a clinical touch
Adjusts his drip and brushes his arm.
Her distant-but-kindly look
Screams at his desolation;
He squeezes his eyes shut tight
And whimpers for release, for love,
For oneness with someone, for hope.
Moist eyes look up at her, her touch
Now resting on his arm,
As her welling eyes speak pity
And, wretchedly grateful,
He again receives second best.