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The Art of Palliative Medicine - 2016 Semester 2

I wrote this poem immediately after seeing our palliative care patient. It is a reflection on what he said, but also a kind of note to him, of the things I wished I could have said in the interview but didn’t feel were appropriate.

The poem is a reflection on his dependence on others, but also that his dependence is not unique. He may be more clearly and deeply dependent on others than most people, but one of the things I was reflecting on after the interview was that none of us is able to be entirely independent, we just camouflage it better.

PDF version of " You Do Not Stand Alone "

You do not stand alone when you die.
You do not die alone.

A creeping loss of ability, horizons changing.
           A basketball player
           one crutch
           two crutches
           a wheelchair.

Only one hand works
           then none
           and later, slowly,
           the lungs give up.
           Until all is still.

You cannot stand alone when you die.

Others’ hands take the place of your own
           cutting your food
           washing you
           a shadow of a future
           where they breathe for you.

Others’ lives are part of yours
           sustaining you
           living with you
           living in you.

You will not stand alone when you die.

None of us stand alone
           the food we eat
           the air we breathe
           shared, connecting us.

Our lives entwine
           we stand together
           we live together
           members of each other.

You shall not stand alone when you die.