Fear Not Death

Karen Levy, Class of 2014 at UCSD SOM

“As part of my MS3 rotation through the inpatient San Diego Hospice, I had the honor of being at the bedside while a rather young woman with cervical cancer passed away. I saw her body go through the changes and helped her husband/family better understand what to expect in those final moments. I’ve seen a lot of sudden death in medicine, but I had never experienced expected death from chronic disease before that day. I admired the strength of her husband and how loving/peaceful the whole process was. Unfortunately I was not able to be at the bedside when my own mother passed because of my medical school obligations at that time. However, I have since wondered what she went experienced as she passed. I’ve always kind of imaged it being agonizing and incredibly sad, just like her illness. I couldn’t help but draw on my own experiences during this time with my patient and hope that my mother’s passing was as peaceful and beautiful in its own way. As I reflected on this experience, I wrote the following poem for my mother.

I am so thankful to have this new perspective on death – sharing the most intimate and vulnerable moments of your patient’s lives is one of the many privileges that come with being a clinician. This experience will forever shape my image of how my mother completed her own circle – in her own way, with her own style. May she rest in peace.”

Fear not death
For it completes the circle of life
Predictable and beautiful in its own way
I now imagine that is how you looked on that day

The body’s metabolism quiets
As you prepare for eternal rest
Cold fingers and mottled skin expected
All natural as the body makes its transition

Your breath becomes less labored
As you fly your white flag in surrender
You fought your long difficult battle with dignity
Now it is time to end your suffering peacefully

A loving hand guides you toward the light
Whilst another comforts the loss of those who loved you
Their cries are deep with pain and strife
But alas it will all end in a celebration of your life

With your life at its end, there is no time for grudges
We forgive your faults and embrace your strengths
For at the end of it all, all we have is our memory of you
And it is your strengths that wove the fabric of who I am today