Death Poem

My nephew qualified today as a medical doctor, and what a time. He will shortly be sent to the front line in a local hospital in Leeds, later in London. This is the journey he decided on many years ago, and boy, how he will be able to do some good for the world from day one.

A few months ago he was stitching spear wounds for the Aboriginal people in Papua New Guinea. Tomorrow, grappling with the impacts of future conflicts.

Speaking of healing wounds, today is also the tenth anniversary of my Dad’s death. He would have been proud of James. He always believed in hard work and effort and doing good, head down, no fuss.

I spent the last week of his life alongside, saying my goodbyes, sharing my love and thanks. Eyebrows are one of the last appendages controllable by the brain at life’s end. His gesticulated with agreement, said “right back at you, Sunshine.”

This morning, I read this beautiful, solemn story from a worker on the everyday front line of death, at a hospice. My Dad received exemplary palliative care from the NHS in his last days and months. It is the work of quiet saints.

The article speaks of the tradition of Japanese monks to write on the day of their death a poem expressing the essential truth discovered in their life. One resident, Sono, wrote hers for her own death.

Reading it, I thought about my Dad, and his truth; later about my nephew and his; and now, about our collective truth, in this time of challenge.

Don’t just stand there with your hair turning gray,

soon enough the seas will sink your little island.

So while there is still the illusion of time,

set out for another shore.

No sense packing a bag.

You won’t be able to lift it into your boat.

Give away all your collections.

Take only new seeds and an old stick.

Send out some prayers on the wind before you sail.

Don’t be afraid.

Someone knows you’re coming.

An extra fish has been salted.

— Mona (Sono) Santacroce (1928–1995)

Be well. This Much We Know.

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