Celebrating life in a dignified death

Arnav Agarwal is an Internal Medicine Resident (R1) at the University of Toronto. Check back the last Thursday of each month for a new featured piece as part of his series (Doc Talks: Reflections to Reality)!

 

"First of all," he said, "if you can learn a simple trick, Scout, you'll get along a lot better with all kinds of folks. You never really understand a person until you consider things from his point of view […] until you climb into his skin and walk around in it." — Harper Lee,To Kill a Mockingbird

This piece reflects a daughter’s internal struggle as she comes to terms with her mother’s suffering through delirium and terminal illness. Touching on the sensitive balance between seeking care and doing no harm, this piece provides an intimate perspective on the challenges many family members encounter in letting go of their loved ones during trying times of declining health, as well as on the difficulties involved in recognizing that ‘more’ is not always better — that, sometimes, less is more.

 

Celebrating life in a dignified death

I have wished for nothing but your health
from cradle to this moment,
thanking my stars for having you by my side.

You have seen your daughter grow:
forming roots from my first steps as a seedling,
helping me shape my identity when I was finding myself.

Now, I can’t find you.
You lie in your hospital bed
with your body but not its spirit,
your brain but not your mind,
your eyes but not your steadfast vision.

You can’t remember the day, week, or month,
where we are or why,
or who I am.

Writhing, restless, flailing about,
only to fall into a stupefied silence.
You momentarily open your eyes,
which fill with light as you recognize me,
your lips stretching into a smile as you greet me—
only to forget me an hour later,
to render me a stranger.
Your only constant is pain,
your mind and body pendulating.

We inject medications, poke you for your blood,
examine you from head to toe,
trying to cure you—
or, perhaps, cure ourselves.

If you saw yourself this way—
frail, inconsolable, unrecognizable—
you’d never have let us lead you this astray.

We are so used to thinking about curing problems,
how to save lives, using medicine to heal,
that perhaps we’ve forgotten why we brought you to hospital:
to preserve you, protect you — not to demean you.

I have wished for nothing but your health
from cradle to this moment,
but in this moment — I hope you free yourself from suffering.
I hope you embrace comfort and surround yourself with love.
I hope you pass in peace and dignity.

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