The Morning After You Died

Dianne Avey ~

So this is what it feels like
to be on the other side.
Hollowed out exhaustion,
rimmed with the chaotic clutter
of struggle and hope.
Like the beach after a tsunami,
all those once-important items,
now floating around uselessly.

I don’t know how to start this life
again.

This morning, they came
and took the bed away.
Left behind are a few traces:
syringes, a yellow notepad–
with the neatly checked off schedule
of morphine,
a crayon drawing from our six-year-old–
one large and one small stick figure
holding hands,
looking out toward a rainbow.

On the tile floor, a pile of white sheets,
still damp with your sweat and urine,
a few dots of blood–evidence
that you did live,
and you did die,
here in our home,
in a bed overlooking the bay.

Where storms blew
in from the west
over Devil’s Head,
where you loved to fish,

and where I can still see you turn and
walk back across the grass to us,
smiling.

About the poet:

Dianne Avey lives in the Pacific Northwest and is a fifth-generation resident of Anderson Island, Puget Sound’s southernmost island. She writes poetry when she can–often on the ferry, while commuting to her job as a nurse practitioner. Her poems and essays have appeared in Pulse, Wrist Magazine, Oasis, The Poetry Box, Kind of a Hurricane Press and elsewhere. She is finishing her first chapbook, Impossible Ledges, which tells a true story of grief and recovery; its themes are nature, illness, caregiving and a love that transcends death in tangible ways.

About the poem:

“This poem portrays the sense of exhaustion and chaos that I felt the morning after my husband passed away following a long battle with leukemia. As a former hospice nurse, I felt comfortable with the dying process, but going through it with my own husband, in our home, gave me a whole new perspective on the energy–both physical and emotional–that this takes. It truly takes a village, and with the help of family and friends, I was grateful to help him have his last wish–to die peacefully in our home surrounded by love.”

Poetry editors:

Johanna Shapiro and Judy Schaefer

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18 thoughts on “The Morning After You Died”

  1. Such a beautiful poem that took me into your world of pain, loss and most of all, LOVE. I am so sorry for your loss. I too work in this field, have for many years as a PC NP and my father as a hospice RN but we struggled with the hospice team to manage my mother’s terminal restlessness. One can’t imagine, despite years of being the nurse/clinician what is like to be the family until we are there. It was soul-wrenching and although eventually it absolutely provided me with a new perspective and skills, I had symptoms of PTSD for months, even a year or two. We that go into this work are many times sensitive souls and when we see the suffering of our loved ones, particularly when they are not “fixable” by the hospice team (as with us, my mom needed palliative sedation but did NOT want to go inpatient where she could receive that therapy), it can leave us so wounded. Our hospice was invaluable by using continuous care several times in the home but even our hospice nurse felt helplessness.

  2. Amid the loss, exhaustion and the mess the picture that stuck out for me in your beautifully crafted and moving poem was near the end when you look out of your window…

    … where I can still see you turn and
    walk back across the grass to us,
    smiling.

  3. I am so proud to call you my sister. I was honored to share those last days of Mike’s life with you. It was beautiful in so many ways, your caring brought me to tears. The profession you chose is a blessing to all.

  4. Barbara Isenberg

    Oh Diane, your poem is me 3 years ago as my husband died of Multiple Myeloma. Two days before he died I was “forced “ to put him into Hospice at a local nursing home. The day HomeCare aid didn’t come for 2 days and they were unable to replace her. I was alone with poor Marc whose disease had finally invaded his brain. As I tried to turn him to change him, he started to punch me and then pulled back. It must have taken an extraordinary amount of effort for him to stop. When I came home that night to the bed and the sheets (yes, still wet with his urine and blood) I was just as you described. And yes, I am a nurse Case Manager who had sent many people home to die. I feel as if I mislead them. Nothing was as I innocently described…,This poem is your truth, my truth and so no doubt many others. I don’t regret taking him home, i regret failing to keep him at home and I am sort for all of my patients I inadvertently mislead. Thank you for your poem..

    1. Barbara, I am so sorry that you, too had this experience, but the compassion it gives us a “care providers” is unmeasurable. I completely understand your feeling of “misleading” families.I have to admit that lessons such as these are hard earned – years before this experience, I even did my Master’s thesis on this – why families weren’t able to carry out a “home death.” The study’s conclusion: simple -exhaustion. There are profound socioeconomic and political changes that need to be addressed to better address end of life care; I am sure you’ve read “Being Mortal’? Thank you for your kind comments.

  5. I am grateful, Dianne, for your searing poem. I am grateful that Pulse is where I read it.

    I have not (yet) had the privilege of being with a loved one when they died. I ‘witnessed’ the experience from afar, though, recently when my brother-in-law and sister were with his daughter when she passed. I thought of the things you wrote about and how it must have been for all those in the room, especially Heather’s mother, in whose house she left. Now I can imagine the experience…and, I’m sure, I’ll recall your poem if/when I ever live through a morning like this.

    Over the years Pulse has become a sacred space where I spend dedicated time each week. I read and reflect. I sit with the emotions that are evoked. And, I learn and grow. Often, I print and/or share the story or poem on Facebook. I’ve even created a 3-ring binder. It provides comfort and perspective each time I pull it from my shelf.

  6. Ronna Edelstein

    Your poem beautifully captured my feelings after my beloved dad died in my arms (in our shared apartment) on November 1, 2014. I remember watching the man take out the hospital bed, watching the at-home hospice nurse remove unused medicines from the refrigerator. I remember the cars going by on the street and pedestrians, many focused on their phones, dashing to their destinations. I could not understand how the world continued without my dad in it.

  7. Dianne – you offer wonderful imagery in your portrayal of the circumstances surrounding your husband’s death. A very dear friend of mine died in my home with hospice and I work in an inpatient hospice unit. Some of your words resonated with my life and past experiences.

    My condolences for your loss.

  8. So very true to the experience. My nephew died two years ago last week. 26 years old. the “stuff” of cancer which draped and hung everywhere, disappeared. His room became neutral. And, the void was so loud. Yet, that is what life is about. Went through it with out parents, aunts, neighbors. Stuff only has the meaning we give it. Then, once we are gone, it either takes on meaning for someone else or winds up in a thrift shop. Thank you for sharing yourself. Love…the intangible that bonds us to each other…cannot be put into a thrift shop or reduced to a pile of stuff. And, indeed, its immortality is lived beyond the last breath.

  9. Oh Dianne – you captured it perfectly. I’m so very sorry that you experienced this massive loss. Profound words.

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