Facing the unbearable: poems about dying wisely


For the next two or three weeks, the poems on this blog come from a special section in my collection Senior Poems. The section is called “Dying Wisely”, and most of the poems are about the terminal illness and death of my very dear brother-in-law, Professor Graham Nuthall. (This is not a recent death, by the way.)

The death of anyone you love is different from every other. And you experience this death in a different light from anyone else.  It seems almost presumptuous to write about this death, knowing that my own feelings were surely but a pale distortion of what my sister, his wife, and his children went through.

And although I write about the lessons I learned from Graham’s death, I would  never pretend that I know anything about death in general. Only about how his particular illness and death seemed to me personally. The poems reflect flashes of insight for which I am grateful. The writing was a powerful part of the process, helping me learn more.

As I typed the poems into my blog, one by one, and as I type these thoughts, I get echoes of that same scouring grief. The same fear and panic as I contemplate future deaths, the inevitability, the mystery, the void. And the same intense gratitude for the dear departed — not just Graham, of course, but my parents and grandparents and uncles and aunts, and some close friends.

Dying wisely may be an impossible dream. Grieving wisely is hard enough. But we all do our best, and our best will be good enough, this I know.

I would really appreciate hearing your own thoughts about the poems. Ways in which your own experience has been similar, or different. Your own fears, hopes, and inspirations. Your changing attitudes towards death as you grow older.

pic and words cc-by-2.0 rachel mcalpine



Oh lucky Max

Photo of children playing soccer by Harmony, cc-by-nd-2.0 (via Flickr)

‘Today was the worst day
in my whole entire life.
Five bad things happened.

  1.  I forgot my lunch—again.
  2. I missed out on play lunch.
  3. Celia hit me with a hat.
  4. Then Celia hit me with some
    nail polish in a glove.
  5. At soccer people stooded
    on my head.’

Oh lucky Max.
You’re six. And you survived.
May this truly be the worst day

in your whole entire life.
May you never have another day
as bad as this.

From Senior Poems by Rachel McAlpine

Fashion sculptor


Fashion sculptor

Bodies are your block of stone
you insert a corset
sucking and squeezing
excess to a better place

Sir surgeon sir
excuse me
oozing very small
very soft

very deep within my dress
very thin
very flesh
I mean your dress

Poem and photo by Rachel McAlpine CC BY-NC 2.0