Comfort for the Dead
Father John is dying, as fiercely as he lived,
and as alone.
Yes, no biopsy, but everything else,
IVs pulled, but he is fighting on,
At the river’s edge, reluctant, jaw set,
Yelling, pulling away, the black waters,
won’t get him, now.
And then that call to me, his only friend,
A reluctant friend of three visits a year,
And then that call I knew would come,
A young woman, kind, says, “He is dying, no, now,
wait, now, he's dead."
Of course I’ll come, yes right away, no traffic at 2 am,
Father John, yes, ready or not, is dead,
And that face, steely, eyes gray, sunken, open,
defiant to the end.
So I come to his side, still warm,
Kiss his forehead, smooth his hair,
Gently, with care, close his lids,
Sit holding his limp warm left hand with mine,
heart to still heart.
Oh yes, we Jews know how to die,
Singing, invoking the angels for safety of the soul,
Treasure each day, this whole world a narrow bridge,
The one thing is to not be afraid,
not be afraid.
I saw his fear, that terror facing death’s reality,
The day before he said, “Well, that’s reality and then,
there is unreality.”
“And I think, get tomorrow, go and get a, a big sandwich.”
He said, “I’ll just have to take control of this station.”
There is unreality.
Fierce in life, advocate for gay prisoners,
Minister to the City and County gay tank,
By post for hundreds more all over the US,
Don’t abuse them, dying an abuse, inevitable,
that is reality.
Enter the minister with permission from the Holy See,
Such a sweet blessing, hand on shoulder, on forehead,
Kind words, help him softly step into the boat,
That lonely ride across the river into eternity,
from this eternity.
Did we help him heal, heel to his task,
As I turned and looked back one last time,
His face more calm, without the challenge,
At peace, at rest, final rest,
Perhaps there is after all,
comfort for the dead.