On Dying

Where, O Death, is your sting?
        If we increase the IV Morphene bolus
              You won’t feel a thing.
There is nothing painful or hateful
      About this death.

Cast your anxieties on Him —
    Be anxious for nothing.
       Or X units of Lorazepam will do the trick in a pinch.
So much for the ars moriendi:
    The four great Last Temptations.

Only a heart can be tempted
    And a heart needs a mind to know itself
       And the mind is tranquilized
As a side-effect of easing
    The Body’s pain.

Nothing now can be lost,
    But — nothing gained.
       No final furious furnace,
No last purgatorial trial,
    Ergo, less of heaven won.

Not that there are many left
    Who even believe this any more;
       Assume its all hokum
Assume we all receive the same gold medal
    No matter what.

“Yf onlye sinnes were so easily
    Taken care of as Tyndall sayeth”
       Said Sir/St. Thomas More
More and more and more and more
    And more is less than ever before, said Mos Def.

It is less.
    This death, this dying, Death itself.
       I cannot see his awful face;
The grey, disgusting pallor,
    The ravenous teeth.

But for a few clues—gory pictures on the news,
    The severe grip of acute gastro-enteritis—
       I would almost believe it was just a myth,
Some old folk-tale, created from the abyss
    Of what men didn’t used to understand.

This hospice could be a Hilton.
    The funeral home—a manor.
       There are no screams of agony.
Should there be? Theologically speaking?
    What is the difference between ‘peace’ and ‘sedation’?

If you pray for it, and a pill supplies,
    What does that mean about the prayer?
       Rabbi, teach us to pray.
Nurse, give us 50ml more.
    Where is the Spirit in this?

Buried beneath oceans of oxytocin,
    Unable to breathe,
       Strangled out.
Out of the way, we can now go after the material body,
    Beating the disease to the punch.

Like some shadow-twin —
    the medicine produces all the same effects:
       Delirium, loss of appetite, inability to swallow,
One to four months
    Ahead of schedule.

Cancer isn’t killing her,
    Her care is. “I thirst”.
       Minor organs self-liquidate
To provide hydration for major organs,
    Until she dies.

And when she does
    A blanket will be placed over her
       No more to be looked at,
And then she will be wheeled to an Egyptian mortuary,
    Eviscerated and stuffed.

She will be gone, to be sure,
    But does this actually count as “dying”?
       We need a new name, surely,
For whatever this process is
    That now ushers us across the Styx.

And what means her absence,
    In a world of Absence?
       We already live 1000 miles away,
Out of touch via FaceTime,
    So what is really lost?

Her body.
    That tranquilized, soon-embalmed thing,
       That Dad was once crazy about,
That grew me in its core,
    That carried her through her days.

Those cubic feet of blood and meat
    That God cares so much about
       That He died to redeem it
To be able to raise it up again
    On the Last Day.

Lord, give me a real death
    That I may have real Life.
       Heal me, and strengthen me for the pain
Extract physic immortal from the venom
    Of dying. It is finished.

The Rev. Ben Jefferies

The Rev. Ben Jefferies is a sinner, grateful to the Lord for his mercy. He grew up in England, and emigrated to the United States in 1999. He went to Wheaton College, and several years later discerned a call to ministry and went to seminary at Nashotah House Theological Seminary. He was ordained to the priesthood by Archbishop Duncan in 2014. He currently serves The Good Shepherd Anglican Church in Opelika, Alabama. He served on the Liturgy Task Force of the ACNA from 2015-2019, and was the lead designer for the production of the printed prayer book. He continues as the Assistant to the Custodian of the Book of Common Prayer (2019), and serves on the board of directors of Anglican House Media Ministries. He is married with three daughters.

'On Dying' have 2 comments

  1. February 18, 2021 @ 8:52 pm Danae Wright

    I love this poem because i wonder how pain control at the end of life changes death, i gave birth without pain medication and it was empowering, but is it wrong to make the birth experience less painful? Is it wrong to make dying less painful? When I watched my very ready father die the pain and anxiety meds did not cancel the temptations. I look to the resurrection – thank you for reminding us how wonderful these bodies are.


    • February 19, 2021 @ 4:00 pm Ben Jefferies

      Thanks for your kind words! Yes, the questions in the poem are still genuine questions for me, and were not mere rhetoric. I do not know where the line is between how much sedation is too much; I just have been so profoundly troubled by seeing the slippery slope of “too much” sedation; hence the poem…


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