Dying takes skill
but it is one you must manage
without practice.

Mark playing soccer
leaves the bench for his rotation
face flat on the ground
no heart beat — no
second chance
no fuss no muss for him
his family left to sort through
what remains of a life.

Barb slips and falls
a femur spiral fracture
no surgery she insists
out of her mind with pain
but her sister warns
against “too many” drugs
addiction — be careful —
and then it is too late
be careful what advice you seek
as you take this final journey.

Janet fades with slow dignity
asks her daughters
permission to leave —
Can I?
Yes, mom —
not easy conversations
she lingers
not her choice…
“I’m ready, my bags are packed,
what’s the hold up with the hearse?”

Annette fades year after year
bones protruding — collarbone, cheeks —
pain a constant companion. No drugs
will stop the constant
flames licking at all of her joints…
and yet
for a visitor she rallies
smiles — we name it
the podium effect — called to
perform, she rises to meet
the moment.

And Judith? What about me?
I don’t get to choose and
I don’t know which exit
I would choose if I could…
bored already
with pain after only a few
months. Could I rise
to some perceived necessity? Would I
leave my family to sort
through my life, discarding
unclaimed remnants? Or would I
fade with dignity — humor
intact to the end?

Breathing is an effort
rewarded. Dying can be effort
or not.
But the reward fades from
the ability to grasp it, pulsing
in and out until the end.

  • Sylvia Plath, Lady Lazarus (1962)

Judith McDaniel, PhD, JD, teaches Law and Social Change at the University of Arizona. Her book, Sanctuary: A Journey, was published by Firebrand Books in 1986