Holy Sonnets: Death, be not proud
BY JOHN DONNE
Death, be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadful, for thou art not so;
For those whom thou think'st thou dost overthrow
Die not, poor Death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleep, which but thy pictures be,
Much pleasure; then from thee much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee do go,
Rest of their bones, and soul's delivery.
Thou art slave to fate, chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poison, war, and sickness dwell,
And poppy or charms can make us sleep as well
And better than thy stroke; why swell'st thou then?
One short sleep past, we wake eternally
And death shall be no more; Death, thou shalt die.
His little shrunken face was finally still. His eye’s had flickered open for the last time and I noticed again how the white parts had turned into a deep citrine, stained by the overabundant bilirubin flowing through his body. He was so small. So sick. And now so still.
His mother had given birth to him at home and even as his condition worsened and he started to turn yellow, spike high fevers and stop eating, she tried to treat him on her own. She attempted to feed him unripe plantains, boiled in herb soaked water. Her unwillingness to come to the hospital was based in part on the denial she used to barricade her heart from pain and also on her fear that she would not be able to afford it. Finally a week after his birth in an act of desperation she brought her dying son to the hospital. But it was too late. For 24 hours we tried everything within our power to help him. His tiny body was poked over and over as we attempted to maintain IV access for fluids and medications. He was placed under blue florescent lights in the special care nursery and oxygen was blown into his nose. He was strong! The whole team was surprised at how long he continued to fight for life. But as the morning of the second day dawned we had nothing else to offer him medically, and his little body stopped fighting.
I remember walking slowly into the small room next to our special care nursery to talk with his mother. He was still breathing but it was apparent that it wouldn’t be for much longer and I wanted to give her the chance to hold her son in his final moments. I knew that culturally this wasn’t normal, death and those dying are avoided at all costs, an unfounded belief that a dying person must have an evil mojo and for self-protection should be avoided. To my surprise she agreed to hold him, but when she moved into the special care nursery and he was placed in her arms she didn’t look at him, talk to him, in fact she barely moved. She wasn’t crying or screaming— she also wasn’t really holding him. After a few short moments she asked for someone to take the baby and with stiff arms handed over her son and quietly walked out of the room. The fear of death permeated the space and she needed out. The nurses had succumbed to the same fear that the mother had fled from and verbalized that he should go into the incubator to breath his last. I disagreed. I held him. Wrapped in a colorful piece of fabric, with only his little yellow face peaking out I held him closely and slowly rocked him for the last 45 minutes of his life.
I have thought a great deal about that little baby, named Senator. I realize that I held him without second thought because death holds no fear for me. Plenty of emotions stirred within my heart causing tears to run down my cheeks as I rocked him that day — but none of them was fear. In fact, it was during that quite experience when I had a “thin” moment. Thin moments have been defined as distinct periods of time when heaven and earth seem almost to touch. This was one such moment, and it was painfully beautiful. I felt as if I was holding Senator in my arms and then quietly, gently he was being lifted up into the tender loving arms of our Heavenly Father. He transitioned from earth into eternity, by way of an invisible door. A door called Death. While some live in fear of walking through that portal — Death holds no fear for me. I know what is waiting for me on the other side, and it is glorious! Death, be not proud.