A Hospital Chaplain Reflects on Poetry and Dying

Photo by freaktography

A few weeks later, my friend sends me a copy of Dunn’s poem “A Coldness.” The speaker says about his sick brother, “From then on he was delusional, / the cancer making him / stupid, insistently so, and lost. / I wanted him to die. / And I wished his wife / would say A shame / instead of God’s will. Or if God / had such a will, Shame on Him.”

I’ve found the lines about cursing God, “Shame on Him,” to be true. My supervisor had told us—me and my fellow chaplain interns—that we might find it appropriate to tell a patient that it’s all right to be angry at God. It takes me a while to say this to someone because a lot of my patients believe that to question God is to curse her very nature. They believe it’s God’s will for them to suffer. Some refuse pain-alleviating medication because they believe God wills them to suffer like Christ. “Sometimes, God sucks,” I eventually tell one woman around midnight before she goes into surgery the next morning for a cancer.

Win Bassett, in an essay for Poetry magazine, on his summer working as a hospital chaplain.

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