Things They Don't Tell You by Barbara O'Donnell

That the moment the words terminal diagnosis
leave the doctor’s mouth, the grieving starts.
Speaking a foreign language to cover for

the fact that there is nothing they can do.
That the family will fight, even as they know
the treatment plan is the best medicine available.

That his swallowing reflex will depart before him,
making you figure out ways to give him
the only thing he begs for, cold juice or whiskey.

That you’ll beg the pharmacist to tell you,
which is the better mouthwash to use.
As if it would make a difference.

That you’ll spend those last days, not telling
stories or saying how much you love each other.
But that he’ll repeatedly throw you out of the room.

Make you wonder again, whether to contradict
the doctor’s orders; to give him what he wants.
But which will also hasten his demise.

So that you can try to eke out the minutes, that
the clock tells you are passing, but which seem
to stand still inside the close, bare room,
which seems to be his wish.
That when he does go, the
guilty relief is almost immediate.

---

Barbara O’Donnell was born in West Cork in 1975. She works full time in the NHS in London. Her poetry has been published in Atrium, Ink, Sweat & Tears, Skylight 47, South Bank Poetry and Three Drops Press. She also dabbles in essays and flash fiction.

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