Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities


Terri Erickson
Pfafftown, North Carolina, United States

Women with red and orange flowers on a gold background
Untitled painting by Stephen White. Used with permission.

In a care home in Göteborg, Sweden, my husband’s sister, Jensina, sits vigil at the bedside of their Aunt Astrid, who is dying. She holds her hand, speaks to her as if everything is as it was, the two of them talking in Astrid’s apartment, her sharp mind and dry wit belying the myths of old age. Beauty clings to her still in the bones of her face, in the calm repose of this slow progression of her soul moving farther and farther from all that she has ever known.

Perhaps she can hear the chill wind blowing against the building, the swishy sound of sensible shoes as they travel up and down the hallway, and her niece’s familiar voice, ebbing and flowing like the tides. But there could be other voices beckoning, her mother, sister, and friends who have already left this world for the next. For hours my sister-in-law—who has so often traveled across the ocean to care for her aunt—hopes for a complete recovery.

Miracles are not unheard of and as a nurse, Jensina has seen them. But there is only the miracle of Astrid’s long life, which comes at last to a peaceful end. Her attendants place a few red flowers plucked from a bedside bouquet into her hands, smooth her covers. And later, with her sister’s daughter nearby, Astrid’s body is taken away, leaving a trail of bright red petals on the care room floor.

TERRI KIRBY ERICKSON is the author of six collections of poetry, including A Sun Inside My Chest (Press 53), winner of the 2021 International Book Award for Poetry. Her work has appeared in “American Life in Poetry,” Annals of Internal Medicine, JAMA, Latin American Literary Review, Poet’s Market, Quarterly Literary Review Singapore (QLRS), Sport Literate, The Sun, The Writer’s Almanac, Valparaiso Poetry Review, Verse Daily, and many more. Her awards include the Joy Harjo Poetry Prize, Nazim Hikmet Award, and a Nautilus Silver Book Award. She lives in North Carolina, USA.

Winter 2022



Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.