the empty bed & the red dahlia

I imagine

the woman.

The week before

She’d been out in the cold.

A nasty wind


Perhaps too much shopping

Too many people

Coughing and sneezing.

She fell ill.

Admitted to hospital

They do all the right things.


but not critical.



Intravenous antibiotics.

At one point

The intensive care doctors


Taking her for more,

For ‘escalation.’

They determine

‘She’s not unwell enough. OK for the ward.’

And so,

She lays in bed,

Slowly recovering.



At some point,

She doesn’t.

Rapidly, she becomes confused.


Struggling with the oxygen,

The drip, the cannula,

Her bedclothes are too hot or tight

The plastic pillow wrapper

Causes her to sweat,

The noise, a rustling


Two am

a doctor is called.

More fluids,

discussion with the middle-of-the-night



Stronger stuff,

More powerful antibiotics

To address the decline.

Catheter inserted.

She struggles.

Bloods are taken

Three attempts,

was it four?

Eventually, she calms

and dies.

Something happened.

She slipped away.

One moment breathing,

The next,


A futile attempt at resuscitation

As, by the time the nurse

finds her,

Growing cold,

Five am,

She’s gone.

Nurse calls her husband.

can’t get through.

‘Hello, it’s Jan and Jack, we can’t come to the phone right now. Leave a message…’

You, her son is second in line,


For reasons not altogether clear,

your phone doesn’t ring.

It is six am now.


You aren’t woken.

No message on your phone,

No ‘missed call.’

Time passes.

The body is moved to the mortuary,

The nurses having

Washed her,

Removed the needles and tubing,


This is called.

And off to

Rose Cottage

Or whatever euphemism

They use for the place

Where bodies are stored.

The intervening hours are not straightforward.

There is a change of shifts of nurses

and doctors, porters, technicians, and support workers.

The ‘handover’

The message from nurse Karen to nurse Polly to call you or your dad

is missed,

lost in the rambunctiousness of a Sunday morning.

By eleven


and your dad


Someone else

Is in your mum’s bed.

Where is mum?

You think.


‘Where is mum?’ You ask, ‘they must have moved her,’ wistful thinking.

You see the nurse

And her pallor

Reveals all.

The bed that was empty

The drama overnight

Is meticulously recorded in the notes,

And yet,

You, your dad,

Have been missed,


A slip of the pen

of an action

On a too long to-do list.

The bed is occupied

by another older woman


patterned blue hospital gown,

>Property of…<


As the hospital works overtime,


The patients keep coming,

The emergency department struggles,

There are inadequate resources within the system,

A rubber band snapped

Its recoil, gone.


Who is to blame? (#tory #brexit #fate #butterfly?)


Is the fall-guy?

Who picks up the pieces of

Your mum’s distant suffering?

The twist of fate

And genetics, environment, and time

That aligned.

No one really.

One of those things.

Death and an empty bed.


don’t stay empty for long,


Hot beds

They call them on miniature submarines

Where sailors in shifts,

Sleep in rotation.

River flowing, breathing.


This poem is a tribute to M.

M was a lovely old woman, in her 90’s.

She had been dying for the past six months,



Every time I visited,

Letting myself-in via the key-safe

Code 1929

For her year of birth

And negotiated the no-longer used lift

On the steep narrow stair.

I would find her asleep.

‘M, it’s me, doctor, how are you?’

She would waken,


‘Thank you for coming,’ she would always say.

In response to, ‘How are you?’

‘A little better.’

She never moaned

never complained.

One day I showed her a photo of the dahlias in her front garden.

her husband had planted them years before

And now,

Restricted to indoors, she was unable to see them


thoughtful neighbours dead-headed and brought her cuttings).

She smiled.

I don’t know what she could see,

Whether cataracts or poor vision interrupted,

Yet she thanked me again.

She was a good soul.

A ‘gutte-neshoma’ my mum would say,

The word in Yiddish.


On the final Friday,

As I popped in.

1929, then stairs and

her bed was empty.

She had died in the night.

The room was silent.

It took me a moment to realise

the meaning,

To understand.

She had left.

Her smile was gone.

She had died in her sleep,

And the house was empty.


The carers and nurses diverted to others,

The world moves on

And just my memory,

My reflection.

Published by rodkersh1948

Trying to understand the world, one emotion at a time.

4 thoughts on “the empty bed & the red dahlia

  1. Thank you for sharing your poem
    M was my friend
    Who I met when I moved to Maltby 46 years ago
    A lovely, gentle, kind lady
    We shared memories of East Yorkshire

    Liked by 1 person

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