By Jake Rice
There was pain in his eyes but no fear could be found,
He had faced death before and won every round.
This time was different, both he and I knew,
I helplessly wondered just what I could do.
I smiled as he mumbled; I tried to stay strong,
But my hero was defeated and it just felt so wrong.
True pain this man knew, the type that crushes the heart,
Though decades since the war, nightmares still tore him apart.
But the true nightmare he lived did not include a gun,
It was the worst nightmare of all, he had outlived his son.
These were heroes of war, who had managed not to fall,
But now a diseased brain would soon claim them all.
Their minds constantly struggled to determine what was real,
Grasping for the dignity this disease promised to steal.
As his life drew to an end I stood by his bed,
He acknowledged my presence with a slight tilt of the head.
Unable to speak, he lifted a trembling hand,
I grabbed it, he squeezed, a simple gesture so grand.
Despite the situation his smile was serine,
As I looked at my grandfather I realized one last thing.
He was not scared to die, he had accepted his fate,
So he shifted his thoughts to that very first date.
With his mind on his wife and that magical night,
He took one last breath and followed the light.
Jake Rice, M.D., Class of 2017, is a second-year medical student and a veteran of the United States Navy. He wrote this poem while reflecting on his grandfather's final years in the dementia wing of a VA nursing facility.