When You Take Your Last Breath: An Original Poem on Losing a Loved One

When You Take Your Last Breath: An Original Poem on Losing a Loved One

Guest Commentary

Feb 27, 2024

By Ellen Zhang, MD

When my grandmother passed away from cancer, I was miles away from her with an ocean separating us. This event in tandem with hospital patients who were receiving care from health care workers and their loved ones inspired this poem. Working in the wards, I know how to conduct a death exam, call time of death, and complete all the paperwork in the aftermath. At the same time, I hope to never forget the rich lives that my patients have lived. In my poem, I used the Chinese phrase for wait, pounced deng wo, as an homage to my grandmother and to serve as a reminder for the humanity found in caring for people.


When you take your last breath

I am not there to witness it

     or hold your hand to breathe

silent prayers for your passing 

     after the funeral in reflection 

and remembrance of the

     good memories and love

do I accept your parting gift— 

     somehow you knew that it 

might break me so 等我

     until I arrive back to you

finding you in our next life


Dr. Zhang is an internal medicine resident at Stanford interested in pursuing a hematology/oncology fellowship. Through writing, she unravels the complexities of medicine. She has been recognized in the International Hippocrates Prize, Williams Carlos Williams Poetry Competition, and Stephen A. Dibase Contest. Her works appear in JAMA, JAMA Oncology, and Hekton International, among others. Disclosure.


The ideas and opinions expressed on the ASCO Connection Blogs do not necessarily reflect those of ASCO. None of the information posted on ASCOconnection.org is intended as medical, legal, or business advice, or advice about reimbursement for health care services. The mention of any product, service, company, therapy or physician practice on ASCOconnection.org does not constitute an endorsement of any kind by ASCO. ASCO assumes no responsibility for any injury or damage to persons or property arising out of or related to any use of the material contained in, posted on, or linked to this site, or any errors or omissions.
Back to Top