“Sit here and breathe,

Think about the sacred space you are entering.

And when you enter, do NOT cry!”


She commands.

Exposing a strength

I hadn’t realized the dying could possess.


Wooden stool below the poster outside the bedroom door,

This is not optional, I despair.

19-year-old hospice volunteer on her first shift.


I know what I’ll see when I enter,

after I acquiesce to her demands.

87-year-old Ruby on a ventilator,

only a few more days left to spend with her broken lungs.


Surrounded by family who have sat in this stool outside her room

digging deep into memories

richer than anything I could imagine –


And what I cannot imagine

is sitting here.

Sitting and thinking and breathing

all at the same time,

and not shedding a few inexperienced tears. 

Alina Siddiqui is a senior at Barnard College studying neuroscience and race & ethnicity. She is interested in the intersection of medicine and racial and social equity, and is passionate about using art as an agent of change and a promoter of wellness.