The Cremation of Sam McGee & Me

Author: John Smelcer, PhD, CAGS
Last Reviewed: December 20, 2022

After the third chemo cycle, I was freezing all the time.
I piled under blankets, took saunas at the YMCA,
but 170 degrees just wasn’t hot enough to thaw me.

I was so cold that during Thanksgiving in Tennessee, I swear
I thought about crawling into the oven with the turkey to get warm.

The cozy thought reminded me of a poem by Robert Service,
the famous Gold Rush poet who wrote, “The Cremation of Sam McGee,”
about a fella’ from Tennessee who was cremated
in a red-hot woodstove after freezing to death in the Yukon.

As the poem goes, after a while, his fellow miner opened the door:

“There sat Sam, looking cool and calm, in the heart of the furnace roar;
and he wore a smile you could see a mile, and he said,
“Please close that door. It’s fine in here,
but I greatly fear you’ll let in the cold and storm.
Since I left Plumtree, down in Tennessee, it’s the first time I’ve been warm.”


About the author: In the fall of 2022, Dr. John Smelcer was diagnosed with stage 2 B-cell, non-specified, non-Hodgkin’s Lymphoma, a metastatic cancer of the lymphatic system. He is currently undergoing hospitalization cycles of chemo and immuno-therapy. John Smelcer is the author of 60 books, including a dozen books of poetry. His most recent collection is Raven. For a quarter century, he was Poetry Editor at Rosebud Magazine, where he currently serves as Senior Editor Emeritus. From 2016-2020, he was the Inaugural Writer-in-Residence for the Charter for Compassion, the world’s largest compassion movement with over five million members in 45 countries.

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