Grief is a sacred journey

Poems to Grieve By: Love, Loss, and Continuing Bonds

DSC04126Don’t run away from grief, o soul,
Look for the remedy inside the pain,
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.
~ Rumi

The weight of my husband Vic’s death crushed me in 2008. Grief filled every waking moment and my dreams, too. Rumi helped me stay with my sorrow and trust that it would heal me.

DSC00036It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
I am such a long way in I see no way through,

and no space: everything is close to my face,
and everything close to my face is stone.

I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
so this massive darkness makes me small.
You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
then your great transforming will happen to me,
and my great grief cry will happen to you.
~ Rainer Maria Rilke (Translated by Robert Bly)

A close, trusted friend sent me this Rilke poem soon after Vic’s death. Depressing, you might think, but the dark images comforted me. I knew others had passed through this land of no hope and emerged to describe what I experienced. With the help of friends and therapists, I trusted my pain would make me “strong and fierce.” I trusted that, in some mysterious way, my surrender to grief mattered to something greater than myself. (When Rilke writes of “the master” breaking in, he means the Divine or God.)

DSC04390 Don’t surrender your loneliness so quickly 
let it cut more deep.
Let it ferment and season you
as few human or even divine ingredients can.
Something missing in my heart tonight
has made my eyes so soft
my voice so tender
my need of God
absolutely clear.
~ Hafiz

As raw grief softened with time, Hafiz assured me that my loneliness would lead to a more universal Love. I walked in Nature and watched the ever-moving cycles of life. I meditated and spent time in silence and prayer. I sat with the silence that accompanied grief.

DSC05833To live in this world
you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it
against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.
~Mary Oliver, “In Blackwater Woods.”

Mary Oliver taught me to hold love and grief close to my heart and let go when I could. Just for a moment at first. No hurry. I spoke of sorrow where I felt safe. Through writing, I absorbed what I had lost and moved the darkness bit by bit. Acknowledging grief cleared space for the beauty of a Swallowtail butterfly, a child’s laugh, and the love that still surrounded me. Bringing grief into light eventually led me to help others express, endure, and grow through loss.

DSC04151

Your body is away from me
But there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.  
~ Rumi

I end where I began with Rumi who assured me that my sense of connection with Vic was a healing force. Vic’s inner presence became my strength, not something to push away or discard.

I think of Vic, take flowers to the place where his ashes are buried, and write about our life together. I keep a space for him in my heart as new life grows in and around me.

And, every day, I send him my news.

***

What poems helped you during the hardest times? If you like this post, you’ll also enjoy Poems to Soothe a Grieving Heart. “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye was an essential teacher for Vic and me during his illness. I also wrote an article about a new poem by Naomi Shihab Nye in Did I Get Enough Love?

45 Comments
  1. Elaine, this is an incredible page…I will read it over and over. Thank you so much. I am posting it on my new FB page. Mary

    • Thank you, Mary. I loved creating this piece and going through my old photos to find an image that suited each poem. Poetry helps me every day. I always use poems in my bereavement groups and ask participants to bring their favorite poems or pieces to share. I’m honored that you’ll post my blog on your new page.
      With gratitude, Elaine

  2. Elaine, this is a breathtaking essay filled with poetry so deep it fills that endless well of my own grief. Thanks for sharing this.

    • Wow, Jill. I’m so glad to touch your heart and soothe your grief. I had a wonderful experience creating this one and soothing my own grief. Sending love and peace.

  3. The poetry is perfection and your photos are exquisite. Thanks so much for this lovely reminder to appreciate the beauty and move with the grief. Love, Myra

    • Myra, I had a wonderful few days playing with poems and images. It all followed an idea or spark given by my writing teacher Ellen Schmidt. In poetry, pain becomes a soul journey with lessons and meaning. Thanks for sending such a loving message, Elaine

  4. This post is a work of art with a message of hope and renewal. Bravo, Elaine!

    • Thank you, Marian. Once the idea came, I had a wonderful time choosing the poems that help me and also tell a story and then finding the right photos in my collection to go with each poem. I’m glad it spoke to you.

  5. Elaine with all it’s sorrow contained within it, the pages verses are so beautiful. I cannot pretend to feel your pain but as I struggle with my own demons it is comforting to know that your page is here as many of us have something to take from it.

    • Thank you, Debby. Grief is just part of being human unfortunately. I try to write about more than grief as the time passes since Vic’s death, but I love these poems and they helped me in the hardest times and help me still. I wanted to pass their beauty along to others.

  6. Elane, thank you so much for these poems and for sharing your own ongoing passage through grief. You brought tears to my eyes, brought thoughts of Adrian back to me. Thanks for reminding me to honor the silence and be still in the space.

    Lynne

    • Your words are healing balm, Lynne. Thank you for reading and for being so kind in your response. I love poetry and feel helped by it on a deep level. You and I have quite a challenge in learning to be alone, but there are benefits. Grateful for your writing and painting, as I’m grateful for writing and photography. The best part of this piece was bringing the two together.

  7. Well I know they are comforting to others as well. If anyone is looking for a little inspiration or some comfort in their time of grief, yours is the perfect place to come 🙂

    • Thank you, Debby. I’ve been enjoying your posts, too–issues about publishing and your own beautiful grief poetry, plus so much more. Will watch for that book of yours.

  8. My favorite Rumi:

    The Guest House

    “This being human is a guest house.
    Every morning a new arrival.
    A joy, a depression, a meanness,
    some momentary awareness comes
    as an unexpected visitor.
    Welcome and entertain all!
    Even if they’re a crowd of sorrows,
    who violently sweep your house
    empty of its furniture,
    still, treat each guest honorably.
    He may be clearing you out
    for some new delight.
    The dark thought, the shame, the malice,
    meet them at the door laughing,
    and invite them in.
    Be grateful for whomever comes,
    because each has been sent
    as a guide from beyond.”
    — Rumi

    It brings me comfort, maybe hope.

    • Hi Robin, The Guest House is one of my favorites, too, and I could have chosen it–but maybe didn’t want to tear my house up for the photograph. Sometimes I need your photoshop skills. It’s a poem I always use in bereavement groups, because our lives are turned upside down repeatedly and the best thing to do is surrender and hope that some higher guide is sending lessons we need to lead to “some new delight.” Glad to know you love this one, too.

      • Let me know if I can ever help you out by photo-shopping something. I love doing it. For me it’s more healing even than writing.

        • Thanks for the offer, Robin. I’ll keep it in mind. I still haven’t read your blog this week, but I look forward to a trip to Wegman’s.

  9. Elaine,
    Even before you wrote it, I knew that you had spent time carefully selecting poetry and photos and your own words that comprise this post.
    It feels very much like a prescription for others in pain…a sacred gift…
    Thank you!
    Patti

    • Thank you, Patti. I’m sure you know and love some of these poems, too. I hope your new adventure is working out well or well enough. Sending you love, Elaine

  10. I’m so glad I saw your post this evening and took the time to catch up on your blog. This article really touched me. It’s been a difficult week – missing my mom a great deal, thinking a lot about where we were last year at this time…

    The poems that you included, particularly the two by Rumi, really struck a chord. So beautiful. Thank you.

    Love,
    Ann

    • I like this one, too, Ann. I loved choosing the poems from the many I love, finding my own photos to go with them, and putting the whole thing into a sort of progression. Thanks for your encouraging words. Makes me happy.

  11. Be like the bird who, pausing in her flight awhile on boughs too slight, feels them give way beneath her, and yet sings, knowing that she hath wings.
    Victor Hugo

    Come up higher; the air is purer,
    The sky is bluer: come up higher.
    Come up higher; the mind is cleaner,
    The heart is truer: come up higher.
    Come up higher; life is clearer,
    And heaven is nearer: come up higher.
    Minnie Keith Bailey

    The above are two of my favorites.
    Thank you for all your encouraging posts.

    • Thanks for the poems and your note, Nati. I’ll save these for bereavement groups. So beautiful. I didn’t know either of them and thank you for sending comfort and beauty.

  12. Elaine, how timely that you reposted this lovely essay. I will share a friend who just said her final good-bye to her husband last night.

    The depth of your love, grief, and wisdom to share — all so apparent.

    • Thank you for your kind words, Shirley. I’m glad to think of this post going to a woman whose husband just died. Just last night? She may be stunned. I certainly was, even though we’d known for two years.

  13. Thank you for these poems. My favorite has been “The Well of Grief,” by David Whyte. You can find it here:
    http://www.davidwhyte.com/english_wellofgrief.html

    I also like Mary Oliver’s “The Uses of Sorrow.” It has indeed taken me years to find the gift …
    http://theidproject.org/blog/joren/2013/08/02/uses-sorrow-mary-oliver

    Peace,
    Kathleen

    • I love both these poems, Kathleen. I know the David Whyte well and read it often. I’ve read the Mary Oliver poem once before, but it’s unforgettable. I love the messages in both. Thanks for sending your favorites.
      Elaine

  14. All things come to us when we need them….so it is, dear Elaine, that you and your work have entered my life now. In the midst of the challenges, I am nearly prostrate with gratitude that such wisdom as yours could come my way right now.

    To ‘meet’ Rumi and Hafiz again is wonderful as well – all new poems to me. Thank you for being you, thank you for sharing your world.

    Take care,

    Casey

    • Dear Casey,

      Thank you for taking time to send me this loving note. It’s a gift when we read or see something that’s just what we need at a certain moment. Poetry has been a big help to me, and I leaned heavily on certain poems and passages when my husband was ill and after his death. My book has many poetry clips and whole poems, including the one below by Rilke. A friend sent me “Pushing Through” soon after Vic’s death when I felt stunned and caged by grief. It was a comfort to read an image that described my experience of feeling closed in by grief. This may not be the poem for you at this moment, but who knows? It’s the one I thought of when reading your comment.

      You take care, too, Casey. And may the returning light cast brightness on our world,
      Elaine

      Rilke: Pushing Through

      It’s possible I am pushing through solid rock
      in flintlike layers, as the ore lies, alone;
      I am such a long way in I see no way through,
      and no space: everything is close to my face,
      and everything close to my face is stone.

      I don’t have much knowledge yet in grief
      so this massive darkness makes me small.
      You be the master: make yourself fierce, break in:
      then your great transforming will happen to me,
      and my great grief cry will happen to you.

      Rainer Maria Rilke
      (Translated by Robert Bly)

  15. Hearth is heavy,birds are falling from the sky,cord are breaking,love is gone,…… eyes are red,soul are panting,few show sympathy others run away….. you never can tell what is coming next,you are your own friend….. in the rain

    • I hope you’ll talk with someone who knows how to be with you and hear you.
      It helps me when I look for one beautiful or loving thing and remember that side of life is also available even if it feels far away at the moment.

  16. Thank you.
    xo

  17. Bless you for this share, Elaine. Thank you! x

    • Thank you, Kimmie. It’s one of the most popular posts I’ve ever written. Maybe it’s time to do it again with other favorite poems.

  18. Time never hugs me love never consoles me only God gave me piece,darkness lower my moral brightness shows my sympathy, I now know I now see,the world will never thanks me but only heart of different soul’s will do soo,I feel the pains i see the tears i feel the coldfeets I smell sorrow i touch darkness,I learn movement in grief n graves,no conditions will ever control my soul,that why everyday i wake-up in different situations n I face the reality n I long 2 win the fearing days on my journey.hands2 do feet 2 move eyes2 see i won’t surrender all the burdens are my lessons 2 face life.

  19. Only time gives daily bread,only love gives daily smile only matters gives daily concern,only God give daily living,when days are dark tears are more ,when days are dark ideas are few,when days are dark memories are many,when days are dark anger build great home in your heart,when days are dark feelings become tears n tears become loneliness,when days are dark wonderings n thoughts become greatest king in hearts, pity you fail 2 identity the problem you fail 2 remember your strength you find ur self in darkness you find your self in agony you find your self lost you find your self in bad conditions,when the Sun goes down it 4 temporal not permanent n when your problem strike u it also temporary not permanent.I LOVE UR ABOVE POEMS N THEY STRIKE MA HEART,THAT Y I BREATH AT MY WRITING

    • Thanks for commenting, Calvin. I wonder if your phrases become poems in your writing. I love the poems in this blog post, too. I don’t live in that state of darkness anymore and I never felt I didn’t remember my strength or my ability to grieve just as all humans must grieve. I didn’t feel my situation was unique or permanent. Some of those poems were important to me right after my husband died when I was in deepest sorrow. For me, grief felt closer to love than any other emotion. That was true in waking and in dream. I still send messages to the moon.

  20. I love your quotes from Rumi and Mary Oliver. I lost my partner three years ago through a tragic boat accident. This quote from Rumi has helped me a lot:

    Grief can be the garden of compassion. If you keep your heart open through everything, your pain can become your greatest ally in your life’s search for love and wisdom.

    Three years on, I’m still searching and learning of the love and wisdom that grief brings. And in my search today, I found you speaking on TedX which then brought me to here, your beautifully crafted site! Thank you! i.xoxo

    • Irene, I’m sorry you’ve had to endure such a difficult sudden loss. It sounds as though you’re finding good ways to support yourself. Thank you for finding me and for your kind words about my site.

      Three years can feel like a short time and also forever–at least that was my experience. Even after eight years, I work through the aftermath of my husband’s death and miss him every day. My grief isn’t acute as it was, but it’s an ongoing part of love. Somehow, in time, I learned to carry grief with more grace and acceptance. I’m also grateful for help from many poets. I wish you well.

  21. Elaine, my beloved dies this past week–and then I found this posting. Thank you so much. I especially like the short poem on the window in my heart. That brings me peace in the times I’m still in darkness and lose my sense of connection.

    • Oh, Isaura. I’m so very sorry. This is a hard time for you. I remember the raw ache of those early days and the surreal sense of myself and my life. It’s natural and normal to feel yourself in the dark. I had such a strong visceral sense of my husband’s absence that it took a while to realize how strongly his inner presence remained as an enduring part of my inner life. I hope you have deep connections with people who can support you and be with you in grief–or you will search for helpers as you searched for a poem.
      Isn’t that Rumi poem magnificent? I know it by heart and never tire of it. When I see the moon, the poem comes to mind as does my beloved.
      Sending you love and peace.

  22. Elaine,
    It is nothing short of a miracle, to be able to find meaning and beauty in grief. I lost my grandfather recently, and there are times when I feel I’m just drifting along, with no comfort in sight. The poem about messeges to the moon is so beautiful in its vulnerability and sense of strength. A lot like us, perhaps. I know I’ll make it, my Dada (granddad) was a man of fire and spirit, I can’t be any less. But it’d be a long journey, figuring out how I’ll make it. This essay id one for the journey. Thank you. All my love and light your way.

    • I’m glad this is helpful, Sohini. I’m sorry you are grieving for your grandfather. I agree that grief is a long journey and it takes time to find meaning and beauty within it. Poetry helps me find both. Creating rituals does the same–so setting up a place to remember your Dada with photos, flowers, candles, or whatever appeals to you. Finding meaning in death is part of many cultures and we can reclaim this perspective. Learning to deal with loss and death gives us more compassionate hearts and makes us human. If you haven’t seen it, you might find something helpful in my TEDx talk: Good Grief! What I Learned from Loss. It’s at https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=PBzEwf1k59Y

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