Peter Gabriel - I Grieve

It was only one hour ago
it was all so different then
nothing yet has really sunk in
looks like it always did
this flesh and bone
it's just the way that you were tied in
now there's no one home

I grieve for you
you leave me
It's so hard to move on
still loving what's gone
they say life carries on
carries on and on and on

the news that truly shocks is the empty, empty page
while the final rattle rocks its empty, empty cage
and I can't handle this

I grieve for you
and you leave me

let it out and move on
missing what's gone
they say life carries on
they say life carries on and on and on

life carries on
in the people I meet
in everyone that's out on the street
in all the dogs and cats
in the flies and rats
in the rot and the rust 
in the ashes and the dust
life carries on and on and on and on
life carries on and on and on

it’s just the car that we ride in
the home we reside in
the face that we hide in
the way we are tied in
life carries on and on and on and on
life carries on and on and on

did I dream this belief?
or did I believe this dream?
now I can find relief
I grieve

Emily Dickinson on the Death of her Nephew

In 1863, Emily Dickinson's nephew, Gilbert, died at the age of eight. The entire family was devastated. In a letter to the young boy's mother, Susan Gilbert Dickinson, who was also one of her dearest friends, Emily tries to offer consolation. In the enigmatic writing style she is so well-known for, Emily remembers Gilbert's vibrant personality and manages to convey the vast mystery and incomprehensibility of death.

Dear Sue -
    The Vision of Immortal Life has been fulfilled -
   How simply at the last the Fathom comes! The Passenger and not the Sea, we find surprises us-
    Gilbert rejoiced in Secrets -
   His Life was panting with them - With what menace of Light he cried "Dont tell, Aunt Emily"! Now my ascended Playmate must instruct me. Show us, prattling Preceptor, but the way to thee!
    He knew no niggard moment - His Life was full of Boon - The Playthings of the Dervish were not so wild as his -
    No crescent was this Creature - He traveled from the Full -
    Such soar, but never set -
    I see him in the Star, and meet his sweet velocity in everything that flies - His Life was like the Bugle, which winds itself away, his Elegy an echo - his Requiem ecstasy -
    Dawn and Meridian in one.
    Wherefore would he wait, wronged only of Night, which he left for us -
    Without a speculation, our little Ajax spans the whole -

          Pass to thy Rendezvous of Light,
          Pangless except for us -
          Who slowly ford the Mystery
          Which thou hast leaped across!



These days, as I walk to class,  my father's face appears in my mind. I can see him. I can feel his absence so intensely that it leaves me disoriented. I look around me, at trees and sky and people and I think of how he is gone forever, how I exist in a world without him and how incomprehensible that truth is.

I want to find him. I want him close to me. I want to say I have a father again.

 I am inconsolable.

Emily Dickinson - I measure every Grief I meet

I measure every Grief I meet
With narrow, probing, eyes –
I wonder if It weighs like Mine –
Or has an Easier size. -

I wonder if They bore it long –
Or did it just begin –
I could not tell the Date of Mine –
It feels so old a pain –

I wonder if it hurts to live –
And if They have to try –
And whether – could They choose between –
It would not be – to die –

I note that Some – gone patient long –
At length, renew their smile –
An imitation of a Light
That has so little Oil –

I wonder if when Years have piled –
Some Thousands – on the Harm –
That hurt them early – such a lapse
Could give them any Balm –

Or would they go on aching still
Through Centuries of Nerve –
Enlightened to a larger Pain –
In Contrast with the Love –

The Grieved – are many – I am told –
There is the various Cause –
Death – is but one – and comes but once –
And only nails the eyes –

There's Grief of Want – and grief of Cold –
A sort they call "Despair" –
There's Banishment from native Eyes –
In sight of Native Air –

And though I may not guess the kind –
Correctly – yet to me
A piercing Comfort it affords
In passing Calvary –

To note the fashions – of the Cross –
And how they're mostly worn –
Still fascinated to presume
That Some – are like my own -

Angus & Julia Stone - All Of Me

Is there a cure for this pain
Maybe I should have something to eat
But food won't take this emptiness away
I'm hungry for you my love

Well I made it through another day
In my cold room
On scraps and pieces left behind
I survive on the memory of you

All Of me is all for you
You're all I see
All of me is all for you
You're all I need

Is there a remedy for waiting
For love's victorious return
Is there a remedy for hating
Every second that I'm without you

All of me is all for you
You're all I see
All of me is all for you
You're all I need

All this life is all for love
Its the only road I'll choose
And every street and avenue
Only one will lead me back to you

One Love, One Love, One Love
One Love, One Love, One Love

Good Will Hunting

So if I asked you about art, you'd probably give me the skinny on every art book ever written. Michelangelo, you know a lot about him. Life's work, political aspirations, him and the pope, sexual orientations, the whole works, right? But I'll bet you can't tell me what it smells like in the Sistine Chapel. You've never actually stood there and looked up at that beautiful ceiling; seen that. If I ask you about women, you'd probably give me a syllabus about your personal favorites. You may have even been laid a few times. But you can't tell me what it feels like to wake up next to a woman and feel truly happy. You're a tough kid. And I'd ask you about war, you'd probably throw Shakespeare at me, right, "once more unto the breach dear friends." But you've never been near one. You've never held your best friend's head in your lap, watch him gasp his last breath looking to you for help. I'd ask you about love, you'd probably quote me a sonnet. But you've never looked at a woman and been totally vulnerable. Known someone that could level you with her eyes, feeling like God put an angel on earth just for you. Who could rescue you from the depths of hell. And you wouldn't know what it's like to be her angel, to have that love for her, be there forever, through anything, through cancer. And you wouldn't know about sleeping sitting up in the hospital room for two months, holding her hand, because the doctors could see in your eyes, that the terms "visiting hours" don't apply to you. You don't know about real loss, 'cause it only occurs when you've loved something more than you love yourself. And I doubt you've ever dared to love anybody that much. -- Good Will Hunting (1997)

Let The Memories Come

Lately, almost every object I see or touch triggers a memory. This week, at my apartment, I noticed a dirty soup bowl in the sink, put there by one of my roommates. It's the kind that is short and squat and has a handle, so it's more like a cup than a bowl. I immediately thought of my grandmother's house and her soup bowls, which looked very similar to the one in front of me in the sink. I could see her kitchen again--the ironing board, the fridge covered in recipe clippings, the hutch and pine safe, the large table where we had so many Thanksgiving and Christmas meals. All of this was resurrected because of one little soup bowl in a sink.

My grandmother is dead. I will never walk inside her house again. Everything is lost.

Tonight, I listened to "Blue Bayou" on repeat. It was the Linda Ronstadt version. I can still remember when my father gave me her Greatest Hits album. He often passed on CDs to me. I discovered not only Ronstadt through him, but Simon and Garfunkel, Heart, James Taylor, and Fleetwood Mac. I know he was a fan of Ronstadt and loved her voice. I wonder if he ever listened to "Blue Bayou" on repeat.

I have to remind myself that he really is dead. That it's final. How is it that seven years have passed without us talking or seeing one another? How have I survived all this time? I'm not strong or brave or tough. I am a girl who cannot stop grieving for all that she has lost. My mind is always teeming, remembering, conjuring the dead. I fear both the end and the endlessness of this grief. How can I continue to bear it, but how can I live without it?

Every object, every song, every thing, has an invisible root leading deep into the past. Let the memories come. I am terrified by them and yet desperately long for them because they offer me fleeting contact with the beauty, the safety, the reality of the world before death came. I give myself to that other world, the one with my father. I wait for the sound of his voice in my mind, a glimpse of his face, the temporary return of a life that never should have been destroyed in the first place.

Elana Bell - Elegy for a Mother, Still Living

The Lord gives everything and charges by taking it back. —Jack Gilbert
I was formed inside the body
of a woman who wanted me
as she wanted her own life,
allowed to drink the milk
made only for me.
I was given mother-love,
its bounty and its cocoon
of those first years without language.
It is right to mourn the rocky hills
of Crete where we walked, my small
hand in hers for hours. The hidden
beach where we swam naked
then baked on the fine sand. Lazy
afternoons in her lap, thick
hand stroking my curls.
Her fingers have stiffened.
In her eyes, the eyes of an animal in pain.
I hold the memory of my mother
against the woman she is.

thanks to AGNI

Reaching Out

As my senior year of college begins, and I think more about what I want to do with my life, I come back to grief. I've already written about my desire to become a grief counselor. This blog has been integral to my discovery of what I want to contribute to this world and how I want to live. Of course, I worry that I am incapable of helping other people when I am barely surviving each day but maybe this gives me a different perspective, maybe what I perceive as weakness is, in fact, my greatest strength. I can't pretend like I am okay. I can't erase the last seven years of grief and suffering and darkness. My wounds are still open for all to see but they're mine and they make me who I am.

I can't stop thinking about something Eleanor Longden said about trauma and healing:

There is no greater honor or privilege than facilitating that process of healing for someone. To bear witness, to reach out a hand, to share the burden of someone’s suffering, and to hold the hope for their recovery. 
And likewise for the survivors of distress and adversity, that we remember that we don’t have to live our lives forever defined by the damaging things that have happened to us. We are unique, we are irreplaceable. What lies within us can never be truly colonized, contorted, or taken away. The light never goes out.
(thanks to madness-narrative

These words not only give me strength, they articulate my life's mission: to reach out to others and offer kindness, compassion, and support in times of crisis. I want to help others cope with loss; I want to help them grieve and mourn and live. I want to prevent another child from being as terrified and destroyed as I was in the aftermath of my father's death. For years, I had no access to counseling, and I know it would have made a difference for me early on. I can't make promises to anyone; I can't save them or heal them. What I can do is hold their hand and remind them that they are not alone. How startling that my father's absence would affirm my own presence, would make me more real to myself and more open to others. I want to be there for someone else, present with them and their pain and their loss. That's what I must do. I've never been more sure of anything in my life.

W.S. Merwin - Separation

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.

A Husband's Moving Letter to his Dead Wife

When physicist Richard Feynman's wife, Arline, died of tuberculosis in 1945 at the age of 25, he wrote a letter to her that was sealed until his own death more than forty years later. The letter is honest, heartfelt, and moving because it documents a common struggle for those who are bereaved: to make sense of the absence left by the dead and, at the same time, to reconcile the feeling that the dead are more alive than the living. How do we define our relationship with someone who has passed away? We can no longer comfort them or talk to them and yet we still deeply care about them. Feynman sorts through all of this in his letter and even injects some unexpected humor.

October 17, 1946
I adore you, sweetheart.
I know how much you like to hear that — but I don't only write it because you like it — I write it because it makes me warm all over inside to write it to you.
It is such a terribly long time since I last wrote to you — almost two years but I know you'll excuse me because you understand how I am, stubborn and realistic; and I thought there was no sense to writing.
But now I know my darling wife that it is right to do what I have delayed in doing, and that I have done so much in the past. I want to tell you I love you. I want to love you. I always will love you.
I find it hard to understand in my mind what it means to love you after you are dead — but I still want to comfort and take care of you — and I want you to love me and care for me. I want to have problems to discuss with you — I want to do little projects with you. I never thought until just now that we can do that. What should we do. We started to learn to make clothes together — or learn Chinese — or getting a movie projector. Can't I do something now? No. I am alone without you and you were the "idea-woman" and general instigator of all our wild adventures.
When you were sick you worried because you could not give me something that you wanted to and thought I needed. You needn’t have worried. Just as I told you then there was no real need because I loved you in so many ways so much. And now it is clearly even more true — you can give me nothing now yet I love you so that you stand in my way of loving anyone else — but I want you to stand there. You, dead, are so much better than anyone else alive.
I know you will assure me that I am foolish and that you want me to have full happiness and don't want to be in my way. I'll bet you are surprised that I don't even have a girlfriend (except you, sweetheart) after two years. But you can't help it, darling, nor can I — I don't understand it, for I have met many girls and very nice ones and I don't want to remain alone — but in two or three meetings they all seem ashes. You only are left to me. You are real.
My darling wife, I do adore you.
I love my wife. My wife is dead.
PS Please excuse my not mailing this — but I don't know your new address.

thank you to Letters of Note and Open Culture 


Linda Holmes's review of the British murder mystery Broadchurch has me very interested in the series. Holmes writes that the show is more than simply another police procedural because it delves into the grief that an entire community feels in the wake of a devastating murder. Crime shows very rarely focus on the bereavement of those who lose their loved ones to violence; they are more concerned with creating drama, suspense, and gruesome crime scenes while the human cost of tragedy is ignored or skimmed over. To see a television show that actually recognizes and addresses grief is certainly refreshing.

It's hard to import a European murder mystery without importing baggage along with it — expectations of a gray chill, of relentless and austere severity.
It's not that you won't see any of that in Broadchurch, the eight-part British drama that comes to BBC America beginning Wednesday night. It begins with a body found on a beach at the bottom of a wall of craggy cliffs. There are broken hearts, and there's a kind local cop (Olivia Colman), and there's a shipped-in city cop with a heavy heart and a sharp tongue who doesn't get along with anyone (David Tennant). You'd be forgiven for thinking it was going to be, in short, a drag.
And if it were a simple crime procedural, its close-up handling of such a devastating story might seem exploitative, like just another dead body in another quirky television town. But while there is a mystery here, and while they will solve it in these eight episodes, the solution to the murder mystery is not what the show is really about.
The show is about the town of Broadchurch, where the body is found, and about the way grief is so unwieldy and burdensome that it interrupts and interferes with every other emotion. Trust is upended, old wounds are opened (and others are healed), and relationships are threatened by the deeply human but totally wrongheaded tendency toward trying to negotiate the terms under which others manage pain.

La Double Vie de Véronique

Véronique grieves the death of Weronika, grieves a lost self and, in that moment of grief, she connects to something greater than herself, something she will feel for the rest of the film but never be able to articulate. 

Nayyirah Waheed - The Five Stages of Grief

thanks to likeafieldmouse

Mark Epstein on Trauma and Grief

There is nothing I can add to Mark Epstein's powerful essay for the New York Times. It says everything I've ever thought about trauma, grief, and mourning.

Talking with my 88-year-old mother, four and a half years after my father died from a brain tumor, I was surprised to hear her questioning herself. “You’d think I would be over it by now,” she said, speaking of the pain of losing my father, her husband of almost 60 years. “It’s been more than four years, and I’m still upset.”
I’m not sure if I became a psychiatrist because my mother liked to talk to me in this way when I was young or if she talks to me this way now because I became a psychiatrist, but I was pleased to have this conversation with her. Grief needs to be talked about. When it is held too privately it tends to eat away at its own support.
“Trauma never goes away completely,” I responded. “It changes perhaps, softens some with time, but never completely goes away. What makes you think you should be completely over it? I don’t think it works that way.” There was a palpable sense of relief as my mother considered my opinion.
“I don’t have to feel guilty that I’m not over it?” she asked. “It took 10 years after my first husband died,” she remembered suddenly, thinking back to her college sweetheart, to his sudden death from a heart condition when she was in her mid-20s, a few years before she met my father. “I guess I could give myself a break.”
My response to my mother — that trauma never goes away completely — points to something I have learned through my years as a psychiatrist. In resisting trauma and in defending ourselves from feeling its full impact, we deprive ourselves of its truth. As a therapist, I can testify to how difficult it can be to acknowledge one’s distress and to admit one’s vulnerability. My mother’s knee-jerk reaction, “Shouldn’t I be over this by now?” is very common. There is a rush to normal in many of us that closes us off, not only to the depth of our own suffering but also, as a consequence, to the suffering of others.
In 1969, after working with terminally ill patients, the Swiss psychiatrist Elisabeth Kübler-Ross brought the trauma of death out of the closet with the publication of her groundbreaking work, “On Death and Dying.” She outlined a five-stage model of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, acceptance. Her work was radical at the time. It made death a normal topic of conversation, but had the inadvertent effect of making people feel, as my mother did, that grief was something to do right.
Mourning, however, has no timetable. Grief is not the same for everyone. And it does not always go away. The closest one can find to a consensus about it among today’s therapists is the conviction that the healthiest way to deal with trauma is to lean into it, rather than try to keep it at bay. The reflexive rush to normal is counterproductive. In the attempt to fit in, to be normal, the traumatized person (and this is most of us) feels estranged.
The willingness to face traumas — be they large, small, primitive or fresh — is the key to healing from them. They may never disappear in the way we think they should, but maybe they don’t need to. Trauma is an ineradicable aspect of life. We are human as a result of it, not in spite of it.

thanks to madness-narrative and beyondmeds

Buying Flowers For My Father's Grave

While searching for bedding at a store, I saw bouquets of fake flowers and knew they were perfect for my father's grave. That's how I live now. I cannot talk to him or touch him or hear his voice. All I can do is buy flowers for his gravestone. That's my duty now. I maintain his burial place, wash the ants off the stone, stand on ground he is rotting beneath. It's unspeakable. It is my life.

The Fear of Loss

But that's not possible. Everything worth loving will be lost. Everything that brings us joy and happiness, that takes our breath away, that gives us a reason to live, will be lost. No one escapes loss. The harder you try to hold on to something, the more it slips from your hands. I fear loss so much that I can't appreciate what I have as I have it. I can only panic at the thought that I won't have it forever and I need to have it forever, I need it to last but it vanishes.

I am in a perpetual state of grief (is there a word for this? there needs to be). Time won't allow me to do anything else. One moment after another is lost. The things that bring me the most happiness are ephemeral by nature--a sunset, the changing seasons, the light streaming through a window, a car ride, the clouds, a book, a song, a poem. I am astonished by them, I revel in them, and then the experience ends and sometimes I capture it in words but, often, there are no words that can replicate it and my grief is so great that I'm speechless. 

I watch Judging Amy on a daily basis now. For years, I couldn't find reruns but now a channel shows them and I'm elated. The matriarch of the show is Maxine Grey (played by the glorious Tyne Daly). She is a tough, dedicated social worker who removes children from abusive homes. On today's episode, Maxine was dealing with a foster mother who had taken in two young boys and one of the boys had died. The mother was devastated. She wanted to give back the other boy, the one still living, because she was terrified of losing  him too. What did Maxine say? I wish I could remember the words perfectly. I think she said loss is inevitable but once we lose someone we find comfort in remembering the time we spent with them and those memories are never lost. Maxine says this at a time when she is grieving the loss of  her beloved fiance. So she is not just saying it to this mother but to herself and, of course, to all of us watching,  and to me, in particular--the grief stricken depressive girl lying on her couch sobbing because Tyne Daly's eyes are so full of sincerity and I need to hear those words. I want to believe those words; I want to live them. I want the memories to be enough. I want to heal even though I know I can't. Yes, for a moment, I am comforted and it's so fleeting but it means something to me, that moment of solace. I'll keep it always.