Frieda Hughes To Become a Grief Counselor

Frieda Hughes is the daughter of Sylvia Plath and Ted Hughes. In her life, she's experienced profound loss. First, her mother's suicide when Frieda was only two years old. Then, the death of her father and, most recently, the suicide of her younger brother, Nicholas. Because of these tragedies, the BBC reports that she has decided to become a grief counselor and hopes to use her experiences to assist other bereaved people.
A suicide in the family is something some might want to keep to themselves, but that has never been an option for Hughes. Shortly after her brother's death a journalist asked her: "Do you now want to kill yourself?" Despite the crashing inappropriateness of the question, she replied honestly. "It makes me want to live - with more force and energy and verve."
The theme of making the most of her life returns again and again. "One of the things that I feel very strongly, and that my mother's suicide and my brother's suicide make me feel deeply was to live well," she says. "To do the best I can with what I am. So that in a way I do them justice - somebody has to make it worthwhile, somebody has to try. Otherwise what's it for?"
She could have been forgiven for trying to get away from death rather than further into it, but she is grateful to have been able to work through her own grief. "I've been angry at injustice on occasion but that really doesn't serve any purpose - so I have to somehow talk myself out of that," she says. "Those are probably the magic words - talk myself out. I was fortunate enough to do that and I hope I can go on doing that."
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Eight Years

Eight years he’s been dead.

He is always what is missing. His absence haunts me.

For eight years, he’s been buried in the earth.

For eight years, we have not spoken, touched, or known one another.

I’ve had eight birthdays without him.

I’ve graduated high school and college without him.

He was not there when my grandmother died or when my uncle died.

It is true that life goes on, but, with each year, there is less of me.

I had a father. In the pictures of us, we sit side by side, his arm around my shoulder, his smile so beautiful. I hear his voice in my mind. That’s the only place it speaks because I have no recording of it. Sometimes, I dream of him and wake up believing that he is in the next room, waiting to hold me again.

I had a father. We loved each other.

Where is he now? How can that smile, that soul, be no more?

Kerry Hardie - Empty Space Poem, Eighteen Months

In the photo there's a child astride your shoulders.
You are moving through the cut-gold of a field.

The hedgerow trees are thickening and darkening.
The sky's a constant, clear, heraldic blue.

You are on the right side, walking slowly.
The left side of the meadow's deep and still.

I've cut it down the middle, framed and hung it.
We pass you every time we climb the stairs.

Which leaves the empty half for me to deal with:
the empty field, the hedgerow trees, the sky.

I've framed that, too, I keep it on the shelf
above my desk, slipped in between two books.

I tell myself you're everywhere around me.
That summer is still sumptuous, people die.

These are the separated halves of the same picture.

with thanks to Poetry Daily

Writing Grief

In 2009, at the age of nineteen, I wrote a series of interconnected short stories that focused on the ways in which each member of a family reacts to death and loss. The stories were specifically created for a writing scholarship that, in the end, I didn’t come close to winning. I was so devastated when the rejection letter arrived in the mail. I often say that, as a writer, I never fully recovered from it. Even though the stories were not particularly good, I realize now that they were one of my first attempts to translate the experience of grief into a literary form. They represented an omen, a foreshadowing of the future, because I now understand that grief is my subject, that I cannot let it go, and that every word I write is shadowed by loss.

The stories were lost years ago when my computer died. I had not backed them up. Maybe it’s best that they’ve disappeared. From what I can remember, there were four stories. One focused on a young girl, similar to me, whose father commits suicide. Another story focuses on the girl’s mother whose own mother has died. I wanted to explore women’s reactions to loss, that was of great importance to me. Also, what compelled me about these stories was the fact that people who are intimately connected can still hide their grief, that we don’t really know what another person is going through. The stories took place within the women’s consciousness and described their thoughts, feelings, and emotions, but the other characters had no inkling of what was going on inside their minds. I focused on quiet moments, moments of solitude in which the characters could be alone with their grief.

The stories were not that good and they didn’t get me the scholarship, but I don’t consider them a failure. As the years pass, I continue to write about grief over and over again. For all the words I’ve written, I haven’t come close to what needs to be said. I often feel so far away from the truth, like I’m circling around it, never touching it, doomed to never lay my hands on it. But I keep writing and writing and writing because I must, because this is my offering to the world, the only thing I can give, the only thing that will prove I was here.

Love and Grief

Through a devastating loss, perhaps we find a part of ourselves that is missing until that violent rupture. What was missing was a true understanding of the depths of love. We are undone, we are shattered, precisely because we loved another person so much. What can we do with that love? How can we carry it on when we cannot give it to the person it was once bestowed on? Perhaps we harness it. Perhaps grief is what love becomes in the aftermath of death.

Marguerite Duras and Grief

At Literary Mothers, Aja Gabel writes about the personal significance of Marguerite Duras's The Lover and how the text approaches grief and loss.
My own grief wasn’t sexual or romantic, but the way it made noise in my life wasn’t so much different from that of the girl narrator’s slippery memory of her lost lover. Grief isn’t static, said The Lover; it is alive. Perhaps every kind of grief is like that: you mourn what is lost, and also the continuous losing, the way you will have to lose it forever. Writing in the vein of Duras isn’t just magical thinking. It’s magical happening.
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My life is not my own. Who does it belong to?

There is peace that comes with accepting that the grief does not end. I can stop fighting it and put my energy into something else.

What am I doing? How am I here? Is this life not a betrayal of him?

I've lost the desire to record my life. There is no way it can be preserved. It all ends. It all ends.

Too many memories. Too many haunted places.

Nothing matters. Everything matters. Because nothing lasts, it all matters.

Life is loss.

I want to dream again. What was my dream? To be a writer. I gave it up because I didn't think I was good enough.

Matisse, after surgery and nearly dying, could not paint. So he invented a new artistic form: cutouts. With scissors, he cut shapes out of paper and arranged them into pictures. Even when he could have returned to painting, he chose not to. He dedicated the remainder of his life to the cutouts. I think about this all the time, how Matisse created another language to express his creativity.

I can't bear the absence. I want to die during a dream of my father. Die with him inside me.

It's becoming harder to survive the grief.

Sometimes, it feels like I'm losing my mind. The grief is so intense.

What has no words is the most powerful thing of all. Its power lies in its silence and incomprehensibility.

My grief defies language at the same time that it can only exist in language. Some things can only be written, never spoken aloud.

Everything you know and depend on can vanish. There is no safety, only survival.

Why couldn't he grow old? Why couldn't I have him like most people have their fathers? Why this loss? Why the complete annihilation of my life, my soul, and my spirit? Why am I condemned to a life without him? It's crushing me. It's killing me. Eight years almost and I cry until I can't breathe, until my chest is in shreds. The years accumulate, the dead bodies pile up. I carry his life and death everywhere.

I need to keep putting things into words, even when I don't have those words, even when those words have abandoned me.

I look back and wonder what I should do with these memories of my childhood. I know what I lived. I know these things shaped me, continue to shape me as they collide with my present self. Who was that little girl? What do I do with my visions of her, with all the things I saw through her eyes? I want to go back to that time, but I can't. All of it is gone. A new life takes its place. I struggle relentlessly with growing up, aging, confronting mortality. I get glimpses of the past. I cling to what I can of it but I am losing more than I can hold. It bleeds out of me. I have no past, no future, only now, only this fragile moment.

I don't want death. I want the past.

I ache for the past. The aching is incurable. Death is the only thing that will kill it.

I am writing against death.

I close my eyes and the memory of his dead body appears. I can't erase it. It's carved into me.

Life is so fragile, death so near. Say what must be said. Hold nothing back. Hate death, hate loss, but do not hate yourself for failing to tell the people you love what they mean to you.

Bear witness to your life.

When you realize you are nothing, how does it not kill you?

Writing as a form of love, as a way of giving.

I want to nourish myself with words.

I look at his face and can't comprehend that he is gone, no longer mine, no longer human. Whitman once wrote, "Day by day and night by night we were together,-- All else has long been forgotten by me." I tell myself: never forget we were together. Remember the together, not the apart.

A loss that cuts out your tongue. You'll never speak it, only moan it.

We are always living the death of the past, the death of this moment.

One day you have a father. Then, the next day you don't. I can't comprehend it and yet I live it.

Sarah Sudhoff - At The Hour of Death (2010-2011)

Trigger Warning for blood and gore

Heart Attack, Female, 60 years old, 2010

Seizure, Male, 25 years old, 2010

Illness, Female, 60 years old, 2010

Heart Attack, Male, 45 years old, 2010

Suicide with Shotgun, Male, 60 years old (I), 2011

Murder, Male, 40 years old (II), 2010

Suicide with Gun, Male, 40 years old (I), 2010

Suicide with Shotgun, Male, 60 years old (II), 2011

Suicide with Gun, Female, 60 years old, 2010

Murder, Male, 40 years old (III), 2011

Suicide with Gun, Male, 25 years old, 2011

Suicide with Gun, Male, 45 years old, 2011

Heart Attack, Male, 50 years old (II), 2010

Overdose, Female, 40 years old, 2010

Overdose, Female, 30 years old, 2010

Suicide with Gun, Male, 40 years old (II), 2010

Heart Attack, Male, 50 years old (I), 2010 

Murder, Male, 40 years old (I), 2010

Heart Attack, Male, 50 years old (III), 2010

Death, like birth, is part of a process. However, the processes of death are often shielded from view. Today in Western society most families leave to a complete stranger the responsibility of preparing a loved one’s body for its final resting place. Traditional mourning practices, which allowed for the creation of Victorian hair jewelry or other memento mori items, have fallen out of fashion. Now the stain of death is quickly removed and the scene is cleaned and normalized. As Phillipe Aries writes, “Society no longer observes a pause; the disappearance of an individual no longer affects its continuity”.'

At the age of seventeen, I lost a friend to suicide. While visiting his home the day after the event, I witnessed a clean-up crew steam cleaning the carpet in his bedroom. All physical traces of the past 24 hours had vanished.

These large-scale color photographs capture and fully illuminate swatches of bedding, carpet and upholstery marked with the signs of the passing of human life. The fabrics which are first removed by a trauma scene clean up crew, are relocated to a warehouse before being destroyed. I tack each swatch to the wall and use the crew’s floodlights to illuminate the scene. The images are my attempt to slow the moments before and after death into a single frame, to allow what is generally invisible to become visible, and to engage with a process from which we have become disconnected.

Sarah Sudhoff
with thanks to likeafieldmouse 

Missing My Dad

When it comes to the death of a parent, we often say how unfortunate it is that they will miss out on the major moments of our lives--graduations and wedding days and the birth of children. While it is true that these huge events are diminished because of a parent's absence, I don't really dwell on them or mention them when I talk about my grief. I don't care that he can't walk me down the aisle if I get married. I don't care so much that he couldn't be there when I graduated high school and college, though, to be honest, I did not attend those ceremonies precisely because his absence rendered them meaningless. No, those big moments are of little importance to me. I don't want him at a loud event, sitting in the stands. I want him on the couch in our living room. I want to watch Saturday Night Live with him. I want to share with him all the music I've discovered. I want us to talk about world events and eat dinner together and go to the movies. I want to kiss him good-night and give him a hug. I can't really think of the future anymore. My mind focuses only on the past. I don't know if I'll get married one day or have children of my own. If I do, then I will certainly miss him at those moments, but they will be no different from all the other moments I've lived without him.

The (Dead Mothers) Club

The (Dead Mothers) Club is an HBO documentary that looks at women who have lost mothers at an early age. It features interviews with Jane Fonda, Rosie O'Donnell, and Molly Shannon and follows three ordinary women as they come to terms with the deaths of their mothers.  Each woman has her own story and has to figure out how to navigate life in the aftermath of such a devastating loss. For Jordyn, a high school graduate applying to college, that means choosing not to attend her mother's Alma mater, UCLA, and instead going out of state for an education. For Ginger, an artist living in Mississippi, it means trying to make sense of her mother's suicide and using art as a means of healing. And for Leticia, a new mother who tests positive for a gene mutation that caused her mother's fatal breast cancer, it means leaving New York and moving back to Brazil in order to reconnect with a loving community of family, friends, and neighbors.

All three women are haunted by their mothers but, at the same time, they are also determined to create new lives with husbands, children, and friends. They find meaning in their relationships with others. I think that's the most beautiful part of the documentary, how it shows that we can move through grief and survive loss by forging stronger, deeper connections with the people around us. None of the women have made it on their own; they've relied on fathers, grandmothers, husbands, sisters, friends, and their own children. Losing a parent is a defining moment but that loss can be an impetus for creating meaningful social bonds.

The movie tells us that 1 in 9 Americans will lose a parent by the age of 20. The (Dead Mothers) Club might be watched by a young woman who has lost her mother and maybe it will remind her that she is not alone despite the isolation she feels. We need to continue to talk about the loss of parents, we need to create community out of it, we need to support one another and offer compassion because so many of us are living without a mother or a father and the pain never really goes away.

For Those Without Mothers

At The New Yorker, Ruth Margalit writes about the death of her mother to lung cancer. Margalit shares her experience of grief, how she connected to Cheryl Strayed's memoir "Wild," and the lasting effect of her mother's absence.

In my journal from that period, instead of writing how I felt, I sought out and copied everything that seemed to express what to me was inexpressible. From Proust, I took: “For henceforth you will always keep something broken about you.” From C. S. Lewis: “No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. I am not afraid but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing.” From Joan Didion: “A single person is missing for you, and the whole world is empty.” From O’Rourke: “Am I really she who has woken up again without a mother? Yes, I am.” From a short story by Alice Munro: “What he carried with him, all he carried with him, was a lack, something like a lack of air, of proper behavior in his lungs, a difficulty that he supposed would go on forever.” From one by David Long: “Eventually, a truck would come rattling down… a car door would chuff, and the world would go on—not where it had left off but on the other side of this nothing time. And when it did, though she couldn’t quite see it yet, [she] would begin the never-ending task of not forgetting her mother.”
Or this, from my mother’s favorite Hebrew poem, in which the poet, Natan Alterman, describes his beloved as “sudden forever.” Those two words, as well as the poem’s title—“A Meeting for Eternity”—are oxymorons that spell out the contradictions inherent in loss. What is the death of a loved one if not an oxymoron? My mother isn’t here, and yet I see her everywhere. I kept on looking for hints of her on the page, as though by retracing her beloved books and poems I would get to reclaim a part of her that was already slipping away.
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In Honor of Mothers Who Save Our Lives

For some of us, our mothers are our soul mates, the loves of our lives. We cannot be separated from them for long periods of time. We are so connected to them that we finish each other’s sentences and say out loud what the other person is thinking. I feel fused to my mother. I feel as though we are one.

The truth is that when I lost my father, I found my mother. Growing up, I considered myself a daddy’s girl. In my eyes, he could do no wrong, and one stern word from him would make my eyes well with tears. I wanted his love, approval, and attention, and I received all of it. I was also close to my mother but, when my father died, our relationship deepened and became so much richer.

The years of his absence have been defined by this flourishing relationship with my mother. We’ve shared heartbreak and grief. We’ve created a little world of our own, filled with inside jokes and special routines. We have salvaged joy and humor and love from the terrible ruins of the past eight years. We've saved each other every single day with a hug or a smile or a joke.

Our love is a testament to my father. It is what he gave us and what we carry on.

For me, a mother is so much more than a parent or guardian. Most people my age, who are in their early twenties, are leaving home, seeking to escape the stifling small towns of their childhoods and the rules of their parents. Instead, I am staying home because the only place I want to be is with my mother. There is nothing more that I want. I want only her.

A 'Young Widower' Tells His Story

At the Los Angeles Review of Books, Nicholas Montemarano reviews John W. Evans's Young Widower: A Memoir, which recounts the author's horrific experience of watching his wife being mauled and killed by a bear.  Montemarano reflects on where Evans's memoir fits in with other grief texts and the therapeutic value of telling one's story in the aftermath of trauma:
In grief memoirs, however, writers have chosen to proclaim and publish their traumas as works of art, and thus invite us to judge them as such. In Young Widower, Evans speaks the unspeakable as directly as possible on page two: “My wife’s death was violent and sensational. She was killed by a wild bear, while we were hiking in the Carpathian Mountains outside of Bucharest, where we had lived and worked for the last year of her life. She was thirty years old.” Then, like Tim O’Brien in The Things They Carried, Evans circles around the trauma, inevitably returning to it, often using the same words and phrases like mantras, building on what he has previously described. One gets the sense of a storyteller testing the waters of what he is capable of, then backing away to describe other moments during his life with Katie and after her death — how they met, his failed attempts to propose, the year after her death when he lived with her family in Indiana — before returning again to what he must eventually tell in every detail he can remember. As Evans writes, “A therapist said to think of Katie’s death as a story. Name the parts that are too difficult, and then leave them out. Tell the story again and again, until those difficult parts come back.”
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Donna J. Wan - Death Wooed Us

“Death wooed us, by water, wooed us By Land …” — Louise Gluck, “Cottenmouth Country” 
Landscape photographer Donna J. Wan’s imagery is hazy and unsettling, a strange transformation taking place when one understands the perspective of the view. Death Wooed Us is an ongoing documentation of suicide locations, each photo capturing a recorded spot where individuals chose to end their lives. Wan invites us to take an imagined look at the sweeping vision of people’s last moments, her lens purposefully gazing into the great beyond or falling down to the depths below. 
The work developed from a deeply personal place, Wan herself developing postpartum depression after the birth of her daughter in 2011. It was then that the allure, loneliness and danger of these places began to haunt her as a possibility of escape. After her recovery, Wan learned that many people have similar inclinations to travel to far-off or well-known locations to end their lives. Researching frequent suicide points, Wan wandered up and down various areas near San Francisco Bay where the incidents took place. Though beautiful, the series does not intend to romanticize the extraordinarily violent nature of suicide, but offer a surreal glimpse into private, desperate moments of those who considered a life-altering choice.
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