Looking for Grief (in all the wrong places)

It started with just three lines: 


Your absence has gone through me

Like thread through a needle.

Everything I do is stitched with its color.

—  W.S. Merwin 


Last year I made a file and called it "poems-grief."

Now, as the file grows, I don't know if this brings comfort or alarm. Each addition feels like a weed multiplying in a once-tidy garden. There is too much sadness, too much loss, and not enough blooms.

With each sickness, with each death, I searched for comfort in poems. I wanted someone to know my grief, to speak the words I could not find, to carry my heart in words. 

Much to my surprise, it was difficult to find good poems. I searched for books specifically on grief, and while there were plenty of collections none seemed for me. And I searched online endlessly, and again there were plenty of poems but nothing that wrapped me in comfort.

Admittedly, my criteria was strict:

No sappy or sentimental poems.

No happy endings.

No predictable poems.

No rhyming (which often feels forced)

No hippy-dippy, in-a-better-place, happened-for-a-reason poems.

No old poems, of a "classic" era with thee and thou and dost 

And, oh, no more Mary Oliver.

(Yes, yes, I like Mary. We all like Mary. She's good and prolific and written many good poems that I have loved and shared. But she is also sometimes too known and rote, too nature-is-inside-us predictable). 

Instead, I want real expressions of grief's relentless presence, its weight and fear. I want a way in, but not too much, and a way out, but not too quickly. I want someone to get it

And so my hunting and gathering increased and my collection grew with many good poems. But it was only a few months ago that I found one that really spoke to me. And once found, I sent it everywhere. Copies and copies were shared with friends who had lost a mother, a father, a pet. And colleagues who grieved an aunt, a brother, a son.

This week, I read the poem over and over to myself, for myself. I whisper the lines like prayer, and write them down, word for word copied to paper, as if the ink could bleed itself into my heart to form a pulse I would recognize as my own.


Blessing for the Brokenhearted

There is no remedy for love but to love more.

                                         — Henry David Thoreau


Let us agree

for now

that we will not say

the breaking

makes us stronger

or that it is better

to have this pain

than to have done

without this love.


Let us promise

we will not

tell ourselves

time will heal

the wound,

when every day

our waking

opens it anew.


Perhaps for now

it can be enough

to simply marvel

at the mystery

of how a heart

so broken

can go on beating,


as if it were made

for precisely this —


as if it knows

the only cure for love

is more of it,


as if it sees

the heart’s sole remedy

for breaking

is to love still,

as if it trusts that its own

persistent pulse

is the rhythm

of a blessing

we cannot

begin to fathom

but will save us



 — Jan Richardson
from The Cure for Sorrow: A Book of Blessings for Times of Grief