the shape of grief

Upon Ferdinand's death was a big void. And I filled it with tears and words. I wrote and wrote and wrote, because I did not understand my grief and I had to figure it out.

There were many things repeated: the tears, the hollering, the pain, the hurt, the questions, the anger. Sometimes there were appreciation: gratitude, seeing the beauty.

But sometimes it seems my words were just not touching it, not describing the grief right. I really wanted to yell out to the world what it feels like, how it is, but it seems no matter how I string together the words, no matter how hard I contemplate the letters on my keyboard, there is a glass wall between me and grief. It seems I hold and cradle it, and I rock to sleep murmuring its name, yet it seems so intangible.

Then one day, my wonderful friend Leigh sent me this poem:

The Phoenix Again

On the ashes of this nest
Love wove with deathly fire
The phoenix takes its rest
Forgetting all desire.

After the flame, a pause,
After the pain, rebirth.
Obeying nature’s laws
The phoenix goes to earth.

You cannot call it old
You cannot call it young.
No phoenix can be told,
This is the end of the song.

It struggles now alone
Against death and self-doubt,
But underneath the bone
The wings are pushing out.

And one cold starry night
Whatever your belief
The phoenix will take flight
Over the seas of grief

To sing her thrilling song
To stars and waves and sky
For neither old nor young
The phoenix does not die.

~ May Sarton

and upon reading it, I broke down and cried. I realized that I have been trying to grope with the shape of grief, and perhaps denying what it was. The poem spoke to what I feared to face up to: I had died with my son.

And it spoke for what I desired: to live again.

Those words gave shape to my grief.

Often, it is when reading the blog of a fellow bereaved when I will chance upon a line that makes me say, or think, "Oh, my gosh, you just nailed it. You just said it for me, in a way more eloquent, and more beautiful, and more wide-eyed that I ever could."

Yet, it is not just the fellow bereaved who knew my grief, or who actively and compassionately sought to feel around this hole in my life, groping, tenderly touching, patiently trying to understand it all with me. At my Blessingway, organized by my two wonderful, incredibly awesome friends, a friend read the following poem during the session in which we all honor my son Ferdinand:


When in the paling darkness of the lonely dawn
you stretch out your arms for your baby in the bed,
I shall say, “Baby is not there!”–mother, I am going.

I shall become a delicate draught of air and caress you;
and I shall be ripples in the water when you bathe,
and kiss you and kiss you again.

In the gusty night when the rain patters on the leaves
you will hear my whisper in your bed,
and my laughter will flash with the lightning
through the open window into your room.

If you lie awake, thinking of your baby till late into the night,
I shall sing to you from the stars, “Sleep mother, sleep.”

On the straying moonbeams I shall steal over your bed,
and lie upon your bosom while you sleep.

I shall become a dream,
and through the little opening of your eyelids
I shall slip into the depths of your sleep;
and when you wake up and look round startled,
like a twinkling firefly I shall flit out into the darkness.

When, on the great festival of puja,
the neighbours’ children come and play about the house,
I shall melt into the music of the flute and throb in your heart all day.

Dear auntie will come with puja-presents and will ask,
“Where is our baby, sister?”
Mother, you will tell her softly,
“He is in the pupils of my eyes, he is in my body and in my soul.”

~ Rabindranath Tagore

Oh, how I trembled as those words left her lips. Those words made me realize how close my son is to me, and yet how far away he is. Those words reached deep and touched me where it is the most raw and most tender. My entire being shook, down to the very depth of my soul, because in those words, my grief had once again been given shape. Those words beautifully expressed my grief and longing. I read the poem many times over after the Blessingway and cried many good crys.


How about you? How do you find shape to your grief?- thrugh your own writing, by reading? Do you have a poem that you return to often, be it for comfort, or just to give yourself permission to have a good, good cry?