The first day after a death, the new absence
Is always the same; we should be careful
Of each other, we should be kind
While there is still time.
Kevin Young, an accomplished poet himself, has put together a moving book of poetry about grief and loss. The selections in The Art of Losing include many well known poems, but just as many poems that I wasn't familiar with. All of the poems, whether they speak of the raw anguish of fresh grief or the memories of long-lost loved ones, are comforting. Quoting bits of poems seems pointless to me, so I'll include two shorter poems I loved that speak to different sorts of grief.
After the funeral, the mourners gather
under the rustling churchyard maples
and talk softly, like clusters of leaves.
White shirt cuffs and collars flash in the shade:
highlights on deep green water.
They came this afternoon to say goodbye,
but now they keep saying hello and hello,
peering into each other's faces,
slow to let go of each other's hands.
"oh antic God"
oh antic God
return to me
my mother in her thirties
leaned across the front porch
the huge pillow of her breasts
pressing against the rail
summoning me in for bed.
I am almost the dead woman's age times two.
I can barely recall her song
the scent of her hands
though her wild hair scratches my dreams
at night. return to me, oh Lord of then
and now, my mother's calling,
her young voice humming my name.
The Art of Losing is the kind of book you should keep on your bedside table and dip into as you need to. The book is filled with solace and insight and, yes, joy - the joy of life that goes on and the joyous memories of those who have gone before. Many caregivers, including myself, also deal with grief for the loss of their parent(s) as they knew them. This is particularly true for those of us whose parents have dementia. There is a great deal of grieving that goes on around dementia. I said that I wouldn't quote bits of poems, but "Alzheimer's" by Bob Hicok has some beautiful lines that are appropriate to the grief of caring for a parent with dementia. In this poem, Hicok documents the losses associated with dementia and ends on a joyful note, celebrating one of his mother's lucid moments. Reading these lines: "When she sometimes looks up and says my name, the sound arriving/like the trill of a bird so rare/it's rumored no longer to exist," made be cry - a good kind of crying. Then, there's anticipatory grief. It may not be our constant friend, but it is a frequent visitor: whenever a parent/spouse takes a turn for the worse. Young's book is a comfort for that kind of grief too. Obviously, I loved this book. If you like poetry and you're over 50 - or younger and facing caring for someone - you should buy this book. You won't regret it.
As usual, I'd like to leave you with a song. This one is a classic. Gloomy and sad - yes - but I think it's also a joyful kind of sad that allows us to grieve and we live in a culture that doesn't value grieving. This version features one of my favorite singers - Iris DeMent.