I said to my soul, be still, and let the dark come upon you
Which shall be the darkness of God. . . .
So the darkness shall be the light, and the stillness the dancing.
— T. S. Eliot
Some of the following poems and quotes that deal with grief are hopeful, some are grim, dark, and sad. Sometimes comfort can come through reading others’ words of hope when you’re struggling to find your own; sometimes relief is found by feeling seen through words written by someone who knows just how deep your sorrow lies. A couple of the poems are repeated from the general poetry page because though they apply to life in general, when they’re read through the eyes of grief they have a particularly deep meaning. I hope that you might find some holding in these words:
Give sorrow words;
the grief that does not speak;
whispers the o’er-fraught heart
and bids it break.
— William Shakespeare, Macbeth
The Well of Grief
Those who will not slip beneath
the still surface on the well of grief
turning downward through its black water
to the place we cannot breathe
will never know the source from which we drink,
the secret water, cold and clear,
nor find in the darkness glimmering
the small round coins
thrown by those who wished for something else.
— David Whyte, in Where Many Rivers Meet
Cry Out in Your Weakness
Where lowland is,
that’s where water goes. All medicine wants
is pain to cure. . . .
Tear the binding from around the foot
of your soul, and let it race around the track
in front of the crowd. . . .
Give your weakness
to one who helps.
Crying out loud and weeping are great resources.
A nursing mother, all she does
is wait to hear her child.
Just a little beginning-whimper,
and she’s there.
God created the child, that is, your wanting,
so that it might cry out, so that milk might come.
Cry out! Don’t be stolid and silent
with your pain. Lament! And let the milk
of loving flow into you.
— Rumi, in The Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Even in our sleep
Pain which cannot forget
Falls drop by drop upon the heart
Until, in our own despair,
Against our will,
Through the awful grace of God.
Sometimes in life, our spirits are nearly gone . . .
sometimes we feel so crushed and broken and
overwhelmed . . .
that we do not even see where we are going.
We are just out there walking to keep the
heart beating . . .
and the circulation moving.
but . . . if that is all we can do . . .
and we are doing it . . .
that is still being faithful . . . not quitting . . .
giving it our best.
— ann kiemel
Most people, though, manage to make their way through the painful stages of grief and eventually regain their emotional balance. What they need desperately are caring friends and relatives who allow them to grieve in their own way, at their own pace and who, above all, will not insist that they act like their “old selves.” For no one who has suffered a terrible loss will ever be her old self again. She may be a different self or even a better self, but she will never regain the identity that was untouched by grief.
— Susan Jacoby
In the dark immensity of night
I stood upon a hill and watched the light
Of a star,
Soundless and beautiful and far.
A scientist standing there with me
Said, “It is not the star you see,
But a glow
That left the star light years ago.”
People are like stars in a timeless sky;
The light of a good person’s life shines high,
Golden and splendid
Long after his brief earth years are ended.
— Grace V. Watkins
Sorrow like a ceaseless rain
Beats upon my heart.
People twist and scream in pain, —
Dawn will find them still again;
This has neither wax nor wane,
Neither stop nor start.
People dress and go to town;
I sit in my chair.
All my thoughts are slow and brown:
Standing up or sitting down
Little matters, or what gown
Or what shoes I wear.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
Your grief for what you’ve lost lifts a mirror
up to where you’re bravely working.
Expecting the worst, you look, you look, and instead,
here's the joyful face you’ve been wanting to see.
Your hand opens and closes and opens and closes.
If it were always a fist or always stretched open,
you would be paralyzed.
Your deepest presence is in every small contracting
the two as beautifully balanced and coordinated
— Rumi, inThe Essential Rumi, translated by Coleman Barks
Not to Make Loss Beautiful
Not to make loss beautiful,
But to make loss the place
Where beauty starts. Where
the heart understands
For the first time
The nature of its journey.
Love, yes. The body
of the beloved as the gift
Bestowed. But only
Temporarily. Given freely,
But now to be earned.
Given without thought,
And now loss
Has made us thoughtful.
— Gregory Orr, in Concerning The Book That Is the Body Of The Beloved
When your eyes are tired
the world is tired also.
When your vision has gone
no part of the world can find you.
Time to go into the dark
where the night has eyes
to recognize its own.
There you can be sure
you are not beyond love.
The dark will be your womb
The night will give you a horizon
further than you can see.
You must learn one thing.
The world was made to be free in.
Give up all the other worlds
except the one to which you belong.
— David Whyte, in The House of Belonging
Lend me your hope for awhile,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Lost and hopeless feelings accompany me daily.
Pain and confusion are my companions.
I know not where to turn.
Looking ahead to the future times
Does not bring forth images of renewed hope.
I see mirthless times, pain-filled days, and more tragedy.
Lend me your hope for awhile,
I seem to have mislaid mine.
Hold my hand and hug me,
Listen to all my ramblings.
I need to unleash the pain and let it tumble out.
Recovery seems so far and distant,
The road to healing, a long and lonely one.
Stand by me. Offer me your presence,
Your ears and your love.
Acknowledge my pain, it is so real and ever present.
I am overwhelmed with sad and conflicting thoughts.
Lend me your hope for awhile.
A time will come when I will heal,
And I will end my renewed hope to others.
— Eloise Cole
We think we get over things.
We don’t get over things.
Or say, we get over the measles
but not a broken heart.
We need to make that distinction.
The things that become part of our experience
Never become less a part of our experience.
How can I say it?
The way to get over a life is to die,
Short of that, you move with it,
let the pain be pain,
not in the hope that it will vanish
but in the faith that it will fit in,
find its place in the shape of things,
and be then not any less pain
but true to form.
Because anything natural has an
inherent shape and will flow towards it.
And a life is as natural as a leaf.
That’s what we’re looking for:
not the end of a thing
but the shape of it.
Wisdom is seeing the shape of your life without
obliterating,, getting over, a
single instant of it.
— Albert Huffstickler, from “Wanda” Walking Wounded
Ashes of Life
Love has gone and left me and the days are all alike;
Eat I must, and sleep I will,—and would that night were
But ah!—to lie awake and hear the slow hours strike!
Would that it were day again!—with twilight near!
Love has gone and left me and I don’t know what to do;
This or that or what you will is all the same to me;
But all the things that I begin I leave before I’m through,—
There’s little use in anything as far as I can see.
Love has gone and left me,—and the neighbors knock and
And life goes on forever like the gnawing of a mouse,—
And to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow and to-morrow
There’s this little street and this little house.
— Edna St. Vincent Millay
We do not recover from the death of a loved one. In fact, we never recover from that death in the same way we recover from an illness or broken limb. It will always be a part of us—always—and to suggest otherwise is unrealistically and harshly to imply that we somehow “get over” the feelings about the event or stop experiencing painful reminiscences of the loved one or the death.
A much more accurate metaphor is represented in the old Carole King song “Tapestry.”
My life has been a tapestry of rich and royal hue
An everlasting vision of the everchanging view
A wondrous woven magic in bits of blue and gold
A tapestry to feel and see, impossible to hold.
In fact our lives are “tapestries,” and the death of a loved one is a ripping, gaping, bleeding hole in the very midst of that tapestry of our life. How, then, is the tapestry rewoven? It does not, with the mere passage of time, magically pull itself back together. Rather, it is rewoven only with the initiative, energy, and strength of the survivor reaching in and grasping the torn ends of threads, painfully pulling them back and tying them together. And it is rewoven only with those persons around the survivor cutting threads from their own tapestries and bringing them to the survivor, with love and support and caring and tears and strength, helping to further tie the threads and fill in the gaping hole.
So, eventually, the tapestry is rewoven. But that “glitch” is always there, the roughness of that reweaving is, and always will be, apparent. In fact it may be twenty years from now, as the survivor reviews the tapestry of his or her life, or is in a particular setting, or hears a song on the radio, or remembers a special day of the month, that the rewoven seam is seen and felt again, and the survivor remembers and cries, or feels sad, or is touched by the love and caring expressed by those whose threads are apparent there—and that is perfectly normal. We do not recover from a death, but when we allow others to help, we can reweave our tapestry.
— Charles Meyer, in Surviving Death