When Grief Comes

It’s been a rough week. In the aftermath of a death, I have been trying to figure out how to put my feelings into words but I haven’t quite gotten there yet. So I’ve fallen back on poems and scripture, trying to use them to put my own feelings into words.

First, Matthew Dickman’s poem, “Grief” expresses the strangeness and inexplicableness of death. It is simultaneously playful and sobering, which right now resonates with the confused emotions in the wake of a death—sometimes I can be distracted, joking and laughing with friends, but the next minute, reality snaps back into place.

Grief (Michael Dickman)

When grief comes to you as a purple gorilla
you must count yourself lucky.
You must offer her what’s left
of your dinner, the book you were trying to finish
you must put aside,
and make her a place to sit at the foot of your bed,
her eyes moving from the clock
to the television and back again.
I am not afraid. She has been here before
and now I can recognize her gait
as she approaches the house.
Some nights, when I know she’s coming,
I unlock the door, lie down on my back,
and count her steps
from the street to the porch.
Tonight she brings a pencil and a ream of paper,
tells me to write down
everyone I have ever known,
and we separate them between the living and the dead
so she can pick each name at random.
I play her favorite Willie Nelson album
because she misses Texas
but I don’t ask why.
She hums a little,
the way my brother does when he gardens.
We sit for an hour
while she tells me how unreasonable I’ve been,
crying in the checkout line,
refusing to eat, refusing to shower,
all the smoking and all the drinking.
Eventually she puts one of her heavy
purple arms around me, leans
her head against mine,
and all of a sudden things are feeling romantic.
So I tell her,
things are feeling romantic.
She pulls another name, this time
from the dead,
and turns to me in that way that parents do
so you feel embarrassed or ashamed of something.
Romantic? she says,
reading the name out loud, slowly,
so I am aware of each syllable, each vowel
wrapping around the bones like new muscle,
the sound of that person’s body
and how reckless it is,
how careless that his name is in one pile and not the other.


All Saints Day and All Souls Day are less than a week away and I was reminded of a blog post I wrote two years ago at this time in which I talked about an anthem we were singing in choir. The piece is “We Remember Them” by Tarik O’Regan and it’s part of a larger work that was written in reaction to the Israeli-Palestinian conflict and the desperate need for peace. Right now, this piece has multiple meanings for me. On the one hand, it expresses how reminders of people who have died are all around us. In some ways, we can never fully recover from a death. It can fade into the background and not be as painful, but it still shapes our experience and affects our lives. But this piece also fosters hope—those who have died are never lost to us. Their physical body is gone, but we always have our memory of them—it isn’t just their death that impacts us, it is their life as well. It’s important for me to remember that.


From “We Remember Them” by Tarik O’Regan:

“In the rising of the sun and in its going down, we remember them. In the blowing of the wind and in the chill of winter we remember them. In the opening of buds and in the rebirth of spring, we remember them. In the blueness of the sky and in the warmth of summer, we remember them. In the rustling of leaves and in the beauty of autumn, we remember themWhen we’re weary and in need of strength, we remember them. When we’re lost and sick at heart, we remember them. So long as we live, they too shall live, for they are now a part of us, as we remember them.”


Death has a strange way of uprooting things I thought were solid and Mary Oliver’s poem, “After Her Death” expresses how lost I feel sometimes. But this poem also creates space for comfort, found in familiarity, in the cycles of nature, in scripture. It doesn’t matter which scripture it is—sometimes all I need is the comfort that comes with opening my bible to a familiar book, reminding me that God is here with me always, that I am not alone.


After Her Death (Mary Oliver)

I am trying to find the lesson
for tomorrow. Matthew something.
Which lectionary? I have not
forgotten the Way, but, a little,
the way to the Way. The trees keep whispering
peace, peace, and the birds
in the shallows are full of the
bodies of small fish and are
content. They open their wings
so easily, and fly. It is still

I open the book
which the strange, difficult, beautiful church
has given me. To Matthew. Anywhere.


Maybe soon I will be able to articulate everything in a coherent way but for now, I am trying to find comfort and solace, to get through the day to day, to lean on the community around me, to let go of my burdens, to find rest. Right now, this is the scripture that is carrying me:


Matthew 11:28-30

Come to me, all you who are weary and are carrying heavy burdens, and I will give you rest. Take my yoke upon you, and learn from me; for I am gentle and humble in my heart, and you will find rest for your souls. For my yoke is easy and my burden is light.

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