Do not stand at my grave and weep;
I am not there. I do not sleep….
Do not stand at my grave and cry;
I am not there, I did not die.
(Excerpts from “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” by Mary Frye)
Once upon a time I would have found this poem sweet. As a reader you may find it comforting. The words are pretty, and the meter is pleasing to the ear. As an author I often write to express my own feelings–joy, peacefulness, anger, disappointment. I must now confess that, at this point in my life, “Do Not Stand at My Grave and Weep” seems rather trite.
The single event that has most influenced my writing in the last six years has been one of unspeakable loss. In May of 2009, my middle son, Jay, was killed in an automobile accident. He had just turned 28 a few days before. He was a high school teacher and coach, and it was the last day of school. He was headed to a bachelor party weekend of golf, in anticipation of his wedding only six weeks away. Just outside of New Orleans, a wrong way driver smashed head-on into his vehicle. Time does not heal all wounds, and there is some grief that one never gets over. Such is that of losing a child.
Although words cannot completely capture my grief, despair, and anguish, writing has been an avenue for me to cope. Journal reflections, essays, and fiction have kept me busy and occupied my mind so that I can function in my day-to-day life. But when the devastating grief that lurks just below the surface rears its fierce dragon head, poetry pours out of me. Like an evil force so overwhelming and powerful, grief cannot be described in coherent sentences, paragraphs, or stories. I am able only to express it in words and images, brief glimpses of something too horrible to demand further concentration.
My journey with grief is, and continues to be, recorded in verse. This brief poem expresses the initial mind-shock and the body’s physical reaction when one receives the dreaded phone call in the night. Then the tiny seed of disbelief grows into realization that life—and death—will never again be the same.
RING IN THE NIGHT
The sleep startlingly stolen
The mouth says yes. The mind says, NO!
The gut begins to churn
The heart begins to race
And the pit begins to grow
Anger and pain
It will never be the same
Elisabeth Kubler-Ross’ work and her book On Death and Dying are the foundation on which the commonly recognized five stages of grief are based. Denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance are considered the normal sequence one goes through when experiencing the death of a loved one. Just as Frye’s poem seems trite to me now, attempting to compartmentalize the grieving process and suggesting it is a neat process that has a finite ending are ludicrous. I have found that in support groups for those who have lost a child, this is especially so. It is so unnatural for a child to die before a parent that nothing about the grieving process is predictable or normal. Each must find his own path, and there is no end. My next poem addresses this, where the eternal cycle of seasons, winter’s frozen death-like grip and spring’s rebirth, only seem to mock the reality that my son will not return.
THE COMING OF WINTER
The slide begins
Down, down into the cold and dark
The journey begins with goblins and ghosts
Then stuffing ourselves and the bird near to bursting
Madness follows, frenzied. Glitzy and bright trying to
Cover the ever-empty and sad
Days of imprisonment, an ice bound jail
School tomorrow? Will we or won’t we?
Frozen in time, waiting for…
What? What am I waiting for?
That which will never take place?
The thaw will come
The spring will come
The warmth will return
But he will not return
Even after six years, I continue to struggle with this devastating loss. I seem to linger somewhere between the reality that he is gone and the attempt to hold tightly to his essence. I cannot let him go, for then there would be nothing. This final poem is a reflection of this feeling of hovering somewhere between life and death.
Somewhere between life and death,
Between heaven and earth?
One foot in the grave, the depths of despair.
One thin tenuous filament
A spider silk, a fairy breath
Spanning from here to there.
The soul is caught, somewhere between.
I can’t let go.
So easy to say the platitude, the prayer.
But if one lets go, there is only the nothingness, the void.
The black hole of the soul.
Is that better than the cacophony, consciousness, and caustic pain?
Yes or no?
Grief is and will always be my constant companion. In some way, writing these poems allowed a release of some of the pressure of that grief. I did not go through a traditional writing process of drafting and revising these poems. Perhaps I replaced a word here or there, but the poems stand pretty much as they flowed from heart and mind to the page. Like lancing a festering boil, the words spewed forth and let some of the underlying infection ooze out providing a temporary respite from pain, even though the infection is deep and will never be completely cured.
Now there are brief glimpses of feelings other than grief seeping into my writing. Appreciation of beauty, observations on life, riddles and metaphor are beginning to appear. Perhaps in a way, this is part of my individual process of grief, although I often take a step forward then fall ten steps backward. I will continue to write what my heart compels and will not be silent. I would challenge you to do the same.
To find out more about Jay and the Chapmans’ efforts to honor him, visit:
How has your own writing been an avenue for expressing your emotions?