Grief is tongue-tied …

by Kim on February 6, 2013

A good deal of my time is spent with the bereaved, time during which I have often felt helpless and useless, but also immensely privileged, deeply moved, and mysteriously sustained. Here I offer, tentatively, a personal Lenten meditation on grief and grieving.

Grief is tongue-tied –
its language, universal,
is silence and sighs, groans and gestures –
but if grief could speak –
apart, I mean, from curses and obscenities …
Psalm 22:1, not 22:24, grief,
God deaf to my cry and “Why?” grief.
Holy Saturday, the longest day, grief,
trapped between Friday eve and Sunday dawn.
Grief in three terrible tenses:
The past is like the sea to a shipwreck:
the boat you once rowed now drifts without direction;
beneath the waves of memories lurks a treacherous undertow;
the water deceives your thirst, dehydrating the soul;
the once small islands of sorrow are now the mainland.
The present is like a shroud-black hole,
the spirit’s inescapable singularity,
tearing the heart apart, rending the self asunder,
turning mourning to a moment frozen in time.
And the future – what future?
This pain so cold yet burning,
such hollow, hopeless yearning,
and, like lead, like lead, the crushing weight of it.
Grief that practice makes harder, not easier –
the solitary confinement of the once-shared bed,
the enforced isolation of the table for two.
Grief that scorns the clichés of consolation –
“No, you don’t know how I’m feeling!”
Grief that mocks the tidy therapeutics –
“stages”, “closure”, “moving on”.
Grief is a theatre-in-the-round-and-round-and-round, going
Grief that only poets plumb –
St. Vincent Millay’s “Time does not bring relief; you all have lied”;
Hopkins’ “cliffs of fall / Frightful, sheer, no-man fathomed”;
Jennings’ “Ice in the blood, the wrestle in the night”;
Auden’s “For nothing now can ever come to any good”;
Larkin’s “and the deft / Heart lies impotent”;
Williams’ “last hopes refuted / never such pure despair”;
Milosz’s “How to resist the nothingness?”
This is the landscape of grief:
not only the wood where I am lost,
but the waterless wilderness where,
driven by the Spirit,
I must endure the forty days of famine,
resisting the temptation of crumbs and comfort,
and wait without the expectation of ministering angels
for another, a singable Psalm.

{ 4 comments… read them below or add one }


Jason Goroncy 02.08.13 at 10:08 am



Jen 02.10.13 at 10:19 am

Thanks for that Kim. When I’ve been with a patient and their family at the time of death, the surprising feeling is often of immense privilege.


Bob Gilston 02.11.13 at 5:57 pm

“Grief that scorns the clichés of consolation –”
Many years ago a friend showed a wonderful compassion for other people following the death of her husband at a young age. She said that she felt sorry for those who clearly were finding it difficult to know what to say to her and her heart went out to them

“the enforced isolation of the table for two.”
We and others could never get her to join us for an evening. She always had an excuse as to why she couldn’t come. The truth was that she couldn’t bring herself to sit with other couples when her husband wasn’t with her.

“time during which I have often felt helpless and useless”
Sometimes, it may only be the minister/vicar/priest who can really provide quality pastoral support in this situation even when they too can’t find the right words. I suspect that the best support comes from those who do know how it feels because they have experienced it but know that saying “I know how you feel” isn’t what you say.


Bruce Symons 02.20.13 at 8:53 pm

Thank you Kim. And thank you Bob for your last sentence.

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