From today until December 8th the annual Grief Awareness Week is held. It is ’ a dedicated period for individuals, organisations, and communities to come together to acknowledge and address the various aspects of grief.’
As regular readers will know I have written a lot about grief and bereavement over the years. Lots of words, some with purpose and meaning, but I suspect others which are but searches for solace and an attempt to grasp substance out of something so hard to hold.
The older I get the more comfortable I become with being silent around grief and quiet around dying. It is not, I think, that I have run out of things to say but more that I appreciate that there is a tremendous strength and energy in being silent and not feeling that you have to fill the void of emptiness with sound, either for my own heart or the lives of others.
I suppose I especially appreciate silence in those aching gaps of time. Those times when I go to pick up the phone to make a call to someone who will never answer but for a moment love’s forgetfulness was lost to memory. Those times when a flashing image comes to mind or I see something which has a particular resonance and I simply want to share it. Those times when I daydream touch and presence only to wake into the cruelty of cold truth and the knowledge of absence. Those times when I see a figure walking in the distance and try to catch them but know every step is towards a stranger. Time aches.
I like to think that it is not accidental that December was chosen as Grief Awareness Week because this is such a hard month to grieve. A month of communal celebration, you simply cannot escape the invitation if not command to be joyous and happy, whether in our real or television worlds. And to top it all there are the highpoints of family togetherness when you sense inside yourself the empty seat and the absent face, when you smile through the inner tears of loneliness and grieving. When you sometimes feel that your very presence is a declaration of the missing.
At all such times I like to wear the cloak of silence to become invisible and to be allowed to grieve alone.
I suppose this desire to sit and cradle memory in grieving is why I feel words so often fail to speak my language of loss. It is I suspect why for me poetry is such a solace and help. Because in truth it is nigh to impossible for me to write a sentence which can describe grief, but I relish those whose poetry opens a door to understanding and offers some comfort.
Earlier this year I came across an article which tried to explore why it was for many of us that both reading poetry and for some writing it can help us in our grieving and in our journey of bereavement. The writer states:
“Poetry allows us to tap into a range of feelings – from sadness and despair to hope and resilience – and to do so in a way that feels authentic and true to our experience. Reading poetry can also be a cathartic experience, as it allows us to connect with the emotions of others and find comfort in the shared human experience of loss.”
There is nothing new in that truth – it has been known for centuries and there is a long long line of poets who have been companions for the grieving.
Poems for me are the truthtellers and promise keepers of hope when all around you seem to be full of words that simply don’t seem true or are so platitudinal that they are empty. ‘I will not get over it’ ‘It will not be alright soon’ ‘I will not learn to live without him’ ‘I will not adjust to a new way.’ And okay they may all be right and have truth inside their words, but right now, right here, in this moment, for this time, I want to sit and ‘rage against the dying of the light.’
Poetry allows me to mourn on my own time, in my own way, at my own pace, without having to be ‘well and whole’ for others or even for my self.
This desire for silence or for words of poetry that walk with my grief, is I suspect why I am comfortable with the Gaelic concept of the lament, of which I have written previously:
‘Lament is not a wallowing in the pain and distress of the past, but rather a gathering up of the threads of brokenness until they are woven into a rhythm of resonant recollecting. To lament is to mouth or sound out one’s pain, to seek to make sense and to simply be present in grief. Its insight is that the act of grieving and remembering are woven into our humanity. We cannot have hope unless we remember.’
So I am going to find my quiet place, my touching place, and sit and listen to the silence and when I want I will pick up a book of poems and go and visit some old teachers of life. One of them is usually Iain Crichton Smith, whose short poem When Day Is Done take me to the place where even silence cannot be heard.
‘Sorrow remembers us when day is done.
It sits in its old chair gently rocking
and singing tenderly in the evening.
It welcomes us home again after the day.
It is so old in its black silken dress,
its stick beside it carved with legends.
It tells its stories over and over again.
After a while we have to stop listening.
Photo by Jan Canty on Unsplash