Comforting grief poems for loss and bereavement
Posted by AK Lander | On July 22, 2019 00:00
In times of bereavement, words can often be of great comfort; poetry can reflect the emotion and help grievers feel less alone. For this piece, we asked bloggers to tell us which poems gave them comfort during grief and bereavement.
In times of bereavement, words can often be of great comfort; poetry can reflect the emotion and help grievers feel less alone. Reading words penned by others who have been able to express the sentiments you are feeling is something which can help during your grief journey.
For this article, we asked bloggers to tell us a little bit about their personal grief journeys and which poems gave them comfort.
By Sascha Wagner
Grief is the ceremony of lost treasure.
Grief is the homage you pay to the love you were once blessed to share.
Grief is not an enemy.
Sascha Wagner wrote a variety of poems which will resonate with people who have experienced the loss of a child. Sascha herself grieved the loss of her children; Nino and Eve. Before her death in 2003, Sascha created international workshops as well as writing several small volumes of poetry.
‘Grief’ is a particular poem which provided Alice Wisler with comfort after her four-year-old son Daniel tragically lost his life during cancer treatment in 1997. Alice told us: “Afterwards I read anything I could find on how others coped with grief. The words of those who had entered this bereavement journey before me provided the most comfort. Those writers knew my pain, for they had also lost children. One of the verses from twice-bereaved mother Sascha Wagner spoke to me as I wrestled with my new life without my child.”
Alice said the short poem helped her to understand that the “fierce grief” we hold onto when a loved one dies is because of the strong love we have for them: “Grief would be with me for the rest of my life; there was no reason to fight it. I would learn to adapt to becoming a new person while living with grief.
“I was able to meet Sascha, first online via emails, and then at a bereavement conference in Colorado. She had me fill in for her at a writing workshop. She was a lovely lady with a thick German accent and a soft smile. We remained good friends until her death in 2003. I still miss her today.”
‘Death is nothing at all’
By Henry Scott-Holland
Death is nothing at all.
It does not count.
I have only slipped away into the next room.
Nothing has happened.
Everything remains exactly as it was.
I am I, and you are you, and the old life that we lived so fondly together is untouched, unchanged.
Whatever we were to each other, that we are still.
Call me by the old familiar name.
Speak of me in the easy way which you always used.
Put no difference into your tone.
Wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.
Laugh as we always laughed at the little jokes that we enjoyed together.
Play, smile, think of me, pray for me.
Let my name be ever the household word that it always was.
Let it be spoken without an effort, without the ghost of a shadow upon it.
Life means all that it ever meant.
It is the same as it ever was.
There is absolute and unbroken continuity.
What is this death but a negligible accident?
Why should I be out of mind because I am out of sight?
I am but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner.
All is well.
Nothing is hurt; nothing is lost.
One brief moment and all will be as it was before.
How we shall laugh at the trouble of parting when we meet again.
Henry Scott Holland was Regius Professor of Divinity at the University of Oxford as well as a Canon of Christ Church in Oxford before his death in 1918. He is well known for his writing and his poem, ‘Death is Nothing At All’, was of comfort for blogger Hannah from Hannah’s Happy Hour.
When Hannah lost her mum to cancer in 2017, she found solace in Holland’s work: “For me, the poem makes me feel closer to my mum. I think about her every day and the poem makes me feel like it is a positive step in my grief process to share the memories we had together, particularly in the line ‘let my name be ever the household word that it always was’.
“It can sometimes be really hard to open up to people about those we have lost and you can feel like a burden at times, but from experience, I have found it is so important to talk. The line ‘Why should I be out of mind, because I am out of sight? I am, but waiting for you, for an interval, somewhere very near, just around the corner’ is one that brings great comfort to me. It reminds me that just because my mum has passed away and isn’t physically by my side, she will forever be in my heart.”
By Wystan Hugh Auden
Stop all the clocks, cut off the telephone,
Prevent the dog from barking with a juicy bone,
Silence the pianos and with muffled drum
Bring out the coffin, let the mourners come.
Let aeroplanes circle moaning overhead
Scribbling on the sky the message 'He is Dead'.
Put crepe bows round the white necks of the public doves,
Let the traffic policemen wear black cotton gloves.
He was my North, my South, my East and West,
My working week and my Sunday rest,
My noon, my midnight, my talk, my song;
I thought that love would last forever: I was wrong.
The stars are not wanted now; put out every one,
Pack up the moon and dismantle the sun,
Pour away the ocean and sweep up the wood;
For nothing now can ever come to any good.
Many people go through a range of emotions during their bereavement journey and ‘Funeral Blues’ by Wystan Hugh Auden sums up how grievers can feel mourning the loss of a loved one. Auden was a doctor and author whose poetry won him the Pulitzer Prise in 1947.
Danielle Pegg Mowbray told us why ‘Funeral Blues’ means so much to her: “My dad died in 2013, very suddenly and unexpectedly at the age of 62. I’m a writer and poet myself, so in the process of grieving, I looked to all forms of writing and reading as an outlet. ‘Funeral Blues’ is probably the poem that resonated with me the most as it just summed up very accurately how I was feeling in the following months.”
By Danielle Pegg Mowbray
The table has four legs,
They work together as a team,
Four legs make it stable,
Four legs are the dream.
The table has four legs,
All connected in their grain,
Four legs make the table mighty,
Helping bear the strain.
The table has four legs,
Four legs share the weight,
Four legs are a family who keep each other straight.
The table has three legs,
It tips over on the floor,
Three legs need to rearrange now the fourth leg is no more.
The table has three legs,
It must go on as life commands,
Three legs form a tripod, and now that is how it stands.
The table has three legs,
Still supportive, straight and strong,
But forever broken-hearted for the table leg that’s gone.
The table had four legs,
And now it just has three,
I promise I won’t forget you dad; your heart still beats in me.
As well as taking comfort in ‘Funeral Blues’ by Auden, Danielle said she found it difficult to find written works which showed that things would get better without using clichés such as ‘time is a healer’, so she wrote her own. She explained: “Time doesn’t heal such a wound and you never get over it. But you do learn to live with the pain in a way that doesn’t overtake every waking and often sleeping moment, as grief often does in the early days when it is so fresh and raw.
“I struggled to find a poem that gave comfort in this way. So, I wrote my own. Lots of them. I wrote angry poems and hurt poems, verses filled with despair and terror, frustration and sadness.
Eventually, something with hope in it emerged. My dad was a point of reference for everything in my life and without him, my whole world felt unstable, but we adapted and survived. And that’s the message I wanted to convey.”
Danielle’s poem was published in the Northern Correspondence magazine.
By Julia Sinclair-Brown
Happy faces blurring my thoughts.
I’m here but not here,
I hear your words falling shallow on my ears
I smile, appropriately,
I laugh, appropriately,
My face does not tell
My voice does not tell.
I’m seemingly normal,
Possibly just quiet
Reflective? Deep? Disinterested?
Maybe all of them
Or maybe just too sad to speak or care
I long for lightness in my heart
I wish for laughter that rings true
But it won’t come
If I hang around you a while,
Will I catch it?
Can I laugh so freely as you?
Sometimes this weight is gently lifted
I’m not always this miserable!
But today’s a bad day
And tomorrow might be too
I’ll just have to ride out this storm
And hope that it passes
As others have whipped up into a frenzy before
And then left quietly after damaging the heart a little more.
So, I let the tears come if they want to come
And I’ll indulge with you in a river of wine
Sometimes the rawness is just a little too much
It’s just pain relief, after all!
Perceptive little things
Are those kids though
“Are you not happy, mummy?”
Soon startles me out of my reverie!
“I’m sorry, I just don’t feel good,
But hugging you will make me feel better”
And it does! If only for a brief moment.
I want to indulge in my sadness for longer
To feel it completely, to breathe it, be it
But I can’t
Obligations bring me back to my reality
Too many of them!
And so, this yo-yo-ing goes on
Until someday, something shifts a little
And your words fall a little harder on my ears
Any my mouth curves effortlessly into a smile
And my laughter just might be real.
This is where I am today,
Tomorrow might be different.
Julia Sinclair-Brown is a transition and bereavement coach and penned her poem after the loss of two members of her family. She told us: “I wrote a poem I wrote when I was bereaved from losing my mum and sister close together and seeing my family fall apart.”
Since the losses, she retrained to become a transition and bereavement coach and is currently writing an online self-help course for people who are grieving. Julia wrote on her website that she knows she will encounter more sadness and loss in life but she does her best to “live much more in the moment now, take each day as it comes and try to keep it as fulfilled and joyful as I can”.
‘In my Head’
By J M Storm
Whatever you decide to do, I know it'll be great.
Because good lives in you
And it has a way of seeping into everything you do.
JM Storm is a mechanic by trade who started writing in his spare time. His work quickly gained momentum and has touched the hearts of many people with his short poems.
‘In My Head’ is a poem which provided comfort to Lisa from The Wandering Widow after her husband Dan passed away after a battle with cancer. She explained: “In my first long-term solo travel trip, I was limited in what I could pack. JM Storm’s first volume of poems was the only hard copy book I took with me. I read it daily. I wrote notes in the white spaces. It became a journal of my grief journey. I often wondered how he knew so much about me when we'd never met.
“Self-doubt can often accompany bereavement. When you've lost your identity, it's challenging to have confidence that you are making the best decisions. This poem spoke to me in Dan’s voice. When I was struggling with big decisions and unsure of what to do or whether Dan would approve, I’d read it aloud. Storm’s words reminded me that Dan always supported any decision I made when he was alive and that in his death, nothing had changed.”
by Laura Wasson Warfel
In evening dampness
as the sun is drawn
beneath the dark horizon
I walk barefooted to your garden.
Summer heat and lack of water
have left your tomato plants
withered and dry.
Glowing between the leaves
I spot tomatoes you hoped for
luscious and red
ready to eat.
As I touch their tender fullness
I hear you say,
"The tomatoes are ready.
When are you coming home?"
Your tomatoes are ready.
I sit in soft summer grass
choose one from the vine
bite into its juicy ripeness
savoring the silent communion
with those parts of you
that has grown in me.
Tomorrow we will dig up the garden
turn the earth over onto your plants
bury them beneath the soil.
your hopes and dreams are offered
for anyone who wants
to harvest them.
Laura who blogs at More Than a Widow began writing poetry in 1969. She penned ‘The Gardener’ and ‘Another Gardener’ after the death of her father in 1987. She told us: “They share part of my journey into grief and coping with that grief.
“When I read these poems, even today, I am transported to one of the places where my dad and I shared joy, the garden in my parents' backyard. Our annual tomato ritual easily returns to me every time I eat a homegrown tomato.
“In these memories, I still find the comfort of their love for me and the simplicity of the life we shared in all its varying degrees of closeness. I am so thankful for the blessing of loving, parents who cared about me even during the times I went astray. If they were still here today, I hope they would be proud of the woman I've become.”
By DR Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
The reality is that you will grieve forever.
You will not "get over" the loss of a loved one; you will learn to live with it.
You will heal and you will rebuild yourself around the loss you have suffered.
You will be whole again but you will never be the same.
Nor should you be the same nor would you want to.
While not technically a poem, we felt we must include this quote from Dr Elisabeth Kübler-Ross who was a psychiatrist, humanitarian and hospice pioneer. This particular quote provided comfort to Michela from The Polished Widow after her husband Nick died in 2011 from pancreatic cancer.
She told us: “It made me feel a little more normal for all I was going through. That the process of becoming a young widow had changed me, and I was ok with that, something I’ve spoken about in my blog.
“I was a different person now, one who knew what it was like to have a loss in my life but also the need to keep living and not be swallowed up by it. I’m proud of the woman I’ve become since.
“But grief is forever, even through all my life changes since, including remarrying and having another child, it has just become part of me, something that mostly lays dormant but can also come to the surface and that’s ok. It’s a part of life and losing my husband is something I will never forget.”
Comforting grief poems for loss and bereavement:
- Grief by Sascha Wagner
- Death is nothing at all by Henry Scott-Holland
- Funeral Blues by Wystan Hugh Auden
- The Table by Danielle Pegg Mowbray
- Today by Julia Sinclair-Brown
- In my Head by J M Storm
- The Gardener by Laura Wasson Warfel
- The Reality by DR Elisabeth Kübler-Ross
With more than 150 years’ experience, AK Lander boasts a distinguished and successful history in the memorial and masonry business. We understand the importance of choosing the right headstone for your loved one.