Anyway, I had a student recite Denise Levertov's poem "Talking to Grief."
Talking to Grief
Ah, Grief, I should not treat you
like a homeless dog
who comes to the back door
for a crust, for a meatless bone.
I should trust you.
I should coax you
into the house and give you
your own corner,
a worn mat to lie on,
your own water dish.
You think I don't know you've been living
under my porch.
You long for your real place to be readied
before winter comes. You need
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
my house your own
and me your person
my own dog.
I've been thinking about this poem, as the countdown to Eliza's birthday marches on, and I try to come to terms with what it means to be five years without her, and five years removed from my last moment with her.
I've written about grief as a wolf at the door, but I haven't considered grief as a dog that I might welcome in, feed and water and cuddle up with on the couch.
Not that long ago, I would have dismissed this poem. Grief is not a dog. Grief is a monster. But grief is not so frightening these days. I guess because it's familiar now. I eat, I sleep, I laugh, I grieve. I parent my living kids, I miss my dead baby. It's not easier, it's just... familiar. So maybe grief does feel like a dog--it's been lurking outside, just waiting under the porch to be invited in. It's ready to be owned, to belong, to be part of the family. It's ready to take its place as a quiet companion, resting next to me, keeping intruders away. I should trust you.
Grief is never easy, but it's quieter now. At five years old, it's like an old dog that no longer demands my attention constantly, though it never goes too far away--especially when the weather grows cold. It finds me when I'm tired, it senses my stress and anxiety. There are days when--unexpectedly--I step in its shit. But it's patient: like Cooper, it waits to join me until I've talked and tickled and chased and soaped and rinsed two laughing, shrieking little girls. Sometimes it spends the evening outside, and sometimes it pads softly in the room for lullabies, nudging open the door and finding a space even when my arms are full.
Grief can be demanding and relentless and maddening in its determination to be near me, but it doesn't scare me these days. I've invited it in. It's here to stay. I wouldn't leave it behind if I could, because it's another form of love. It slows me down, sometimes, but that's not always a bad thing. Sometimes what I really need is just to sit with it, and let it be.
It's really not unlike a certain canine companion, who saw me through that first December, and who will see me through this one. And right now, you can find us under a blanket on the couch.