Tuesday, November 24, 2015

Talking to Grief

I'm sitting on the couch in the back room of my house. I've just done a bit of online Christmas shopping. Coco is asleep in her crib. David is reading books to Zuzu. Cooper is snuggled up next to me under a blanket. Poor, sweet Coops. He's adjusted pretty well to sharing a house with Zuzu and Coco, but he's still happiest when he has me to himself. I can't believe he's going to be ten years old in February. As aggravating as he can be, he's my good boy and I love him.

Because I am The Meanest Professor Ever, I make the students in my Intro to Lit class memorize a poem and recite it to the class. It's part of their final. They can choose any poem they like from the textbook, it just has to be a minimum of 12 lines. Sometimes I allow them to choose a poem that's not in the book, as long as I approve it.

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 name,
your collar and tag. You need
the right to warn off intruders,
to consider
my house your own
and me your person
and yourself
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. It would be like leaving behind a part of myself. 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.


  1. I really like this. It's comforting to think 5 years down the road grief could feel like a welcome old dog. Not easier but familiar. It's a sad reality, but I needed this post tonight - gives me hope grief/life won't always feel exactly the same as it does now (mostly horrible and terrifying). I also like your dog and that you make your students memorize a poem :)

  2. My grief is beginning to feel familiar also and likes it's part of my being. And that's only after one year. What a great way to describe it. Hugs to you and your 3 girls.

  3. Oh, that poem really resonates with me. Thank you for sharing it. I'm two years out from losing Q and while I don't know that I welcome grief yet, like you I do feel more comfortable with it and can handle it better than I used to.

    And those furry friends... I wouldn't have made it through losing Q without our snuggly cat. They are wonderful companions.

  4. Love this, Brooke. So true. I've been trying to make friends with my grief lately.

  5. Also this makes me wonder what your student's grief is. I don't think you ick this poem otherwise...

  6. This is really beautiful and so true.

  7. I agree, grief evolves and at 7 years out it feels familiar. Thought I'd share a poem I love about the other end of the spectrum, when it is fresh and raw: https://www.poets.org/poetsorg/poem/death-barged

    Thanks for the share.

    1. Oh, Monique, I had never read that poem. I love it! "From now on, / you write about me." YES. xo

    2. Ooh, I like that one too! Thanks, Monique!

  8. This might be the most beautiful thing I've even read.

  9. I was not expecting this post to make me cry, but it did. You just write so beautifully sometimes. I'm so thankful you have (had) Cooper. My dog Zoey was perhaps the reliable being after losing Miles.

  10. I love this metaphor. And I love that last photo of Cooper too. Thinking of you & Eliza as we enter December.