In the years since our twin daughters died, I’ve shared in this space some of what helped me grieve.
Scripture, of course. Community, in the church and among parents who have experienced loss like ours. Prayer, at turns angry, sorrowful, empty, or hopeful.
What I’ve never written about is poetry.
On my computer and in my filing cabinet, I keep (giant, growing) folders of poetry that I love. Every time I come across a poem that clutches the core of me, I tuck it there. Essays and novels and memoirs I can read by the dozen, and I do, and they change me.
But poetry stays with me longer than anything else.
After Maggie and Abby died, I started a new collection of poetry. For me, for grief. A few that friends and strangers sent to me or tucked into sympathy cards. Many that I found myself, unbidden. Some that I rediscovered, now knowing what they meant.
I poured through books of grief poetry, gut-grateful for others who knew the healing power of words. But I also needed to make my own way through the wilderness, carrying the particular poems that pulled me up on dark days.
Each one a ladder step out of grief’s pit.
. . .
Last week Mary Oliver died, one of my favorite poets.
Her final miracle was to transform social media into an elegy of grief and gratitude. I read poem after poem that friends and strangers shared: their favorite of hers, the words that shook them or opened their eyes or breathed life into tired lungs.
I sat in the local library on the day she died and turned from my work to plunge back into her words. When I resurfaced, I came up holding this. A sliver of the story of Abby and Maggie’s deaths that I had never written before.
Truth be told – what poetry insists – I hadn’t even spoken this part of the story aloud to anyone.
“In the months and years that followed, I returned to Oliver’s poem ‘In Blackwater Woods.’ Why had those words come to me at the moment of death? Why poetry instead of Scripture—or prayer?”
This is the story of how I found the poet’s words before I knew they were hers and how they found me when words failed.
You can read the rest here at the Collegeville Institute’s Bearings Online: