Ministry, Poetry


Today I spent an hour with some of Pattie’s friends, all women in our church who had known her many more years than I. One was a neighbor, and all of them worked with her in our nursery school. It’s been ten days since she died, and almost a week since the funeral, and they are all grieving. Well, really, we are grieving. We’re getting used to the idea that she is gone, some still having to remember it anew each day. Her friend, Caroline, remarks that her grandson did something funny and she thought, “I can’t wait to tell Pattie.”

I used to do this with my mother, and for a long time it was an occasion for tears. But now, almost 12 years after she died, I smile and feel thankful that I still feel so connected to her.

Pattie’s family wasn’t perfect. Neither was mine. My mother and I struggled in our roles with each other. I believe that when I was put into her arms, she felt the deep pain of her infertility, a grief she could not show in the world but rather something so far inside that it made her sick. Everyone around her thought I must be a dream come true, but in fact I was the death of all her dreams.

I wish I could tell her that I understand now, and that I love her, and that I have forgiven her for the distance that often laid between us–and I wish I could ask her to forgive me, too.

Here’s a poem by Mary Oliver that I shared with the friends of Pattie today.

In Blackwater Woods
Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blue shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

1 thought on “Grieving”

  1. thank you for posting this, my very favourite, poem- i had lost the text and googled it to find it on your site. i wanted to mail it to a friend who has just had a miscarriage- she asked me for wise words, but are there any to give in such a situation? this poem is, for me, about the sorrow of letting go of what you love so dearly, and how the pain of that brings you, at the same time, close to the heart of life. maybe it will help her to feel that others too know that pain, and that we are all connected in it.

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