Consider the Shades of Grief

Empty row boat docked at dusk.

Grief is a universal experience. We all walk through these shadows at one point or another. We all eventually experience its awkward, faltering steps. A Facebook friend, Kristen Shill, penned these words in memory of the passing of her mother, but I have a feeling many of my natural mother friends recognize the experience of walking away empty handed, having not yet made peace with the young person’s grief we now carry in our grownup bodies.

Abide with me today? Twenty years of grief is a lot to hold. In the early hours of the morning twenty years ago, my mom’s organs shut down as her body stopped fighting leukemia. Her name was Alicia.


I hold up memories of her like paint chips against the walls of my life.
Most are faded and wan,
A few red as heartsblood.
Mostly I tuck them carefully into a drawer,
To pull out now and again
As I consider the shades of grief.

Grief is not a destination.
It’s not the journey or even the load.
Grief is the vessel,
Carrying one so gently through shock
And later dashed against the shores of sorrow.
I’m on a one-woman voyage through desolation.

The work of grief is a lonely business,
As I stand in the produce aisle squeezing tomatoes
And tumble down the wormhole of memory,
Hands still and eyes pinwheels of loss and regret.
“Ma’am, can I help you with something? ”
“Oh. No. Thank you. There’s nothing you can do for me.”
I walk away with empty hands.

I have not made peace with the child’s grief housed in a woman’s body.
I lean away from her pain, her confusion–adult problems in a child’s body.
I cannot remember.
I cannot remember.
I cannot remember.
I cannot forget.

I set course on the good ship Grief,
A reluctant sailor through uncharted waters,
Dashed against the shores of sorrow,
Grasping the rudder
And trying to remember the feeling of the sun on my face once more.

Interestingly, I have found those who have lost a child or mother to death tend to be the most compassionate and understanding of the natural mother’s plight. Perhaps it is true, that great suffering can open open the doorway to compassion for others. Perhaps mindful surrender to the grief (as so exquisitely exemplified by Kristen’s poem) really does open up the gate to a sacred place where we can simply be  – be more tolerant, be more loving, be more accepting – with each other in our shared suffering.


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