This I Believe

Sheila - Port Townsend, Washington
Entered on August 14, 2006
Age Group: 50 - 65
Themes: children, death

Reading and Writing Poetry Helps with a Heavy Load

I believe that to live with grief we must metabolize the wisdom of the heart.

When my son died in a ski accident, family, friends, colleagues and even strangers soothed me. But integrating loss was a solitary task. For me, it required reading poetry and the works of shamans, and writing. I rediscovered “The Voice of Robert Desnos”, in which Desnos repeats the phrase “I call” and wrote:

I call to the trees on the slopes of Breckenridge;

to the snow and the ice hanging in their branches;

to the snow on the run and the melted layer iced over;

to my son in his thermal clothing,

twenty-five-years old and snow boarding, headed into the trees.

I call to him to tumble off the board, not to worry

about looking clumsy, not to worry about finishing the run.

I call and I call, but he does not hear me.

In an interview with Martin Prechtel in The Sun, I read, “If you are able to feed the other world with your grief, then you can live where your dead are buried….the way we help the other world continue is by feeding it with our beauty.”

The ending of Walt Whitman’s “Out of the Cradle Endlessly Rocking” came to mind:

Throwing myself on the sand, confronting the waves,

I, chanter of pains and joys, uniter of here and hereafter

Echoing Whitman’s language, I wrote as a uniter of now and before:

Out of daily steps and out of drives on highways,

out of hours’ rocky patches and moments

made of weeds, memories come.

When commitment to Seth’s memory was not enough, I read Rilke’s elegy poems, especially “The First Elegy,” which includes these lines:

In the end, those who were carried off

early no longer need us:

they are weaned from earth’s sorrows

and joys, as gently as children

outgrow the soft breasts of their


Rilke’s poem made me think about weaning Seth at fifteen months, about how outgrowing nursing didn’t mean Seth had outgrown my love. I perceived that giving up future stages in our lives together didn’t mean giving up my love for him. I began to learn how to feed my dead.

A few months after Seth’s death, I found a box of papers I had saved from his school days. A postcard he sent from cycling camp read:

Hey Dudes,

I hope you’re having as much fun as me. We are at Lakedale campground on San Juan. My writing is so bad because I’m dodging bees. The riding’s been pretty good (of course I have the heaviest load).

Love, Seth

I hung it by my desk. The letters faded, but Seth’s message is indelible. It all happens at once: having fun, dealing with what’s real, taking on the job life throws at you. Now I dodge the bees of grief, the moments I think, “What if?” and go on. As with all parenting, the love I have for my child helps me carry a heavy load. I have begun to live where my dead are buried.