Encountering grief and loss holds great danger. When sorrow overwhelms, the very real trap is getting lost in trauma and never truly emerging. We collapse, stop living in the present, and get stuck replaying the moment just before, during, or after our loss. Whether the death of a dream, person, job, pet, health, or an undesired condition of the earth itself, the hand of life has thrown down the gauntlet. How will we handle it? How shall we then live?

In your own grief, you may be feeling existential aloneness, be wrestling with God, or afraid that you’ll never recover from the fire that burned through your life. Through perusing these poems, however, you may find yourself accomplishing which seems impossible: adjusting to unwelcome change, recovering life in your own bones, and finding a strange but comforting incandescence: the glimmerings of beauty through the ashes. May it be so.

Sample poems
So Young for Ashes
I am broken, breaking myself
Open to love, to the exquisite pain.

Once my life was free and young
I ran through tall grass
And life pulsed through me.
All the world was waiting for
My proud conquest.

But too soon, ashes fell
Rain on my youthful face.
Hope sorrowed and
Joy compressed.

I waited for the glory train and loving arms
Which never came.
My eyes dried from straining
For the faint wisp on smoke on the horizon.

So I turned toward the patient earth
The only consolation, constant and true
Each mountain trail taught me keen attention.
Nature soothed, each kind word a healing balm
And love bent it’s long arm
To wrap even me in its’ fierce embrace.

Sorrow sets its jaw against my neck
Lies against old wounds, which never quite heal
Memory curses itself over and over, trudging along
In blind wealth, spending itself mercilessly.
All I know is to call for sorrow to comfort me in the night,
For soothing melodies to groan and lengthen my body
To stretch to a wider bed
To cry for yearning and loss of innocence
And through gasps, gather air as a guide
Breathing into a habitable place.
This is all I can do, to ride forward on each last intake of air
Rolling out memory’s muscles in tired compassion.

You were too busy waiting for calls from the surgeons
Yes, I know it happened so fast
Yes, I understand you don’t have time to talk now

But I needed to tell you I’ve been praying for you all day
That I’m keeping your picture by a lit candle
That I don’t even know what to do but offer myself to God.

Why do we pay such a price to be born?
The searing ache spreading in your bones
Your anxious child, your husband with his own illness
who could pass even before you do…
What choice but to breathe into the gathering storm?

The awful mystery sweeps beyond me, clouds I can never reach
Fast in their elusive power
Traveling to and from places you or I may never go…
I wanted to tell you all this
Because I am helpless,
Like a young moose hidden in the willows while a wolf sniffs the wind
Like a child waiting for a ride home that never comes

Helpless to make you well
Cannot believe you could die.
Every moment I stop in the middle of some task,
Forgetting what it was…
Instead, my gaze drifts off to nothing but the thought of you.