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How Poetry Can Help You To Deal With Grief Better

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Grief

How Poetry Can Help You To Deal With Grief Better

Two poems to help you deal with grief

Forgive, forget, move on. Because life is incredibly short

The oldest person in the world died yesterday at 117. Asked earlier this month by a government official how she felt about living so long, she replied, “It seemed rather short.”

We often grieve, mourn and hold grudges as though it weren’t. I know people in their mid-60’s who still talk lots about the terrible parenting they had, people who can’t get over a death for longer than they have left to live, and people who grieve the end of a partnership decades later.

I have also known grief, mourning and grudges that I couldn’t get over even though I knew I should, once a grief so relentless that I had to calculate what percent of my remaining life expectancy I had spent in the grief. Four percent—too much but I couldn’t help it.

Some can get over it with what to my ears are dubious propositions. Your child dies but you say “she’s in a better place now,” as though we know what happens after life and that it’s somehow better.

Or they get over it with a valid proposition like “Others suffer more than you” which is true, though replacing grief with shame at one’s pettiness is a hard pill to swallow.

Key to getting over it is time of course, and proving to yourself through re-engagement in the world that there’s life after death, after bad parenting, after loss.

But key too is finding your way to greater intimacy with the human condition, which includes such sorrows. To be one with us all—what this week I’m calling Poignanthropy—not philanthropy (optimism about humanity) or misanthropy (pessimism about humanity) but poignant, bittersweet regard for us. The wonderful horrible pieces of work we are.

For that I find a few poems especially helpful. They’re the pages I turn to in my secular hymnal when I need to pray for a fast recovery, mine or anyone’s.

Here are a few, these about getting over bad parenting:

Not Bad, Dad, Not Bad
Jan Heller Levi

I think you are most yourself when you are swimming;
slicing the water with each stroke,
the funny way you breathe, your mouth cocked
as though you’re yawning.

You’re neither fantastic nor miserable
at getting from here to there.
You wouldn’t win any medals, Dad,
but you wouldn’t drown.

I think how different everything might have been
had I judged your loving
like I judge your sidestroke, your butterfly,
your Australian crawl.

But I always thought I was drowning
in that icy ocean between us,
I always thought you were moving too slowly to save me,
When you were moving as fast as you can.

Her List
Sharon Olds

She  has, at breakfast, a list of things
she  thought of during the night.  She wants to
say  that she killed a leapfrog, once–
put  it on the radiator,
and  it got off, and she put it back on,
and  it got off, and she put it back on
and  spread it out.  She wants to tell me
she  did not cry at her mother’s funeral,
she  shows me how she peered between
the  funeral home’s curtain-panels, at
the  audience, her lips squinched up,
her  eyes slitted, like a young hex.
She  wasn’t sorry when her mother died,
she  and her sister just looked at each other,
and  got in her sister’s car, driving half
the  night, talking and planning.
She  hunches at the breakfast table, she consults
her  list.  Her mother threw her term paper
out  the window, into the rain.
Her mother came to her classroom and told
the  other fifth graders that she was a liar.
Her  mother sat her on the toilet till she stuck—I knew that,
her  mother took her curlers out in her sleep—I knew that,
Her  mother arrived two hours late
for  a party in her honor, and wouldn’t let her children
eat  or drink anything, because
the  party was in her honor. My mother’s fierce
eye  narrows at me, as if
she  is furious with me—when she used to bite
her  nails, her mother tied her to the bed
and  would not let her get up to pee.
How  many times did she do that?
One,  I think, my mother says,
and  I look at her—she tied me up
the  once. You know what this is called now, I
say,  Mom?  You were a little abused—
not  badly, but a little abused.
She  laughs without pleasure, she looks at me with-
out  delight or sorrow, she says, I never thought of  that. And I
put  my arms around her, stroke
the  hardish lump on her back, her permanented
wee  head feels too close to my breast—
but  if she tries anything, I think wildly, it would
not  be hard to break her wrist.  I
pet  her cartilaginous hump,
She  was a child, she arrived without having harmed anyone.
she  had formed in darkness, inside her mother, in
the  liquid her mother had never touched
and  had little to  do with.  She formed in pallor,
the  shapes of what would be her breasts
and  womb swimming, free, through her body,
toward their place of mooring.

[Jeremy Sherman]

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Vital stats: Berkeley, 57, partnered, three children (M34, M28, F24), married once for 17 years. Educationally: Ph.D. in evolutionary theory, masters in public policy Vocationally: MBA professor of strategic foresight, business consultant and communications trainer, academic researcher. Historically: I've taught over 250k college-student/hours in psychology, sociology, rhetoric, philosophy, advertising, economics, history, English, cultural studies, marketing and strategy. I founded a non-profit environmental lobbying organization in DC, worked as a business consultant and public affairs director for large companies, ran a foundation, designed and implemented water projects in Guatemala. For seven years I lived on the world's largest hippie commune, and was an elected elder there at 24. Authority: None. I never refer to myself as an expert in anything, but rather a specialist in those questions that interest me (see below). I write with no authority. I read lots but cite rarely in my articles which should be read as opinion pieces, not declaration of scientifically proven fact. I will not pull rank on readers: My ideas are only worth considering only if they're based on good reasoning. I change my ideas over time. Caveat emptor. They say "don't believe everything you think. I'll go one further: I don't believe everything I write, in that for every argument I make, I aim to be able to express convincingly the counterargument. I try to live by the F. Scott Fitzgerald quote: "The test of a first-rate intelligence is the ability to hold two opposing ideas in mind at the same time and still retain the ability to function." Self-expressively: I've written over 600 articles for Psychology Today, coined over 400 psychology neologisms. I write songs and limericks. I play bass and sing in jazz, Latin, funk, and Nigerian groups three nights a week. Intellectually, yet intimately, my middle-age spread spans several life-sized questions. * Most cosmically, how did mattering emerge from matter?, life from non-life? mind from chemistry? economics from physics? information from energy, questions I address as a member of a 16 year research project with UC Berkeley scientist Terrence Deacon. * More practically, though not unrelated, how do and how should we shop among interpretations, deciding what's significant and how to respond to what life deals us? * Also practically and related, what is a butthead other than someone we butt heads with? since in a free society we should define morals negatively--not what you should, but what you shouldn't do. We say "don't be a butthead," but define buttheads subjectively as people we butt heads with. I seek a more objective distinction between what's morally in and out of bounds. * How do and should we balance the ambigamist's tensions and what is the underlying structure of such tensions? For this I use the Serenity Prayer as a template, and think about levels of analysis (going meta). I've written five books, only one published but the rest out soon one way or another. Negotiate with yourself and win: Doubt management for people who can hear themselves think. Purpose: A natural history Doubt: A user's guide; a natural history Mind readers dictionary: Terms for reading between the lines with greater comprehension. Executive UFO: A field guide to unidentified flying objectives in the workplace.

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