Sorrow Survival

In high school, I had an assignment that involved tracing back one side of the family. I chose my grandmother’s because (I thought) it was small and straightforward. They:

Left England for something to do
Moved here because (god knows why they moved here)—
But still, it was straightforward. And small. Two things I wanted in an assignment.

 Notebook in hand, I asked my dear grandmother to tell me her story. She looked at me directly and said:

What’s dead is dead.
What’s buried is buried.
Leave it alone.

Stunned, I left it alone and made up a family for my assignment.

This refrain repeats often in my head when I think of my grandmother (kind, patient, loving, dead)

What’s dead is dead.
What’s buried is buried.
Leave it alone.

I ask my great-aunt (90 years old, but still sharp as a whip, living in the North End) to tell me stories about my grandmother.

This I know:

  • My grandmother was 11 (Auntie Nellie 9) when they came home from school for lunch to discover that their mother had died trying to give herself an abortion.
  • There was once a younger brother Bill (“wild” Auntie Nellie said but wouldn’t elaborate) who had died in a house fire as a grown man.
  • My grandmother almost died giving birth to my mother, who was premature. (You’re going to lose your wife or your child, the doctor told my grandfather)
  • Four months after my mother’s birth, my grandfather went overseas, leaving my grandmother a single parent for the next 3 years.
  • My grandmother worked constantly to strengthen my mother’s muscles when she was diagnosed with polio at age seven, perhaps the reason my mother has no outward side effects of the disease.
  • My grandmother’s only son (and by all accounts favourite child) died in a tragic farming accident when he was 38. She was one of the first on the scene.
  • My grandmother’s only son-in-law (whom she loved like a son) died of cancer when he was 57.
  • My grandmother lost her husband (dearly beloved) when she had to make a choice no one would want to make: to operate (he was too weak to operate on and would die) or not to operate (he would die without the operation)
  • My grandmother went from strong, self-reliant woman to a shell of herself, living her life within and in the past, unable to communicate with those she loved.

This I know.

This I wonder:
Does sorrow run through a family like a genetic anomaly trickling through the blood line? My grandmother had enough sorrow for several generations and yet the sorrow continues to flow throughout and downward through her descendants.

This I wonder.

Perhaps in order to survive, my grandmother needed to keep things left alone—dead and buried—perhaps in order for me to survive, I need to unearth things—and begin my resurfacing.

Notes: I’ve been researching prose poems, and while this is nothing like the ones I’ve come across, it’s definitely a different type of writing for me–a blend of poetry and prose, somewhere in the middle.

If you would like to contact me about this post or about anything else you’ve read please email me at: or tweet me @JudyAmy74


6 thoughts on “Sorrow Survival

    • Thank you. I think my grandmother was a very strong person. Even if she didn’t always have the best support network, she was determined, and I think that helped her a lot.


  1. Very powerful. That’s a lot. I can see why she wouldn’t want to talk about it. I especially love this line: “Does sorrow run through a family like a genetic anomaly trickling through the blood line?” I’ve often wondered the same thing. Your writing is beautiful.


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