Throw Back Thursday! Words to Soothe the Sorrow: On Loss and Grieving

Hudson1

Photograph by J.N. Madsen

It was just over a year ago that we had to say goodbye to our beloved dog Hudson. Only barely 8 years old, he had been diagnosed with intestinal lymphoma–in other words, cancer. I still miss Hudson more than I ever could have imagined. He was the best dog we could have ever hoped for.  A truly gentle soul. I mention Hudson because that’s what spurred this entry, but this entry isn’t really about him. It’s about the way in which I grieve.

I often underline sad quotations in books, although I’m not entirely sure why. I’ve done it for years. The best reason I can come up with is that I do sadness well. It is a sadness that works itself within and out of my body–sometimes an ache, sometimes in the form of tears, sometimes as physical exhaustion. I also think that maybe I understand sadness better than others. Maybe I just underline these sad quotations for times when I need to pull them from my memory or bookshelf, re-visit them and allow myself to grieve.

These are the words that have brought me some small semblance of comfort during times of loss, sorrow, and remembrance:

My heart aches, and a drowsy numbness pains/My sense, as though of hemlock I had drunk   –John Keats, Ode to a Nightingale

This is the first line that popped into my head when we learned of Hudson’s diagnosis. In fairly economical prose, Keats has managed to evoke all the sadness and heartache in the world. I first read this poem in Junior High School and whereas the poem itself hasn’t had much of an impact on me, the first two lines are some of the finest.

Continuing with poetry, I am a longtime fan of e.e. cummings. It is easy to find words of comfort within the beauty of his words:

nothing which we are to perceive in this world equals/the power of your intense fragility:whose texture/compels me with the colour of its countries,/rendering death and forever with each breathing  –e.e. cummings, somewhere i have never travelled, gladly beyond

I read Elizabeth Smart’s poetic novella, By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept, when I was in my undergrad years. It’s a pity that some writers remain uncelebrated when their writing is so remarkable. This is how I feel about Elizabeth Smart and this book. The very last line of the novel is one that I have often revisited after a loved one has died. It is so simple, and yet so eloquent:

My dear, my darling, do you hear me where you sleep?

I cry a lot. A lot. Sometimes I wonder how my body can even produce the vast quantities of tears that I shed. My favourite quote on crying, which helps remind me that it’s okay to feel sad and that it’s okay to cry is from August Strindberg’s A Dream Play:

“Why do people cry when they’re sad?” I continued . . . “Well,” he said, “because sometimes you have to wash the windows of your eyes to see more clearly!”

Finally, the quote that I go to time and time again is from Jeanette Winterson’s Written on the Body. I feel as though it gives me permission to grieve:

“You’ll get over it…” It’s the clichés that cause the trouble. To lose someone you love is to alter your life for ever. You don’t get over it because ‘it” is the person you loved. The pain stops, there are new people, but the gap never closes. How could it? The particularness of someone who mattered enough to grieve over is not made anodyne by death. This hole in my heart is in the shape of you and no-one else can fit it. Why would I want them to?”

I should mention that all of these writers are wonderful, not just in times of sorrow and grief, but at any time.

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Hudson and Harris

References

Cummings, E.E. (1994) Selected Poems. New York: Liveright.

Keats, J. (1994) The Complete Poems of John Keats. New York: Modern Library.

Smart, E. (1991) By Grand Central Station I Sat Down and Wept. London: Flamingo. (Original Work published 1945)

Strindberg, A., & Carlson, H.G. (1983) Strindberg: Five Plays. Berkeley: University of California Press.

Winterson, J. (1994) Written on the Body. New York: Vintage Books.

*An earlier version of this post was first published in August 2013 under the title, Hudson (2005-2013)*

If you would like to contact me about this post or about anything else you’ve read please email me at: judyamy74(at)gmail(dot)com or tweet me @JudyAmy74

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2 thoughts on “Throw Back Thursday! Words to Soothe the Sorrow: On Loss and Grieving

  1. I love being able to cry, albeit it’s been a while ( the last time was when I sent my first submission off and it was a huge milestones). I cry when I watch corny ads that are so obviously trying to tug at the heart strings. And losing an animal and losing an animal before their time? I cry a lot. I even get sad thinking about my animals dying..and the thought of telling my children.. :S

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    • It sounds like we are kindred crying spirits, Lorelle! When my partner proposed to me, instead of saying yes, I just cried and cried and cried! Sometimes I’m embarrassed by my tears but other times I am proud of how deeply I am able to feel. Returning to Strindberg’s quote, I sometimes feel as though I must be able to see more clearly than anyone since my tears have washed the windows of my eyes so thoroughly!

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