On Tuesday, March 25, 1975, my father died. On Tuesday, March 25, 2008, we buried my mother with him, in the same grave. We did not realize till later that day, that we were in the cemetery not only thirty-three years to the day, but to the very hour that he had died. They were the loves of each other’s lives. Even in death, there is symmetry and connection. As John Donne wrote in “A Valediction Forbidding Mourning”:

Our two souls, therefore, which are one

      Though I must go, endure not yet

A breach, but an expansion,

      Like gold to airy thinness beat.

It is possible to be present to the pain of loss, to find meaning, symmetry, connection in the loss and to expand out of the contraction. That is what enables me to do the hospice work I do. So, on this day, four and thirty-seven years after their deaths and with Jill’s death still fresh, I remember them all, knowing I am expanding…

Following is a poem I wrote some years back that recalls the moments after I was told that my father had died. I was fourteen and had just walked in the back door after school. Events are etched in memory by trauma…


A Biography of Grief

   Chapter One: On Being Told

Suddenly you find yourself standing in the kitchen and realize that gulping

cry in your ears is you. You are loud. You don’t know how long

you have been screaming, so you make yourself stop. In the quivering

aftermath of that sound, you are surrounded by others who have suffered

the same loss, who seek to console and contain. You have

been screaming. Their bodies are close. The seconds come slowly,

each next moment building indelible memory. You are holding

your book bag clutched to your chest and you think, This

is when in movies the heroine drops the tray. Your eyes

are closed. You see a silver tray and, in the silence, hear it

clatter. You don’t know what to do, so you do something

you saw once. You let the book bag (it is what you have, and there is no reason

to be holding it anymore) slide to the floor. It thumps down. It is

a studied action. You are trying to respond to the impossible

by enacting a scene. It’s the best you can do. Then, you push

out from that knot of arms. You want that moment over.

(It will never be over). You kick off your school shoes

in the middle of the floor. You let someone else pick them up

and place them by the door. You walk three steps and lean

against the counter. You are utterly aware of these increments

of decision, but not what drives them, not then. Years later,

you will recognize these actions as an adolescent cover

for having lost control. But at that moment, you are grasping

at shards, staring at the floor, not even seeing the ugly

green linoleum—when you look up, remembering to ask,

What about the pilot? And someone says, He died too.

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