grief in poetry: the struggle and the blessing

It wasn’t you by Lynn Brookside

I thought I saw you today

Standing there in the checkout line

Just out of reach.

I started to call your name

But I stopped.

My mind said it wasn’t you,

Couldn’t be you.

My heart said otherwise,

Vehemently.

 

I was embarrassed by the

Tears that sprang, unbidden

To wash away my

Disappointment.

I wrestled – like Jacob with the angel –

Until I had conquered, once more,

My grief.

The struggle left me feeling

Out of joint.

The world slipped away

As I left the store.

There was only me

And my grief.

Not you.

Never again a “you”.

Finally, I grabbed my grief

By the neck, shouting,

“I will not let you go until you bless me!”

 

I encountered this poem at a Loss and Bereavement workshop that I attended last night. It resonated so deeply and dynamically, reverberating long after I finished reading it. There are so many elements of grief that it taps into.

Denial… Sorrow… Disappointment… Struggle… Alienation… Loneliness… Anger.

There is a lot that could be said about it but I want to focus in on one line. The last one.

“I will not let you go until you bless me!”

This is a reference to the bible story in Genesis 32 of when Jacob wrestles with an angel. He is about to face his brother, of whom he swindled his inheritance from, expecting death. His life thus far has been full of struggle and at a point of feeling utterly exhausted and full of fear and uncertainty, an angelic stranger visits him in the night and they wrestle until morning. Jacob never gives up. The stranger asks to leave as the day breaks and Jacob says the above line, as quoted in the poem.

A lesser known aspect of grief is the struggle. You struggle within to acknowledge your new reality. You struggle to believe it. You struggle to believe that you believe it.

You struggle with guilt. You struggle with regret. You struggle with insecurity. You struggle with knowing whether they loved you.

You struggle with hating grief.

You struggle with not wanting to let it go.

I can’t think of anything else in life that you can truly and deeply hate entirely, yet can be blessed by. The old love/hate antithesis doesn’t apply. No one loves grief. Not even a little bit.

The message of Jacob’s story is that the outcome of struggle can be blessing. We will have all heard it said that the greatest personal growth comes from the biggest challenges and the painful experiences we face. But only when we face it head on, when we give ourselves to the struggle, when we embrace our weaknesses, our emotions, our vulnerability, and when we fight to live despite the pain  – only then we grow and are blessed. This, to me, is nothing short of miraculous and a sure signifier of the reality of grace.

The last line of the poem speaks to me of that innate, desperate, utterly human cry of our hearts:

This can’t all be for nothing. 

But we have to find the good for ourselves. I have faith that I am blessed in my struggles and pain, that good can come from it and that good is from God. Though when I’m in the midst of feeling it, having someone remind me of that doesn’t always help. It is still painful and to try to make me see good or logic or blessing when all I feel is pain can seem completely and utterly bonkers at best, insensitive at worst.

You want to know the best thing to say, first and foremost?

“I’m here with you for the struggle, for as long as it takes.”

 

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