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GRIEF

After a loved one dies, society expects us to be over grief in a short period of time. I believe that grief is something to go through, not around. It gives us the space and time to feel, accept (as best we can), consider our loss and to "steer into the skids" as we travel the roads and byways of grief. Grief always takes me to a dead end. There are many ways to grieve. I write my grief. 

Seeing Myself Without Looking in The Mirror

 

After someone has died, it is a traditional Jewish custom to cover the mirrors in the home of the deceased during the seven-day period of mourning known as shiva. Mourners should not concern themselves with vanity by looking in a mirror is how this custom is most often explained. There are mystical interpretations, as well.

Kabbalists, mystical interpreters of the Jewish Bible, say that demons and evil spirits visit those in mourning. There is an emptiness that can easily be overtaken by darkness at that time. Additionally, when looking in a mirror during shiva, it is possible to see the Angel of Death, as well as a demon’s reflection. Mirrors are an entryway to the realm of spirits, and the dead may also be seen. When my father died, the shock and grief were unbearable much of the time during shiva.

 

Everything was ripped open, and I was vulnerable. Had I looked in a mirror, I am certain that I would have been overtaken by the Angel of Death. Had I seen my father, I knew that I would have tried to enter through the gateway to be with him. The ritual of not seeing myself during shiva helped me to maintain a balance as best I could. I could not bear to look at the daughter who no longer had a father. Why didn’t he just walk through the door?

 

Not looking in a mirror gave me a path to make it through that first week without having to face myself. It allowed me a way to begin to realize I had to stay on my side of the mirror.

This essay and poems appear on Exit Strategy’s Art & Culture Monthly Reader, curated by Karen Bellone and Kirby Lee, co-founders and doulas for the dying at The Seventh Sense serving Hudson Valley, NY. Their intention is to refocus the narrative around death, dying, and grief through the lens of the arts, culture, storytelling, and innovation. The Seventh Sense Care Collective (July, 2024)

Black Ice

 

Snow turns to sleet and rain; the car

off cruise control. Headlights glare

on sparkling asphalt. I like to think

I’m a good driver, but I panic, brake

too hard. The tires lock.

Brake slowly is what all the books say,

but it takes so long to stop.

Each new patch of black ice

surprises me, and I slide

before I realize what has happened.

Head-on, towards the guard rails,

metal against metal, my pulse races,

I grab the wheel – tight, too tight, steer

into the skid, steer into the skid, steer into the skid.

Black ice lasts for only twenty feet or so.

Finally, I stop.

Readjust my seat belt, restart the car,

release the clutch, one foot on the gas,

the other perched over the brake.  

A misnomer, black ice. Black ice is transparent,

transparent as the grief that hovers above

the asphalt as I look for the lights of home,

my father no longer sitting on the front porch

waiting for me.

Wonder Beans

 

My father went each morning to his garden.

He taught me to smell the soil to see if it was good,

to feel the dirt slide across my hands, to never

wear gloves, to stay in the middle of the row when planting seeds. 

We’d look for work to do in the garden,

and sometimes there was nothing more to do

than watch the garden grow, wait for the harvest.

He thought that haricot vert were the dumbest thing he’d ever seen–

he liked his Kentucky Wonder beans, big and bursting

with seeds, leaving

them to grow in the summer sun as long as possible.

Last winter he told me we couldn’t save

the parsley from the snow and ice, even though

we put blankets over it.

He got pneumonia in February.

In April, he asked me if I thought he’d get to his garden,

and I told him yes. 

By the end of May I brought him

cherry tomato plants to keep on the deck.

He no longer had the strength to pick

the first tomatoes that ripened in June. 

August: I bring dirt from the garden

to his grave and scatter grass seed.

Die Sonne Scheint

 

My father would phone to tell me each beautiful morning, 

the sun is shining, and I would answer

über uns ins bett, over us in bed. 

 

If you say it fast, it sounds like bruns ins bett,

to pee in bed, and we would laugh the way, he said,

he and his brothers and sisters laughed

when they were kids in Germany.

 

No clouds that day in July we bury him. 

Only a red-tailed hawk that circles and circles.  

We walk behind the coffin to the open grave. 

The sun warms our backs as he is lowered into the earth.

 

My father didn’t want to be completely in the sun.

Close by is a large maple tree.

I have to stop myself. I want to shovel and shovel and shovel and shovel. 

As I say mourner’s kaddish for the first time, the sun shines.

Yitgadal v’yitkadash sh’mei rabbah, exalted and hallowed be God’s great name.

 

For seven days, I sit on a low chair in the living room.

Callers come to give comfort.

When it is quiet, I go to the backyard, to the garden

we didn’t plant this season.

 

Weeds grow everywhere.

Birds come to the feeders my father always kept filled,

that I now fill–

rusty-capped sparrows, slate-colored juncos,

chickadees, even a downy woodpecker.

I lie down in the grass and look up at the sky. 

There is no hawk circling. 

Die Sonne scheint

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Black Ice, Wonder Beans, and Die Sonne Scheint were published on String Poet.

Black Ice won Honorable Mention in the String Poet poetry contest.

 

Janet R. Kirchheimer – String Poet

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