I began the day pondering the nature of grief. Being a words person, I started by looking up the etymology of the word grief. It is handed to the English via 12th century Old French apparently. The translation is ‘to burden.’ From the 13th century it came to be synonymous with ‘to oppress’ and ‘to enrage’ But the original burden implied the burden was from a wrong, an injustice.
That is not necessarily the context that 21st century readers would take for the meaning. We are well primed with the texts on the stages of grief elucidated by Elizabeth Kuebler-Ross in her book On Death and Dying. Perhaps we apply it too much to personal mourning. Mourning has a different texture and tenor to grief, although the two can be linked. A personal loss of a loved one can be a literal burden – to become an orphan, say, or sole carer for a large family. But more often we speak of grief about the space that the bereaved feel at the sight of the empty chair or place at the table. We miss someone who is irrevocably gone.
However, today’s poetry practice tackles collective grief and explores the most ancient roots of the word. Because certainly what the world is experiencing every shade and stage of grief in its most ancient and modern senses. The poem borrows its structure from Kuebler-Ross the ways we navigate grief in our contemporary world.
It’s normal for there to be denial,
to tsunami kind of cry,
to not believe you own eyes,
that it cannot be happening.
Not to us. We are good people.
It’s normal to want to flannel.
It’s normal to feel angry,
to want to punch at walls a lot,
to hurt yourself when powerless,
because you want to hurt someone else so much.
To kill the messenger maybe, you want to raise an army,
or go postal a bit like Carrie off on her arson spree.
That’s how it feels when all comes to naught.
It’s normal to think you can bargain,
to be able to wheedle and haggle it out.
You’d do anything to spare a loved one, right?
Surely we must have left a little bit of clout?
So you go and try to make the best deal this side of heaven.
But doesn’t that sometimes feel like a bit like theft?
I’m telling you. It’s normal to feel sold out at auction.
It’s normal to feel kind of depressed,
to feel all the consequent emptiness.
Loss is loss. Gone is gone.
You ache. You yearn. You feel distressed,
you veer between enlightening moments when
you feel like both a con and a pawn.
It’s normal to feel like that when depressed.
It’s normal to grieve what is bygone, but
acceptance becomes your new normal.
You may model yourself on Teflon, yet
everything absolutely still sticks. Okay? Probably not.
We could look to the classics for lessons – for instance,
Agamemnon murdering his daughter for fair wind and favour.
Today our new normal is to feel not just cursed, but dishonoured.
Copyright © 2018 Bee Smith