Telling the Truth

connecting the dots of my life

Tag: Grief and Loss

From This River, When I Was a Child | Mary Oliver

Photo of the dock and river; taken by DAFraser in July 2010

A Mary Oliver poem for all of us. My comments follow.

From This River, When I Was a Child, I Used to Drink

But when I came back I found

that the body of the river was dying.

“Did it speak?”

Yes, it sang out the old songs, but faintly.

“What will you do?”

I will grieve of course, but that’s nothing.

“What, precisely, will you grieve for?”

For the river. For myself, my lost
joyfulness. For the children who will not
know what a river can be—a friend, a
companion, a hint of heaven.

“Isn’t this somewhat overplayed?”

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

© 2008 Mary Oliver
Poem found in Red Bird, p. 44
Published by Beacon Press

When I read this poem, I tear up. It takes me back to my childhood in the South. We lived on a branch of the Savannah River. Our smaller yet substantial river was named the Vernon River, part of the Intracoastal Waterway.

Vernon River spoke to me multiple times. Especially when I was feeling sad, misunderstood or inundated by the noise of four daughters living in one house with two parents. Plus small pets, parakeets, and the occasional baby flying squirrels rescued from certain death when they fell or were pushed out of their nests.

We lived in rural Chatham County, at the end of a narrow country road, 15 miles from Savannah, Georgia. I had three younger sisters. Frequently I needed a companion. A hint of heaven that was there for me, night and day.

The Vernon River did all that for me. No, I didn’t drink the salt water. But I swam in it. Better than a bath on a hot, humid day! Plus miraculous skin-healing properties of salt water free for the taking. Crabs to be caught, boiled, picked and eaten. Salt-water breezes to soothe my sad, sometimes lonely soul. The soft splash of tides coming and going like clockwork. The sound of seagulls chasing shrimp boats early in the morning and late in the afternoon.

When I read Mary’s poem, I’m out on the dock again. Alone. Sitting on top of the picnic table. Feeling the goodness of earth and heaven come together in one grand moment of peace.

Am I “somewhat” overplaying what I’ve lost? Or what the children of today may never experience?

I said: it can be a friend. A companion. A
hint of heaven.

Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2020
Photo of dock and river taken by DAFraser, July 2010

Beautiful Music Monday

Conductor Emeritus Kenneth Jennings (1925-2015) leads over 900 choir alumni during the 100th Anniversary Celebration of the St. Olaf Choir in June of 2011.

Most of you probably know this hymn as “Fairest Lord Jesus.” It was my father’s favorite hymn, known to him by its older name, “Beautiful Savior.”

When I’m dying, I want music to carry me away. Then I want to join the choir. I want to sing music like this. Music that makes all things and all voices beautiful. I want tears to flow. Mine. The way they did this morning when I listened to this on You Tube.

I don’t understand why hymns like this reach so deeply into me. But there it is. And here we are today, surrounded by deaths of many kinds. Bodily and spiritual death. Death of hope and trust. Never easy, especially when it seems to be piling on without mercy.

I hope you enjoy listening to this amazing choir following the lead of their beloved conductor Emeritus, Kenneth Jennings. Like angels, they’re singing together on key, accompanied only by each other, following their leader. A force together that they could never be on their own.

Here are the lyrics as sung by the choir, following their opening wordless rendition of the tune.

Fair are the meadows, Fairer the woodlands,
Robed in flow’rs of blooming spring;
Jesus is fairer, Jesus is purer;
He makes our sorr’wing spirit sing.

Beautiful Savior, Lord of the nations,
Son of God and Son of Man!
Glory and honor, Praise, adoration,
Now and forevermore be Thine!

I pray you’ll find beauty and music in the week ahead.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 April 2020
St. Olaf Choir Alumni’s rendition of Beautiful Savior found at YouTube.com

without fanfare

without fanfare
snow blankets a multitude
of the fallen

A silent mercy falling from heaven. It asks no questions, requires no filled-in forms, no fees to pay or bribes expected. Just a quiet laying to rest of the fallen.

This morning I woke up to the beginning of a short, ice-cold soft snowfall. Our worlds carry so much grief on the surface and beneath the ground. Public and private. Self-inflicted and other-inflicted. The names of fallen ‘great’ men and ‘great’ women tick past our eyes in tribute to those we’ve lost.

Yet the greatest losses are small, personal, unrecorded and unacknowledged. I imagine a gentle snowfall blanketing your sorrow and mine. Letting our losses be just as they are. Invisible and not forgotten. Blanketing the overflowing wisdom and sorrow of little children, women and men everywhere.

This isn’t about romanticized loss. It’s about acknowledging the staggering number of irreplaceable lives and dreams now laid to rest in their particular beauty, agony and grandeur. Just a little lower than the angels. Each and every one.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 30 December 2017
Photo taken by me with my iPad, from our bedroom window 30 December 2017

I’ve told you so much already

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough
To assuage the pain
Or grieve the sister and brother-losses
Of this cruel world

When did it begin and where
Will it end?

We haven’t even begun
You and I
To face the depths and height and reach
Of just one sorrow multiplied
Into a thousand permutations
Now dismissed as though
None of it meant a thing

I don’t have to dig up
The bones
Or display the misshapen ligaments
Of my body-soul
They’re on display daily
Don’t you see them?

Or are you lost
In your denial-desire for just
One more touch
One more self-righteous smirk
One more body-soul
To humiliate and throw
On the trash heap
Of been there done that

I don’t even know where
To begin
Or where this will end
It doesn’t feel safe
Or bode well
Given the contours
Of confessional history
That by sleight of hand
Turn the aggrieved
Into the aggressor
Dangerous and deceptive
Not to be believed
Just in it for publicity
Or attention or some other
Self-serving dream

We know not what we do
Was never so true
As it is today and tomorrow

I’ve told you so much already
And still it isn’t enough…..

My dear Friends,
This is where I’ve been in the last weeks and months. Fiercely angry about the cost being exacted from victims of sexual violence. Especially those who dare name it and describe it as experienced by them, and as it has played out for them over the years.

We must invite–not simply ‘allow’–victims’ personal and collective grief, shame, horror and anger to be heard. And felt. As often as necessary, before it’s too late. Our personal and collective humanity is at stake.

As for me, it’s time to step up and speak out yet again. This time not on my behalf, but standing with sisters and brothers I don’t know, may never meet, may not like personally, but identify with to such a degree that remaining silent or ‘moving on’ is not an option.

What does this look like for my blogging? The poem above is one example, though I know I can’t survive living in this hellish place every day. So I’m thinking about the coming year, and how I might begin taking apart pieces I can manage. From time to time. Nothing scholarly or scientific. Just the ravings of an articulate, educated woman fed up with the self-serving nonsense spewed out by those who want this to go away so we can get back to business as usual.

Thank you for visiting, reading, and listening with all your heart.
Elouise

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 26 December 2017

Will there really be a “Morning”?

Here’s an Emily Dickinson poem that appeals to the child in each of us. I also find it timely, all things considered. My response follows her poem.

Will there really be a “Morning”?
Is there such a thing as “Day”?
Could I see it from the mountains
If I were as tall as they?

Has it feet like Water lilies?
Has it feathers like a Bird?
Is it brought from famous countries
Of which I have never heard?

Oh some Scholar! Oh some Sailor!
Oh some Wise Man from the skies!
Please to tell a little Pilgrim
Where the place called “Morning” lies!

c. 1859

Emily Dickinson Poems, Edited by Brenda Hillman
Shambhala Pocket Classics, Shambhala 1995

Dear Emily,
I wonder what was on your mind when you wrote this. Maybe the War between the States? Family members who fought in it? Or how about the devastation left behind when so many cities and fertile fields were laid waste via fire?

Some people don’t think things here are that bad now; others don’t agree. I’d say we at least have something like it.

Then again, maybe you were thinking of less visible things. Perhaps a personal loss you couldn’t show the world. Or the piled up anguish of watching one family member after another decline in health and leave this world. Or your keen awareness that this world doesn’t always value what you value, or see things the way you do.

I think we have all of that right now, and more just keeps coming. I also think we’re getting tired of it.

Maybe you were lonely when you wrote this. So lonely that you would have been happy to leave this life behind. You might have been lonely for the birds and insects, trees and shrubs, water lilies and butterflies, sunrises and sunsets. All creatures great and small. Your outdoor cathedral and congregation where you felt safe, understood and appreciated. Without having to explain yourself over and over.

In your poem you call yourself a little Pilgrim. I like that. It’s a very kind and tender way to talk about yourself. Almost, but not quite putting yourself down because you don’t happen to be a scholar, sailor or wise man from the skies. I think you’re already a wise woman, a sailor of sometimes treacherous social seas, and a deep scholar of human life.

Now that you’re There, I wonder whether, as a Wise Woman from the skies, you might tell me where the place called “Morning” lies. Could you? Would you? It seems we have many lost souls here who are looking for that place. If not here, then where? Can you help us find it? Or at least send us a little poem about it?

Your pen pal, Elouise 

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 27 July 2017
Photo found at collegewritingpoetry.wordpress.com

Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Hidden

Awareness of pain

Awareness of pain
Life-shaping yet elusive
Lodges deep
In bones and sinews
Erupts without warning
Bleeding over pages
Of my life
Softening my heart
Longing for tenderness
Squandered in the past
Foolishly given away
To dull my pain

***

I don’t live in this awareness every day. I wouldn’t survive if I did. I’m grateful for God’s grace every day of my life. Still, moments of grief arrive, often taking me by storm. They don’t destroy me. Instead, they soften and connect me not just to my pain, but to that of others.

I used to think these waves of emotional and spiritual pain would fade. They haven’t. In fact, the more willing I am to live with grief, the more I find myself grieving and growing.

This past week I listened to Beethoven’s Sonata 8 (“Pathetique) and found myself right where this poem is. In the middle of a teary eruption. The kind that fosters life, not death, when I’m willing to live through it.

You can listen to a brilliant performance by Daniel Barenboim here.

© Elouise Renich Fraser, 11 February 2017
Response to WordPress Daily Prompt: Aware

das Gift

Gift

My family legacy
If not my inheritance
deposited in me a great Gift
The kind that kept on giving
Long after I drained the last drop
And tried to transform it
into a candlestick holder
now coated with hardened
layers of waxy tears
trickling down the
curve of my face Read the rest of this entry »

Euphemia

P1070564

inauspicious death
haunts her widow soul
her mother heart

children don’t die
before their mothers Read the rest of this entry »

because it is thy will | From an Old Soul

Why do you think MacDonald called his collection of sonnets A Book of Strife in the form of the Diary of an Old Soul? Thanks to the reader who asked the question! My response is below. Read the rest of this entry »

the cairn

P1090641

one atop another
grief teeters
tiny fists
clench defiantly
storm heaven

fallen comrades
gather round
cold drizzle
and fierce gusts
notwithstanding

* * *

Cairn O’ Mount in Aberdeenshire, Scotland. It’s the last day Read the rest of this entry »

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