Now There Are Only Words Left

Doesn't everything die at last, and too soon? ---Mary Oliver, The Summer Day

I know you've heard this one, I know you have heard this and maybe one other Mary Oliver poem, maybe a dozen times (depending on how many yoga classes and self-care workshops you've taken). But listen again.  It is shared often for a reason.

There are cliches about death.  About it making you reevaluate your life.  It is a cliche because a death shakes up your life, your order. We don't talk about it enough, it is not a part of our cultural fabric, though it is so obviously the end of the cycle, the inescapable release from our bodies.  Yet, the denial is strong, along with the anger and the other stages I am still working on. 

In her the advice column Dear Sugar, Sugar tells a grieving man that her six year old son once told her: “We don’t know how many years we have for our lives. People die at all ages.”  Meaning, we only have so many years. And then there are no more.

Sometimes when things were tough, and I didn't want to talk about the tough things anymore, I would write my friend a list of the good things, small things to appreciate that do not eliminate the difficult but make the hard times worthwhile.

So here is the good things list:

  • Responses to Keep Writing number 77, how to deal with sadness, how to stay useful. I designed this and printed this before Travis died, before i had received the letter that said he was having a hard time.  This is a coincidence.  The great part has been the extra comfort from friends and strangers, hearing more about all our struggles and how we cope.
  • Phone calls.  I said I wanted to keep in touch with friend better since this happened.  Sometimes I call. Not as frequent as I like, but there is at least one friend who I talk to more often and our conversations have been immensely comforting.
  • NY  I have been wanting to return to New England in October, my favorite and when home felt more like home. I have friends in Philly and Boston and Maine I'd like to see. Instead I have 4 days in NY but I am grateful to grieve with friends, to walk streets with changing leaves and smell crisp air.
  • Poetry  I haven't been reading as much poetry as I used to but I have been copying poems I like, with a typewriter and by hand, and collecting them, a small binder clip of words that speak to me. I like poetry because you have to slow down to read it, pay attention.
  • Slowing Down As in reading poetry too i have been paring down my life, slowing down. It might not look that way, I am still very active, but I try not to waste time, to take more walks, to work hard at the things I love.

That's it for now.  The hard part about lists is the tendency to oversimplify. And though some of these things are a result of something tragic and difficult, I still grieve, I still wish my friend could write back. I am still not ready to know he will never write back.


Keep Writing number 78, text by Travis Fristoe

Keep Writing number 78, text by Travis Fristoe