In August 2021, just nine short—and also long—months ago, my mother passed away. At some point that I don’t fully remember in the weeks that followed, my father tucked a small, worn, yellowed piece of paper into my hand. It was clipped from an unknown newspaper and included a poem by an unknown author. My mother’s handwritten note was on the reverse.
The note read:
There is a time. Celebrate life.
And the poem read:
Do not stand at my grave and weep.
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow.
I am the diamond glints on snow.
I am the sunlight on ripened grain.
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning’s hush,
I am the swift, uplifting rush
of quiet birds in circled flight,
I am the soft stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry,
I am not there, I did not die.
My mother had pulmonary fibrosis—a terminal illness that may get worse quickly (over months) or very slowly (over years). We were lucky. My mother lived five years with the disease.
Some, like my grandmother on my father’s side, have the gift of what seems like endless time with their mothers. My great-grandmother (her mother) lived to 99, passing away a few months shy of her hundredth birthday.
And others have more gut-wrenching, unthinkable experiences, like my mom, who lost her mother and father in a devastating plane crash in 1962 when she was just 12 years old, leaving her and three siblings alone.
In those immediate days following my mother’s passing, in my most profound moments of grief, I received many messages of condolences. One from a coworker here at Storey has stayed with me in the weeks and months that followed. A friend had shared it with her in a time of grief, and since, I have shared it with others—and now with you.
Grief is like a ball in a box. The box has a pain button. When grief is new, the ball is huge, and you can’t move the box without the ball hitting the pain button. It just hurts relentlessly. Over time, the ball shrinks and hits the pain button less often. But when it does, it hurts just as much. She noted, “I love this because it feels so true. You never ‘get over’ losing someone you love, but your box does fill with joys that crowd the ball away from the button.”
I know my mother would agree. Her final words to me, on that small slip of paper delivered by my father after she was gone, remind me of this every day…
“There is a time. Celebrate life.”
In closing, I am sharing an exercise from The Gratitude Explorer Workbook by Kristi Nelson in hopes that it may help you or someone you know in their time of grief.
HARVEST LOVE FROM LOSS
Think of a person you love whose loss you suffered long enough ago that thinking about their absence does not feel overly acute. Write a list of 10 things that wake up your heart when you think of them—special memories, gifts you received, laughs you shared, meaning that they brought, qualities you cherished. When you fill yourself with gratitude, even if it feels particularly poignant, you honor yourself, your connection, and the person you miss. Let your heart ride on a sweet wave of grateful love in the present moment.
When you are done, speak each memory aloud, saying “I am grateful to remember” before each one.