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Grief Work and Poetry

Mooney, Sharon Fish

Journal of Christian Nursing: April/June 2019 - Volume 36 - Issue 2 - p 124
doi: 10.1097/CNJ.0000000000000587
Department: Poetic Expressions

Sharon Fish Mooney, PhD, RN, has had poems published in First Things, The Evansville Review, Modern Age, RUMINATE, and Christian Research Journal. She won the inaugural Frost Farm Prize for metrical poetry and is the author of Bending Toward Heaven – Poems After the Art of Vincent van Gogh. She teaches for Regis and Indiana Wesleyan universities.

The author declares no conflict of interest.

*Name changed to protect privacy.

His wife had died six months ago. I was visiting again, this time helping him to plant his garden: row after row of potatoes, squash, and peas. When we finished, Mr. Smith* invited me in for a glass of iced tea. We sat in silence. He never did much talking, but seemed to like the company. I sensed, though, he needed to talk about his wife's death. It was a subject he avoided. “I'm OK,” was his response when anyone asked him. “I'm doing fine.” His initial response the day of my visit had been the same. When I was ready to leave, I offered him a book on grief.

“I think you should read this,” I said hesitantly, thinking he might not appreciate my offering. He glared at me and shook his head as if he was about to say no, but he took the book.

A few days later I received a call from Mr. Smith and heard him shouting, “I'm normal! I'm normal! I'm normal!”

Sometimes people we care for as nurses in our congregations or other settings need a little help getting in touch with their feelings. Grief work is tough and admitting to feelings of anger or depression, hard. The guilt people experience is frequently associated with normal feelings and thoughts, but harder to admit to or express. Bibliotherapy can help, as we loan them books like Granger Westberg's Good Grief or testimonies of personal experience like C. S. Lewis's A Grief Observed.

The psalms are also a rich repository of emotions expressed in poetic forms. The psalm writers remind us that grief work is a common and normal response to painful situations, such as the death of a relative or close friend, or maybe the death of a dream. All losses require grief. In the psalms, David vented his anger. He bargained with God and was depressed. His emotions ran the gamut of the crisis cycle so familiar in nursing. Similar emotions rise and spill over in psalms written by others.

Other poets also have expressed their grief and can be a means of ministering to others. See John Milton's poem, “On His Blindness,” a meditation on his loss of sight (

Today, much of what we see as grief poetry seems to fit the category of “greeting card verse,” filled with flowery wording and poetic platitudes. People who are grieving do need future hope, but they also need to know it's okay to express true feelings of loss. Going through grief is usually a long, slow process, a little like planting a garden and waiting for it to grow. Our tears may fall like seeds sown on dry and fallow ground and we wonder, as we're going through the grief, will there ever be an end to it? Will there ever be another harvest of growing things in our lives?

God says yes, but it's still okay to grieve. “To everything there is a season, a time for every purpose under heaven”—birth and death, weeping and laughing, mourning and dancing, planting and plucking up (Ecclesiastes 3:1, NKJV).

If someone you care for is having trouble getting in touch with his or her feelings, introduce bibliotherapy or poetry therapy, written by others who have walked a similar path—going through grief work, weeping yet waiting for the harvest.

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This Morning

By Sharon Fish Mooney

Six o'clock—

waking under a purple

afghan to gray skies,

feeling heart heavy.

Rain pours at seven.

I pour morning coffee.

The anniversary

of your death

prompts mourning,

thoughts of my mortality.

So much to do, I say,

so little time.

Eight o'clock—

the rain has passed;

sun streams its limpid

light through glass

and in my kitchen

I look out and view

a world aglow, sky

blue as robin eggs,

the woods around

alive with birdsong.

Orioles rise from ash

with songs of grace.

© 2019 by InterVarsity Christian Fellowship