Poems and Books to Help With Grief and Loss

When someone you love dies, it’s a shock to the system. But you’re not alone.

When my Dad passed away, my entire being was in shock. Even though I knew it would come and I thought I was preparing myself mentally and emotionally, nothing could have equipped me for the overwhelming anguish and sorrow that would ambush me when it finally happened. I was hoping I’d have more time to get acquainted with the idea of death and what it really means for those of us left behind. But the depths of grief and loss know no bounds.

I am only beginning to understand just how naive I was most of my life, how mercifully spared I was from the truth, how unknowingly superficial my sentiments had been (no matter how genuine and sincere) because I never had to dig this deep before.

The sorrow from losing my dad has snatched away that emotional innocence from me and has forced me to confront the impermanence of life and squirm in its discomforting grip.

But as I work through the pain, accept life’s unforgiving reality and try to fathom the profound void, I choose to celebrate my father and what he meant to me and all those who met him. I choose to remind myself that he is no longer in pain. That there is no such thing as suffering for him now.

While I hope you never have to experience such a life-altering loss, the truth is, we all will. Death is a part of life. And once it strikes someone you so dearly love, your existence will never be the same.

It’s as though you grow another layer of your soul–you will feel more deeply and realize that there is no time for anything meaningless. You can grow from the depths of your sorrow and flourish into a more fully alive person in ways you hadn’t even imagined.

Here is some poetry that’s helping me get through the struggle of grief and loss. I hope it can bring a modicum of comfort to you as well.

“The Ruby Came From a Stone” by Rumi

Don’t run away from grief, o soul,
Look for the remedy inside the pain,
because the rose came from the thorn
and the ruby came from a stone.

“In The Harbour: Loss And Gain” by Henry Wadsworth Longfellow

When I compare
What I have lost with what I have gained,
What I have missed with what attained,
Little room do I find for pride.

I am aware
How many days have been idly spent;
How like an arrow the good intent
Has fallen short or been turned aside.

But who shall dare
To measure loss and gain in this wise?
Defeat may be victory in disguise;
The lowest ebb is the turn of the tide.

An excerpt from “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye

Before you know kindness as the deepest thing inside,
you must know sorrow as the other deepest thing.
You must wake up with sorrow.
You must speak to it till your voice
catches the thread of all sorrows
and you see the size of the cloth.
Then it is only kindness that makes sense anymore,
only kindness that ties your shoes
and sends you out into the day to gaze at bread,
only kindness that raises its head
from the crowd of the world to say
It is I you have been looking for,
and then goes with you everywhere
like a shadow or a friend.

An excerpt from “In Blackwater Woods” by Mary Oliver

To live in this world you must be able to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

An excerpt from “Song of Myself” by Walt Whitman

I bequeath myself to the dirt to grow from the grass I love,
If you want me again look for me under your boot-soles.

You will hardly know who I am or what I mean,
But I shall be good health to you nevertheless,
And filter and fibre your blood.

Failing to fetch me at first keep encouraged,
Missing me one place search another,
I stop somewhere waiting for you.

I am also finding comfort in “Thanatopsis” by William Cullen Bryant. It’s a beautiful poem that I first read in high school. I found it mesmerizing as a teenager, but I had no idea the deep truth it held until now. The title means a “consideration of death” and it expresses how nature reveals its truth to us–that death is a natural part of life.

For a more scientific perspective that is actually comforting, read “Planning Ahead Can Make a Difference in the End” by Aaron Freeman. He talks about how you don’t need faith to know that your loved one is still around. As he says, “According to the law of the conservation of energy, not a bit of you is gone; you’re just less orderly.”

Finally, the one book that has helped me more than any other has been “Finding Meaning: The Sixth Stage of Grief” written by David Kessler, who co-wrote the famous book about the five stages of grief. He wrote this book in 2019 after losing his 21-year-old son. It’s beautifully written, easy to read and offers real-life ways to grow and heal through grief and loss.

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Written by Mar Yvette

Mar Yvette is an on-air host, lifestyle expert, writer and editor with 10+ years of experience working with some of the world’s most recognized media companies.