The hour of lead–thoughts on grief

After great pain a formal feeling comes–
The nerves sit ceremonious like tombs;
The stiff Heart questions–was it He that bore?
And yesterday–or centuries before?

I haven’t learned to grieve well yet. In fact, I haven’t really had the chance to. My grandparents, maternal and paternal, both died before I could walk. The only deaths I’ve experienced were of those in my stepdad’s family, people I hardly knew. And neighbors. That one crush-from-afar. And pets–rest in peace, Cubby the dog.

I haven’t learned to grieve.

But earlier this week, one of my dearest college friend’s mother passed away, after battling cancer for a few years. I don’t know how to grieve with my friend. Do I tear my clothes, sprinkle ashes? Do I sit in silence, remember? What words do I speak? What kind of trite promises do I make her?

In my New Testament class last week, we talked about God’s Kingdom being here on earth, yet not fully. God may have come. He may have offered things like His Spirit and a new way to live. But biology still wins: we are so weak, so broken, so prone to fear. “And which of you … can add a single hour to his┬áspan of life?”

The feet, mechanical, go round
A wooden way
Of ground, or air, or ought,
Regardless grown,
A quartz contentment, like a stone.

In my other classes, I’m learning how to be a therapist (therapist? what do I know?). We’re asked to carry other’s stories, to feel the weight of them, to help them bless their pasts and accept their presents. But again, what words can you speak? What can you say to the weight of pain?

I have no works to speak.

So I turn to the poets, to Emily.

I wonder sometimes if those prayers the Spirit groans for me aren’t poems written by that Massachusetts recluse.

This is the hour of lead
Remembered if outlived,
As freezing persons recollect the snow–
First chill, then stupor, then the letting go.

* “After great pain a formal feeling comes” by Emily Dickinson

About Lauren Sawyer

I am an assistant instructor at a graduate school in Seattle, Washington, and I hold a master of the arts in theology and culture. I love coffee, rainy days, and John Updike. Learn more about me at

One thought on “The hour of lead–thoughts on grief

  1. There’s something powerful about reading others’ words that gives us a way to express what we don’t even know how to say ourselves. I like written prayer for this, partly because it acts the same way as poetry does. Beautiful words with deep meaning.

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