Since the death of my beloved husband, Zal, on August 3, 2002, I have explored many avenues to assuage my grief. Having been happily married for more than thirty-three years, I felt that losing Zal was like being ripped in half.
He was born on a Valentine’s Day, destined to be a loving person. We had been colleagues in a clinical psychology doctoral program, became best friends, lovers, and eventually soulmates. We wrote professional papers together, traveled the world, read aloud to one another, and shared an intimacy that is rare.
In my state of devastation following Zal’s death, I underwent individual grief counseling, attended grief groups and art therapy groups. I participated in a health immersion program. These therapeutic activities helped, as did the support of friends and family. Yet, I still felt stricken.
After the first anniversary of Zal’s death I wept for two weeks solid. My eyelids became so swollen that when they finally receded, the top layer of skin peeled off. Deciding that this state of mind had to stop, I started responding to requests for dates. The subsequent dating experiences were decidedly mixed, but they provided a distraction, as did throwing myself into work projects that resulted in the publication of two books for teens on the subject of dreams.
Beyond all the efforts I made to re-center myself, I found the greatest relief in studying poetry. Within its structured language, I discovered a container for my sorrow. When I tried to write about my grief in a free form, I was overwhelmed by it; I found it difficult to turn off or even slow its flow. However, when I cast my distress into the pre-determined shape of a poetic form, weeping as I wrote, splashing tears all over the keyboard, the sadness came to an end with the final line. When I reread the finished piece, I’d cry again, yet I could let the tears conclude. Poetry gave me a vessel capable of holding grief.
Poetry has been described as “the highest and most complex form of human speech” (by poet and teacher Michael J. Bugeja in The Art and Craft of Poetry). As I explored this craft, in workshops and in literature, I learned how many creative people of past times have struck upon the same therapeutic effect of poetry. I followed the trail of those who had suffered centuries ago, as well as today, and felt a kinship with the wounded, some of whom had lost far more than a cherished mate.
Gradually I began to notice the similarity between dreams (my area of expertise) and the content of poems. They both cast emotion into the shape of images; they both deal in metaphor; they both provide clues as to how to live well despite loss. In Mourning Dove, I try to share this knowledge with readers, with the hope that you, too, may find solace and inspiration. Love, like physical energy, may shift shape but lives on, eternally…
Tiburon, California, February 14, 2007
Last night I groomed my spirit bird
to make his plumage shine;
deftly I spread the oil from head
to tip of spine.
He sat content to let me preen
a glossy sheen on every feather,
protective shield to guard him
in every weather,
unlike those birds in dreams past
with ruffled barbs, unfed, or ill,
or on the bottom of the cage
Other dream birds, tame,
will perch upon my finger,
fly giddily around the room,
or play the singer,
but this bird bends to my touch,
ready to carry my reply
to a message I can’t quite grasp,
some half-heard cry…
I am She who skims the stormy waves
saving shipwrecked souls
from salty graves.
I am She who hovers over burial earth
pulsing fire-force from fingertips,
awaking women’s birth.
I am She who dwells in dripping caves
weaving spells into my hair
with white flowers.
I am She who soars to the lustrous moon
and splashes in its sheen to renew
all spirit powers.
On sea, under ground, in fire or air,
you’ll find me—guardian—always there.
A POEM FOR STRENGTH
“Give me a poem for strength,”
a small girl in my dream pleads.
I open the little box I hold
but see only tiny dolls.
I yearn to give her one,
yet it will make us sad.
I shake my head, no.
“You must!” she insists.
Sighing, I reply,
“My child, all you need
to dispel your fear is here:
Take this special doll,
clasp it close with care,
comb its tangled hair.”
I wonder if her soul will remember
how loving makes us whole?