After my younger brother Howard took his life in May 2018, I found my way back to poetry (after a hiatus of over 30 years) to ground me in my grief. Poetry has served as a medium to express grief cross-culturally for centuries, so, perhaps, this is no surprise. In fact, I’ve been told that Apollo is deemed both the god of poetry as well as the god of healing.
In addition to morning minyan (see attached poem), writing poetry became — and still is — my primary spiritual practice. It held and comforted me, giving me a container and a structure for meaning-making. My full-length book of poetry, Walking the Labyrinth, is the product of that deep dive into my grief, my regrets, my faith, my family of origin, my brother’s mental illness and suicide, my own mortality, and my ultimate healing. Though it is my story and deals with the particular pain of losing a loved one to suicide, I believe it speaks universal truths for anyone who has loved and lost—and anyone on a journey of self-discovery.
—Pam Wax, firstname.lastname@example.org
Praise to the women and the men who get up early to praise God:
not from the warmth of bed or sipping coffee at the kitchen table
while eyeing the red-winged blackbirds feeding in the backyard,
but by shlepping to synagogue because a minyan of ten is required
for some prayers to be raised. Praise to those who come
through rain or snow, or when they feel under the weather,
or even though they don’t believe in a God who hears prayer.
Perhaps they come because the sacred is whomever
they sit next to. They know the man who has lost his wife
and want him to know he has not lost everything; the mother whose son
OD’ed gets out of bed every morning, and so will they. They know
the woman whose father died twelve years ago on this Hebrew date
will be there. After she recites the Mourners’ Kaddish, she will share
a glimpse of the man she remembers: Tell us something about your father.
Your spouse. Your brother. Your daughter. Each day they hear vignettes, yarns
of regret, epics of exile and migration. Praise to those who come back
to stand witness to grief, to hold the space for the sake of those who remember
their dead. Praise to those who accompany me as I sit in the corner,
wadding tissues and hallowed prayers that tether me to a now-hollower
world. A set table—a daily time, place, litany, with a changing
cast who escort me through the gauntlet—deserves praise. I pound
my chest at the words I sinned and I transgressed, remorse bruising
my skin, and when I give thanks for my loved ones, I still list my brother
among them, though he left on purpose, untethered to God or man.
And here is a poem that addresses my journey towards reclaiming joy (“Joy” is, ironically, my middle name):
The 42nd Day of the Omer, 2020
I become ever more joyful as I get closer to the day on which Torah was given…— The Baal Shem Tov
That’s why I dance ecstatically after the Counting of the Omer.
I spoke about joy on the evening
of his second yahrzeit,
and in the morning I spoke
about wilderness. Then, I baked
a chocolate soufflé with strawberries
in a microwavable mug, one minute
and thirty seconds, rather than
a leaching rainbow palette of M&M
pancakes he might have preferred.
I wiped my lips, went out to the garden,
and planted my parsley and beans,
something I would not, could not
do a year ago, in the midst of weeds and chaos.
In the afternoon, I sat with 300 people
on Zoom and taught again about joy,
and again about wandering and coming
home through the desert. We sat in silence
together for a time, breathing in hope,
breathing out uncertainty. And then
in his honor, I turned on my music,
stretched my hand toward him,