Why this book?
I was on fire to create this book. I’ve been collecting poems and leading poetry circles in earnest now for about 10 years. I’ve seen over and over the way poems do their work in people.
There’s a growing body of evidence that poetry is taking a spot alongside art therapy and music therapy as a mode that is healing for a lot of people, including people who don’t think they like or understand it. The poems and quotes in this book are chosen to give that “click”, somewhere around the heart, that makes us pay attention. Sometimes I would read them, and a sliver of sadness would fall away from my heart, and I would say to myself, “That’s just what I feel!” and it helped me to keep going.
I don’t have all the answers, and some days I had none. Really. I did a lot of reading, talked to a mentor regularly, learned a lot about caregiving and dying and grieving. I still felt terrible a lot of the time. But I did find comforts along the way in the form of certain understanding family members, friends who listened to me so many times that I’m a little embarrassed to admit how angry, confused, saddened and dismayed I was by my own losses when I had been on the helping side of things for so long and now I needed the help. And the poems. I found such comfort in the poems, written by a host of people just like us, picking up their pain, juggling it awkwardly in their arms at first—or maybe for a long time—then gradually finding the resilience to carry it, to know when and how to put it down, when to pick it up, and how to develop strong muscles for the long haul. They helped me carry my pain, and I think they will help you to survive, and maybe even thrive a little.
I know I’ve tested the limits of my capable self. My Mom’s been disappearing by inches into Alzheimer’s disease for a long time now. Then my parents were in an auto accident and my Dad cracked his sternum on the steering wheel, developed double pneumonia while in rehab, was on oxygen and a walker when he finally came home. People would ask me how it was all unfolding as I worked at coordinating their care from the other side of the Rocky Mountains. Depending on how I knew them, I’d change it up with three responses: for colleagues, “I’m surfing the waves as they come.”; for friends who were spiritual seekers, “I’m skating on grace.”; for close confidants, “I am a woman who gets s**t done.” All three of those were true descriptions of me at different hours on the same day.
What’s it about?
The book follows the cycle of day into night into day. With a poem a week, a busy person can make a little time to breathe, reflect, acknowledge the joys and sorrows that swirl around inside. Yes, I include joys, because even with the most arduous caregiving there can be light moments, even with the deepest loss there are many happy memories or for a difficult relationship, a treasured few.
I’m learning from experience that I can despise the night and make myself miserable longing for the daylight that has faded, or I can try going out into the night, looking for stars, and keeping watch, and being attentive for first light, like robins who start to sing earliest of all the dawn chorus, because robins can see the light even before the sun is over the horizon.