Short Modern Poem To Comfort Grieving Family?
March 24, 2011 10:56 AM   Subscribe

Could you help my friend find a poem to comfort the family of a friend who has just died? The young man had gone through some bumps in his life and was just starting to turn it around, and then, tragically, he died an accidental death. She’s looking for something fairly short (under 10 lines), modern, nothing too literary, and something that celebrates the immortality of family love. I’ve looked on previous Ask MeFi posts, but most of the poems I see there are unsuitable for various reasons. She doesn’t want anything tailored to a funeral; she would like to send this poem directly to the family for them to reread in the coming months (perhaps put on a fridge to turn to for comfort).
posted by Amy NM to Human Relations (19 answers total) 13 users marked this as a favorite

I am the family face;
Flesh perishes, I live on,
Projecting trait and trace
Through time to times anon,
And leaping from place to place
Over oblivion.

The years-heired feature that can
In curve and voice and eye
Despise the human span
Of durance -- that is I;
The eternal thing in man,
That heeds no call to die

Thomas Hardy
posted by zizzle at 11:19 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

I'm sorry, this is longer than ten lines, but provided me a lot of comfort when my mom died:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am in a thousand winds that blow,
I am the softly falling snow.
I am the gentle showers of rain,
I am the fields of ripening grain.
I am in the morning hush,
I am in the graceful rush
Of beautiful birds in circling flight,
I am the starshine of the night.
I am in the flowers that bloom,
I am in a quiet room.
I am in the birds that sing,
I am in each lovely thing.
Do not stand at my grave bereft
I am not there. I have not left.

-Mary Elizabeth Frye
posted by dwbrant at 11:35 AM on March 24, 2011 [18 favorites]

Peter Gabriel has a song that I've often found comforting -- it's too long for your purposes, but if it were me, I would probably cut and paste it into something fitting, such as:

this flesh and bone
it's just the way that you were tied in
now there's no-one home

they say life carries on
carries on and on and on and on

life carries on
in the people i meet
in everyone that's out on the street
in all the dogs and cats
in the flies and rats
in the rot and the rust
in the ashes and the dust
life carries on and on and on

it's just the car that we ride in
a home we reside in
the face that we hide in
the way we are tied in
and life carries on and on
life carries on and on and on
posted by MeiraV at 11:49 AM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

This is not specifically tailored to family love, and it might be inappropriate depending on the context, so your friend may not choose it, but it is one of my favorite poems about the immortality of humanity. It's e e cummings.

when god lets my body be

from each brave eye shall sprout a tree
fruit that dangles therefrom

the purpled world will dance upon
between my lips which did sing

a rose shall beget the spring
that maidens whom passion wastes

will lay between their little breasts
my strong fingers beneath the snow

into strenuous birds shall go
my love walking in the grass

their wings will touch with her face
and all the while shall my heart be
with the bulge and nuzzle of the sea
posted by winna at 11:58 AM on March 24, 2011

Not specifically about family love but wonderfully triumphant -- I really love Donne's Death Be Not Proud:

DEATH be not proud, though some have called thee
Mighty and dreadfull, for, thou art not so,
For, those, whom thou think'st, thou dost overthrow,
Die not, poore death, nor yet canst thou kill me.
From rest and sleepe, which but thy pictures bee,
Much pleasure, then from thee, much more must flow,
And soonest our best men with thee doe goe,
Rest of their bones, and soules deliverie.
Thou art slave to Fate, Chance, kings, and desperate men,
And dost with poyson, warre, and sicknesse dwell,
And poppie, or charmes can make us sleepe as well,
And better then thy stroake; why swell'st thou then;
One short sleepe past, wee wake eternally,
And death shall be no more; death, thou shalt die.
posted by bearwife at 12:20 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

It's too long, and I'm not sure the profanity would fly, but Sherman Alexie's "Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World" is incredibly powerful and certainly meets the criteria of celebrating the immortality of family love.

Grief Calls Us to the Things of This World
by Sherman Alexie

The morning air is all awash with angels…
—Richard Wilbur

The eyes open to a blue telephone
In the bathroom of this five-star hotel.

I wonder whom I should call? A plumber,
Proctologist, urologist, or priest?

Who is most among us and most deserves
The first call? I choose my father because

He’s astounded by bathroom telephones.
I dial home. My mother answers. “Hey, Ma,

I say, “Can I talk to Poppa?” She gasps,
And then I remember that my father

Has been dead for nearly a year. “Shit, Mom,”
I say. “I forgot he’s dead. I’m sorry—

How did I forget?” “It’s okay,” she says.
“I made him a cup of instant coffee

This morning and left it on the table—
Like I have for, what, twenty-seven years—

And I didn’t realize my mistake
Until this afternoon.” My mother laughs

At the angels who wait for us to pause
During the most ordinary of days
And sing our praise to forgetfulness

Before they slap our souls with their cold wings.
Those angels burden and unbalance us.

Those fucking angels ride us piggyback.
Those angels, forever falling, snare us

And haul us, prey and praying, into dust.
posted by charmcityblues at 12:27 PM on March 24, 2011 [6 favorites]

Howard Arnold Walter, "I Would Be True." (Excerpt)

I would be true for there are those who trust me.
I would be pure for there are those who care.
I would be strong for there is much to suffer
and I would be brave for there is much to dare.
posted by CarlRossi at 1:05 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

Back on the early days of blogging/social networking on Xanga I new a woman who wrote a lovely blog full of inspirational things. She wrote this poem about her son who had died. It touched me and I saved it after all these years.

Tell Me

You feel there are no words -
What can you say?
I know. I'm glad you are here.
And a touch is nice.
But I need your words too.

Tell me you loved my son if you did.
Tell me you thought he was bright,
Witty, handsome, good hearted
You knew him in a way I did not.
Tell me.

Tell me of some fond memory
Of you and my child together.
I need all the good memories
Of him I can gather up now -
Even second hand ones.

Tell me you will miss him -
That I'm not the only one.
Your words will make me cry,
But your silence hurts more.
Tell me.

Alice Woodrome (c)

posted by katyggls at 4:09 PM on March 24, 2011 [1 favorite]

^^ I managed to find her website and the poem is there along with a little more about her son. Tell Me
posted by katyggls at 4:15 PM on March 24, 2011

This poem by Carl Adamshik might work.


I always thought death would be like traveling
in a car, moving through the desert,
the earth a little darker than sky at the horizon,
that your life would settle like the end of a day
and you would think of everyone you ever met,
that you would be the invisible passenger,
quiet in the car, moving through the night,
forever, with the beautiful thought of home.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 4:24 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

A bit longer (22 lies), but maybe also appropriate:

Footprint on Your Heart
by Gary Lenhart

Someone will walk into your life,
Leave a footprint on your heart,
Turn it into a mudroom cluttered
With encrusted boots, children's mittens,
Scratchy scarves—
Where you linger to unwrap
Or ready yourself for rough exits
Into howling gales or onto
Frozen car seats, expulsions
Into the great outdoors where touch
Is muffled, noses glisten,
And breaths stab,
So that when you meet someone
Who is leaving your life
You will be able to wave stiff
Icy mitts and look forward
To an evening in spring
When you can fold winter away
Until your next encounter with
A chill so numbing you strew
The heart's antechamber
With layers of rural garble.
posted by Felicity Rilke at 5:19 PM on March 24, 2011

A slightly different version of dwbrant's suggestion (above) was read at my dad's funeral:

Do not stand at my grave and weep,
I am not there, I do not sleep.
I am a thousand winds that blow,
I am the diamond glints on snow,
I am the sunlight on ripened grain
I am the gentle autumn rain.
When you awaken in the morning hush,
I am in the swift uplifting rush
Of quiet birds in circling flight,
I am the stars that shine at night.
Do not stand at my grave and cry.
I am not there. I did not die.
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 5:25 PM on March 24, 2011 [2 favorites]

You didn't ask me for song lyrics, but the first thing I thought of was this, by Warren Zevon:

Keep Me In Your Heart For Awhile

Shadows are falling and I'm running out of breath
Keep me in your heart for awhile

If I leave you it doesn't mean I love you any less
Keep me in your heart for awhile

When you get up in the morning and you see that crazy sun
Keep me in your heart for awhile

There's a train leaving nightly called when all is said and done
Keep me in your heart for awhile

Sometimes when you're doing simple things around the house
Maybe you'll think of me and smile

You know I'm tied to you like the buttons on your blouse
Keep me in your heart for awhile

Hold me in your thoughts, take me to your dreams
Touch me as I fall into view

When the winter comes keep the fires lit
And I will be right next to you

Engine driver's headed north to Pleasant Stream
Keep me in your heart for awhile

These wheels keep turning but they're running out of steam
Keep me in your heart for awhile
posted by thinkingwoman at 5:43 PM on March 24, 2011 [3 favorites]

My mother picked this poem by Canadian poet FR Scott for her service when she knew she was dying. Slightly long at 17 lines but appropriate.


Always I shall remember you, as my car moved
Away from the station and left you alone by the gate
Utterly and forever frozen in time and solitude
Like a tree on the north shore of Lake Superior.
It was a moment only, and you were gone,
And I was gone, and we and it were gone,
And the two parts of the enormous whole we had known
Melted and swirled away in their separate streams
Down the smooth, granite slope of our watershed.

We shall find, each, the deep sea in the end,
A stillness, and a movement only of tides
That wash a world, whole continents between,
Flooding the estuaries of alien lands.
And we shall know, after the flow and ebb,
Things central, absolute and whole.
Brought clear of silt, into the open roads,
Events shall pass like waves, and we shall stay.
posted by Phlegmco(tm) at 12:37 AM on March 25, 2011 [2 favorites]

More about a parent's love than family love, but one that I found comforting after my brother's death.

Brief Song

There will come a day
When you would have lived your life
all the way through,
mine long gone.

And peace will descend then,
such a great peace, like a breath
moving those pines, moving
even a stone.
And then, then I can let go.

from Sam’s Book by David Ray
posted by doctord at 7:16 AM on March 25, 2011

I don't have a poem suggestion, but I do have a recommendation to help you choose something.

A quick Googling of a couple of lines from your selection will help you to make sure you aren't suggesting something that is commonly found engraved on garden store plaques, angel clip-art or grandma's-place wall-hangings. Sure, they can be comforting to some people, but chances are that your bereaved person will see these words again and again until they are worse than meaningless.
posted by Sallyfur at 5:05 PM on March 25, 2011 [1 favorite]

blessing the boats
by Lucille Clifton

(at St. Mary's)

may the tide
that is entering even now
the lip of our understanding
carry you out
beyond the face of fear
may you kiss
the wind then turn from it
certain that it will
love your back may you
open your eyes to water
water waving forever
and may you in your innocence
sail through this to that
posted by MsMolly at 12:11 PM on March 30, 2011 [1 favorite]

The week leading to my grandfather's passing was one of the hardest for me to bear. He was very dear to me and it was difficult to find comfort in other people's words, no matter how sincere.

But there is one book I held on to at the time, and I turned to it again and again months after his death. It's Marie Howe's What the Living Do. It's a collection of poems that she wrote for her brother who died. It's full of pain, yes, but of love, too. It talks about the many things you think about during the whole experience. It just healed me in a way I never expected. I owe a lot to this book.

Here's one of the poems (it's not short though, but I hope could provide solace to the person who needs it):

What the Living Do
by Marie Howe

Johnny, the kitchen sink has been clogged for days, some utensil probably fell down there.
And the Drano won't work but smells dangerous, and the crusty dishes have piled up

waiting for the plumber I still haven't called. This is the everyday we spoke of.
It's winter again: the sky's a deep, headstrong blue, and the sunlight pours through

the open living-room windows because the heat's on too high in here and I can't turn it off.
For weeks now, driving, or dropping a bag of groceries in the street, the bag breaking,

I've been thinking: This is what the living do. And yesterday, hurrying along those
wobbly bricks in the Cambridge sidewalk, spilling my coffee down my wrist and sleeve,

I thought it again, and again later, when buying a hairbrush: This is it.
Parking. Slamming the car door shut in the cold. What you called that yearning.

What you finally gave up. We want the spring to come and the winter to pass. We want
whoever to call or not call, a letter, a kiss--we want more and more and then more of it.

But there are moments, walking, when I catch a glimpse of myself in the window glass,
say, the window of the corner video store, and I'm gripped by a cherishing so deep

for my own blowing hair, chapped face, and unbuttoned coat that I'm speechless:
I am living. I remember you.
posted by pleasebekind at 11:12 PM on March 30, 2011 [4 favorites]

Okay, I'm pretty sure no one is reading this thread anymore, but I'm going to put this out here anyway. I just came across it in my desk drawer.

Death is nothing at all.
I have only slipped away
into the next room.

I am I, and you are you.
Whatever we were to each other,
that we still are.

Call me by my old familiar name,
Speak to me in the easy way you always used.
Put no difference in your tone,
wear no forced air of solemnity or sorrow.

Laugh as we always laughed
at the little jokes we shared together.
Let my name be ever
the household word it always was.
Let it be spoken without effort,
without a trace of a shadow on it.
Life means all that it ever meant,
It is the same as it ever was.
There is unbroken continuity.

Why should I be out of mind
because I am out of sight?

I am but waiting for you for an interval,
somewhere very near, just around a corner.

All is well.

Henry Scott Holland (1847-1918)
posted by ThatCanadianGirl at 8:01 AM on April 6, 2011 [1 favorite]

« Older Need a to-do list app to handle recurring tasks...   |   World of Warcraft trivia Newer »
This thread is closed to new comments.