Coping with the Death of a Parent: A Poem

Nothing drives home the fact of adulthood quite so clearly as the death of a parent.

My own father passed away not very long ago. Today would have been his 77th birthday.

Shortly after he died, a friend sent me the following poem to comfort me during this loss.

Today, in his honor, I share that poem with you:

In Blackwater Woods

–          Mary Oliver

Look, the trees
are turning
their own bodies
into pillars

of light,
are giving off the rich
fragrance of cinnamon
and fulfillment,

the long tapers
of cattails
are bursting and floating away over
the blur shoulders

of the ponds,
and every pond,
no matter what it its
name is, is

nameless now.
Every year
I have ever learned

in my lifetime
leads back to this: the fires
and the black river of loss
whose other side

is salvation,
whose meaning
none of us will ever know.
To live in this world

you must be able
to do three things:
to love what is mortal;
to hold it

against your bones knowing
your own life depends on it;
and, when the time comes to let it go,
to let it go.

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  • Reply Barbara Swafford

    May 20, 2009, 8:32 am

    Hi Delia,

    I’m so sorry to hear about the loss of your father. It’s never easy losing a parent, and on those special holidays, memories surface and the pain of their loss returns.

    My thoughts and prayers are with.

  • Reply Cath Lawson

    May 20, 2009, 9:05 am

    Hi Delia – What a beautiful poem.

    I am lucky to still have my parents so far. But they have aged so quickly – it is a reminder that we only have a brief time on this earth.

  • Reply Mara Paredes

    May 20, 2009, 12:30 pm

    I was really glad to meet him again at London two years ago (as well as your mother). I must say he was a good person and as I told you this before: beside him I felt one of his daughters.

    I still keep, with my favourite books, that one he bought for me at Easthampton about poems by García Lorca. I remember he told me he just saw it in a book-seller and he thought I could like to read it.

    It’s a pity he’s gone so soon. There is no week I remember him though I didn’t spend much time with him but he was a person who impressed and left a regard in everyone

  • Reply Betsy Wuebker

    May 20, 2009, 1:39 pm

    Hi Delia – I’m here on Barbara’s recommendation this week. You’re right, losing a parent is a stunning reminder that now you’re (supposed to be) an adult. Simultaneously, we are returned by loss to feeling more like children than ever, too. My condolences to you. I lost my father 26 years ago this spring. It seems like yesterday, which is a reminder to me of how powerful our impact is on our own children. I’m going to read further in your blog. Thanks for sharing a beautiful tribute.

  • Reply Positively Present

    May 20, 2009, 2:31 pm

    Wonderful, amazing, moving poem. Thank you for posting it! I have yet to lose a parent, but I was still incredibly moved by this poem. It brought me back to the times I watched my parents lose their parents. I’m so sorry for your loss. I imagine that it cannot be easy. My thoughts are with you!

  • Reply Dot

    May 21, 2009, 3:51 pm

    That poem really does evoke the emotions of such an event. Sorry to hear you lost your father. I find I get more and more baffled by life with each death in the family.

  • Reply Patricia

    May 21, 2009, 6:59 pm

    I am a Mary Oliver fan club member. I read a poem every morning to start the day and her work I just find superb and inviting to the meaning.

    My Father died 30 years ago and my Mum 3 years ago. They are on my mind a great deal and that soothes me.

    Thank you for this lovely memorial

    • Reply delialloyd

      May 21, 2009, 7:09 pm

      Wow! A fan club. Had no idea that existed. I must investigate…I’m only just becoming familiar with her poetry. Thanks for stopping by, Pat. It’s great to hear from a therapist…

  • Reply Alex Lickerman

    June 19, 2009, 9:09 pm

    Found your blog via The Happiness Project. Very nice (I especially like the blog’s title)! I really liked this poem. By the date of this post I’m presuming your father’s death was recent and that you may still be grieving. Don’t know if you are or how much you are, and I don’t want to be presumptious here, but I’d like to offer a post called “Letter To A Widow” I wrote on my blog you might find comforting as well. Keep up the great writing!

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