After all the training you go through as funeral professionals, it can still be difficult to find the right words of solace to offer families who are navigating grief.
Even for myself — who has been working with funeral professionals for many years now — find myself turning to poetry, books, and music for inspiration.
Why? Because great writers know how to transform pain into beauty. And, because this sharing of grief through art unites us by reminding us we are not alone in our experiences.
Great words weave a web of understanding that witnessing sadness and offering empathy are the most potent ways we can connect and comfort one another as human beings.
And my hope is that after reading this collection of poems the f1 team has put together, you’ll feel inspired to find new and better ways to hold your families in their grief.
Check them out below:
5 grief poems that transform pain into beauty:
May these poems serve as inspiration for new ways to support your families, as well as a soothing salve for grieving hearts:
1. “Mama Never Forgets Her Birds” by Emily Dickinson
Mama never forgets her birds,
Though in another tree –
She looks down just as often
And just as tenderly
As when her little mortal nest
With cunning care she wove –
If either of her sparrows fall,
She notices, above.
– Emily Dickinson
It is believed that Emily Dickinson wrote this poem for her young cousins to console them upon the death of their mother. “…Her little mortal nest, with cunning care she wove…” reminds us to hold the comfort of the care our loved ones provided during their time on earth. And to open up to allow ourselves to feel held by our loved ones even after they’re gone, is a beautiful step in the healing process.
2. A collection of poems by Mary Oliver
The Uses of Sorrow
Someone I loved once gave me
a box full of darkness.
It took me years to understand
that this, too, was a gift.
When Death Comes
When it’s over, I want to say all my life
I was a bride married to amazement.
I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.
In Blackwater Woods
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.
Mary Oliver wrote many poems as she was grieving the loss of her partner of nearly 50 years, Molly Malone Cook. She transcribed her grief into pages and pages of poetry, and eventually into a book combining her partner’s art of photography and her poems remembering her. The poems above inspire us to believe that the pain we feel now, can be transformed into something beautiful if we allow the process to happen.
3. “In Lieu of Flowers” by Shawna Lemay
In lieu of flowers,
I would wish for you to flower.
I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful…
Shawna was inspired to write this poem after she read a friend’s father’s obituary. His father had requested, “in lieu of flowers, please take a friend or loved one out for lunch.” The resulting poem gives suggestions for ways to celebrate life and take care of oneself while grieving.
4. “On the Death of the Beloved” by John O’Donohue
Though we need to weep your loss,
You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,
Where no storm or night or pain can reach you
Let us not look for you only in memory,
Where we would grow lonely without you.
You would want us to find you in presence,
Beside us when beauty brightens,
When kindness glows
And music echoes eternal tones.
Philosopher and poet John O’Donohue has a gift with his words that can best be described through this quote by Martin Wroe: “[John O’Donohue] believed that it is within our power to transform our fear of death so that we need fear little else this life brings.” Just like the poem above, the pain we feel is truly powerful in the sense that it can move mountains and change the world. It’s important not to forget that.
5. “The Window” by Rumi
Your body is away from me
but there is a window open
from my heart to yours.
From this window, like the moon
I keep sending news secretly.
Rumi, one of the most influential poets of all time, shares the power of his heart through his poetry. Although this poem was written nearly one thousand years ago, it is timeless and so relevant today for those who are experiencing loss. The person we may lose physically, but the connection never dies, and this we know is true.
6. “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye
Before you know what kindness really is
you must lose things,
feel the future dissolve in a moment
like salt in a weakened broth.
What you held in your hand,
what you counted and carefully saved,
all this must go so you know
how desolate the landscape can be
between the regions of kindness.
This poem has held me personally in some of my deepest grief moments – reminding me that it is our pain that is our strength. That it is losing things that teaches us how valuable life truly is. And that the things we lose are actually a huge gain for our spiritual and emotional growth.
What are your favorite poems on pain, grief and loss? Tell us in the comments below!
PS. Did you know that Life Tributes’ Tribute Book contains one of the largest collections of poems in the funeral profession? Get a 30-day free trial of Life Tributes, the all-in-one personalization software by clicking here or giving us a call at 800-798-2575, ext. 5.