Discovering the Relevance of Words
Power of Grief – Kieran Collier
My mother passed when I was 14. I say passed because it’s gentle in the same way she was. I could say she was taken from us, killed by ALS, but then the disease would be the subject instead of her. Or, she died, which always sounds so passive. As if she didn’t put up a fight. As if she didn’t go out on her own terms. Because she did.
You see, my mother was willing to cling to the little life she had left for as long as she thought we needed her. She wanted to make sure that when she left she wouldn’t take us with her. So, passed.
A friend of mine once wrote “loss is a strange and complex language that a person can only learn through immersion.” When someone’s absence grows larger than their body we have to relearn how to navigate a world that now seems unfamiliar without them. Even now, I’m still learning. How to fumble with the words parents and stepmother. How to comfort others with a more immediate grief than mine. How to grapple with a disease I know has not left my bloodline.
The friend who wrote that quote also had a mother. She also had ALS. I met the friend at a poetry slam when he came up to me after I performed yet another poem about my mother’s passing. We both didn’t know the right words to express our grief, but found them through each other’s writing.
When I think of the power of poetry I also must think of the power of grief. To me, the two are intertwined. I didn’t learn how to talk about my mother’s absence until I found poetry. And I didn’t have anyone willing to listen until I found the poetry community.
Poetry gives us an opportunity to not only tell our stories, but to explore them as well. When I write, I write as an act of discovery. I’m constantly learning how to write about this, the weight of my words. Even something as simple as the semantics of loss—these discoveries allow me to process a death that is now over six years old. Each poem brings me closer to a mother whose hands I can no longer hold. And with this telling and this exploring, we can find others who are like us.
Before poetry I didn’t know anyone else like me. And by “like me” I of course mean children of ghosts. Ones who have known a mother’s grace only to see it ripped away from us. There is a community in this loss—an unspoken kinship that is both the most difficult and most simple to gain access to. But in this unity is where we find others to lift us up.
Poetry didn’t save my life, although I know many for whom it did. It didn’t save my mother’s, either. But it let me live more fully. I carry the absence of my mother with me in everything I do. I am who I am because of her presence and the lack of it, but I don’t let that drag me down. I write. I write out.
I try to give my mother new life in my poems in a hope I can show others what I’ve been through, to make my loss permeable. And then, for people to see this loss, and for the loss to comfort them. To remind people that they are not alone. That others have suffered just like them. That now, they are so alive.