Misery, Despair


Today my soul is sad right to the body. I ache all over, memory, eyes, and arms. There is something like rheumatism in everything I am. … Nothing means anything to me. I am sad, but my sadness is not like a defined sadness, not even an undefined sadness. I am sad out there, on the street scattered with boxes. –Fernando Pessoa, The Book of Disquiet

There are intimate sorrows that, because they are so subtle, so infiltrated, we do not know how to tell whether they are of the soul or the body, whether they are the ill-being that comes from any organic abyss-stomach, liver, or brain. –ditto

Everyone struggles against despair, but it always wins in the end. It has to. It’s the thing that lets us say goodbye. –Jeffrey Eugenides, Middlesex

You think that the despair will stop you cold, but it doesn’t: it wraps itself up in a dark corner somewhere inside and forces the rest of your system to function, to take care of practical matters, which may not be important but which keep you going, which guarantee that you are still, somehow, alive. –Peter Høeg, Smilla’s Sense of Snow

Who except the gods can live time through forever without any pain? –Aeschylus, Prometheus Bound

So often people feel their job is to make people who are hurting feel better. It’s not. Bear witness is a great term for it. To be with them, share their pain with them, and, most all, allow them their feelings, every single one of them, no matter how ugly—that is a true gift that is more priceless than words can say. –Rachel, in the comments section of the March 10, 2011, Dear Sugar column

I lie totally still, anguish running like dry, billowing smoke through my entrails. –Christer Kihlman, The Blue Mother

… the misery is there inside her, like a stone, and there’s no room for any other thoughts. She isn’t trying to make an appeal to our sympathies—she’s just shifting this big weight inside her from one place to another. –Henry Miller, Tropic of Cancer

I have the true feeling of myself only when I am unbearably unhappy. –Franz Kafka, in his journal

Human life begins on the far side of despair. –Jean-Paul Sartre, “The Flies”

Until then, I didn’t know how sad I was. Sometimes you don’t, because it’s just, I don’t know, all around. –Stephen King, “Everything’s Eventual”

Just because you’re miserable doesn’t mean you can’t enjoy your life. –Annette Goodheart, read in Andrew John and Stephen Blake’s Are You A Miserable Old Bastard?

I have discovered that all human misery comes from a single thing, which is not knowing enough to stay quietly in your room. –François Pascal (This was cited in Lynne Truss’s Talk to the Hand: The Utter Bloody Rudeness of the World Today; I haven’t been able to track down its native source.)

I don’t think I ever feel really happy. One can only expect that life not be miserable. –Andrew Solomon, The Noonday Demon

Feeling hopeless and full of despair is just a slower way of being dead. –ditto

Sadness, scarab
with seven crippled feet,
spiderweb egg,
scramble-brained rat,
bitch’s skeleton:
No entry here.
Don’t come in.
Go away.
Go back
south with your umbrella,
go back
north with your serpent’s teeth.
A poet lives here.
No sadness may
cross this threshold.
Through these windows
comes the breath of the world,
fresh red roses,
flags embroidered with
the victories of the people.
No entry.
your bat’s wings,
I will trample the feathers
that fall from your mantle,
I will sweep the bits and pieces
of your carcass to
the four corners of the wind,
I will wring your neck,
I will stitch your eyelids shut,
I will sew your shroud,
sadness, and bury your rodent bones
beneath the springtime of an apple tree.
–Pablo Neruda, “Ode to Sadness”

Someday, god knows when, I will stop this absurd, self-pitying, idle, futile despair. I will begin to think again, and to act according to the way I think. –Sylvia Plath, journal, November 3, 1952

Anguish is known to everyone, even children, and everyone knows that it is often blank, undifferentiated. Rarely does it carry a clearly written label that also contains its motivation; any label it does have is often mendacious. One can believe or declare oneself to be anguished for one reason and be so due to something totally different. One can think that one is suffering at facing the future and instead be suffering because of one’s past; one can think that one is suffering for others, out of pity, out of compassion, and instead be suffering for one’s own reasons, more or less profound, more or less avowable and avowed, sometimes so deep that only the specialist, the analyst of souls, knows how to exhume them. –Primo Levi, The Drowned and the Saved

It’s amazing how much unhappiness we needlessly cause ourselves by ascribing negative meanings to simple things that happen in our lives. –Gaile Blanke, “Half-Full? Half-Empty? You Decide”

You know that things aren’t going well for you when you can’t even tell people the simplest fact about your life, just because they’ll presume you’re asking them to feel sorry for you. I suppose it’s why you feel so far away from everyone, in the end; anything you can think of to tell them just ends up making them feel terrible. –Nick Hornby, A Long Way Down

… barely a day goes by without my picking up uncanny hints of someone’s urgent misery beneath the social mask. I am never sure how much of this “intuition” is trustworthy and how much is projection, a distortion for the sake of promoting melodrama or feelings of superiority. –Phillip Lopate, “Suicide of a Schoolteacher”

I think if we all acted the way we really felt, four out of eight people at a dinner table would be sitting there sobbing. –Jim Carrey

I’ve already lost all hope
I don’t wait for joyful hours;
In fact, night and day grieving
I howl my agonies,
And as I suffer, I consume myself
And ask for death.
–Kata Szidonia Petroczi

It does a person no good to be incredibly bright if at the same time she is also incredibly miserable or has such emotional impairment that she functions destructively. –James T. Webb, Guiding the Gifted Child

Each morning I awake, the sky is gray, the trees are bare. A single crow calls my name as I weep into the pillow, wondering when it will ever end. –(?)

My eyes have only one job: to cry. –Nur Jahan

... why is crying so pleasurable? I feel clean, absolutely purged after it. As if I had a grief to get over with, some deep sorrow. –Sylvia Plath, journal, January 10, 1959

With one long breath, caught and held
in his chest, he fought his sadness over
his solitary life. Don’t cry, you idiot!
Live or die, but don’t poison everything …
–Saul Bellow, Herzog

There is no greater pain than to remember a happy time when one is in misery. –Dante Alighieri, Divine Comedy

It’s strange, the layers of misery that there are. You get used to feeling pretty miserable most of the time—what might be called “low-level misery”—a sort of permanent background of misery, and you learn to cope with it; it almost gets to feel normal. But then something happens...which reminds you of what it was like not to feel miserable, and it hurts so much you almost just can’t bear it. –Jean Ure, Plague

Listen, someone’s screaming in agony—fortunately I speak it fluently. –Spike Milligan, in The Goon Show

There is eloquence in screaming. –Patrick Jones

If I let go of the feelings which cause me pain, I would have no feelings at all. –Dan Goodman, Meditations for Miserable People Who Want to Stay that Way

He realized how miserable and unknown and vulnerable he was in the world. The universe seemed to shriek and clatter and roar around him like a huge and indifferent jalopy rushing down a hill and toward the lip of a bottomless chasm. His lips began to tremble, and then he cried a little. –Stephen King, “The Running Man”

Who ever said that misery loved company? Her misery did not love company. Her misery loved to be alone. Her misery threatened to bludgeon company. –Francine Pascal, Fearless

It is as though the filter of recall is itself altered, so that it blocks out everything but the darkest colors of the spectrum. My unhappiness precluded all else; unhappiness is a kind of narcissism, in which nothing that does not resonate with your unhappiness can interest you. –Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

There is neither happiness nor misery in the world; there is only the comparison of one state to another, nothing more. –Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Crisco

[Dreams] surely can make us miserable, at times. Often, though, that misery is useful, it brings to light things going on inside of us and helps to educate us about our deepest fears, needs, hopes, and issues. Since many things we would rather not know about are nonetheless inside us, affecting us anyway, leaking into our lives like toxic waste into ground water, there may be no harm in experiencing the misery, so long as it helps to clarify what is devitalizing and limiting us through the years, so long as it helps to bring the dull pain of not living fully into a clearer focus that lets us begin to take action by applying our conscious mind to the wound. –from one of my listservs

I’m happy—within the parameters of never being happy, that is. –Robert Smith, of The Cure

I’m cursed. God, if I don’t believe I’m cursed. –Robert Frost, “Home Burial”





I like checking days off a calendar—151 days crossed and nothing truly horrible has happened. 152 and the world isn’t ruined. 153 and I haven’t destroyed anyone. 154 and no one really hates me. Sometimes I think I won’t ever feel safe until I can count my last days on one hand. Three more days to get through until I don’t have to worry about life anymore. –Gillian Flynn, Sharp Objects

I knew I couldn’t go on like this, but I’d never been capable of simply nipping an anxiety in the bud. I always had to wait until it was ripe and mature and fell from me. –Marlen Haushofer, The Wall

The anxiety was like poison ivy. It took nothing to set off that mental itch—a chance remark, remembering an event from the day before—but once it started I found it impossible to stop the cycle. My thoughts twisted in a circle, my pulse hammered, I couldn’t concentrate. –Tracy Thompson, The Beast: A Reckoning with Depression

The anxiety, I told myself, was a sign of improvement; at least it wasn’t despair. But in some ways it was worse. It was like being locked in an airtight box, about to run out of oxygen. Impossible at those moments to sit still, impossible to complete a task, impossible to do anything but get outside and walk, for miles, trying to outrace it. It was like a crazy itch, way down under my skin, and I never knew when it would attack. –ditto

Now panic beats and flutters inside my skull like a flock of starlings locked in an attic. –Stephen King, “Autopsy Room Four”

Anxiety is love’s greatest killer. It creates the failures. It makes others feel as you might when a drowning man holds on to you. You want to save him, but you know he will strangle you with his panic. –Anaïs Nin, diary, February 1947

The minions of chaos threaten to cross over at every turn, lurking in the cheating spouse, the undiscovered tumor, the murderous dictator, the brewing tornado, the salmonella in the Christmas turkey, the leak in the brake line. At any given moment, life is falling apart as fast as we’re shoring it up. –Caroline Kettlewell, Skin Game

I had become obsessively preoccupied in particular with this disturbing interconnectivity of things, the way the most insignificant of decisions might have ramifications you could never know about when you made them. You stop for gas at the 7-Eleven and thereby miss getting hit by a car that runs the red light in the intersection you would have been crossing if you hadn’t stopped. At the last minute you decide to go to the movie and step into the lobby just as the disgruntled ex-boyfriend of the popcorn girl opens fire with his semiautomatic.
      I found it paralyzingly difficult to make even the simplest decisions. So much hung in the balance, so many complicated parameters needed to be taken into consideration, yet always there was too little information, no way to know what outcomes could result. Life was a terrifying, invisible web of consequences. What mayhem might I unknowingly wreak by saying yes when I could have said no, by going east instead of west? –ditto

It was exhausting, enervating to struggle thus with every simple thing, every decision generating a hundred corollary decisions taking me farther and farther away from the original issue. –ditto

Thanks to the circus between my ears, I can seize upon the smallest disquieting observation and from it extrapolate a terror of cataclysmic proportions. –Dean Koontz, Seize the Night

Controlled hysteria is what’s required. To exist constantly in a state of controlled hysteria. It’s agony. But everyone has agony. The difference is that I try to take my agony home and teach it to sing. –Arthur Miller

You sit here for days saying, this is a strange business. You’re the strange business. You have the energy of the sun in you, but you keep knotting it up at the base of your spine. –Rumi

Yes, I’m nervous. You’ll find in time most people are. They simply learn better how to disguise it, and sometimes, if they’re wise, how to use their anxiety to serve the public good. –Gregory Maguire, Son of a Witch

I have a new philosophy. I’m only going to dread one day at a time. –Charles Schulz, in “Peanuts”


Suffering, Sorrow, Loss



This is one of the many things you learn about mourning when examining it at close range: It’s idiosyncratic, anarchic, polychrome. A lot of the theories you read about grief are great, beautiful even, but they have a way of erasing individual experiences. Every mourner has a very different story to tell. –Jennifer Senior, “What Bobby McIlvane Left Behind,” The Atlantic, September 2021

Most theories of grief, particularly the ones involving stages, are more literary than literal. People don’t mourn sequentially, and they certainly don’t mourn logically. –ditto

But as you know, it only takes an instant to learn how isolating, terrifying, confusing, and ludicrous grief can be. Turns out, it can also usher in some of the most powerful, intimate connections of your life, if you allow it to. –Rebecca Soffer (co-founder of Modern Loss), on Modern Loss’s Facebook page (1/20/22)

Everywhere he looks another part of him hurts. Nobody told him grief would be so physical. ... Each muscle aching like he has been beaten from head to toe. Grief is in his marrow. It is in his brain. It has even slowed the way he washes his hands. –Jenni Fagan, The Sunlight Pilgrims

It is impossible. Grief is just impossible. It cannot be contained or summarized or enclosed. To describe the wound grief leaves if you have not experienced it is to come to it hazy and out of focus. But then there are those of us that unfortunately see grief in sharp, unrelenting focus. ... It’s like all of a sudden, a pair of glasses were strapped to my face. And I can’t take them off. Ever. And these glasses make me see the world differently than I did before. The colors bleed together more vividly. But they are somehow more than they ever were before. More visceral. More vibrant. More present. Simultaneously more awe inspiring and more aching. Sometimes I can push the glasses to the end of my nose so I can peer over them to see the world the way I used to see. But I can only see over or around to my old perspective. I can never see it totally as it was ever again. ... That is the aspect of grief I had no idea was coming. This monumental shift in perspective. Not only does the world become so much deeper and more painful, but sometimes unbelievably alive with joy and gratitude. And those two previously opposing concepts are now merged, now barely distinguishable. There is a whole new layer of my own personhood, but also a broadened humanity, that I could not see before. These glasses that were forced on me, grudgingly gave me the ability to see and appreciate a more intricate understanding of this vast world we live in. ... And while I wish I could rip my grief glasses off my face and have it all be a dream, I try to recognize what the glasses have given me: that unique blend of humanity that is simultaneously the darkest dark and the brightest bright. –Beanie Feldstein, “Losing a Loved One Changed the Way Actress Beanie Feldstein Sees the World,” InStyle.com, April 17, 2019

I expected to feel only empty and heartbroken after Paul died. It never occurred to me that you could love someone the same way after he was gone, that I would continue to feel such love and gratitude alongside the terrible sorrow, the grief so heavy that at times I shiver and moan under the weight of it. Paul is gone, and I miss him acutely nearly every moment, but I somehow feel I’m still taking part in the life we created together. “Bereavement is not the truncation of married love,” CS Lewis wrote, “but one of its regular phases—like the honeymoon. What we want is to live our marriage well and faithfully through that phase too.” –Lucy Kalanithi, in the epilogue of Paul Kalanithi’s When Breath Becomes Air

How much of the darkness in my soul I would give to get you back,
and how threatening to me seem the names of the months,
and the word winter, what a mournful drum sound it has.
–Pablo Neruda, “The Widower’s Tango”

Your absence has gone through me
Like thread through a needle.
Everything I do is stitched with its color.
–WS Merwin, “Separation”

Time is never strictly chronological in the way it is lived. Musicians know this. Anyone who has ever suffered grief, loss, or a broken heart knows this, too. –Linda Katherine Cutting, Memory Slips

It’s your life. The one you must make in the obliterated place that’s now your world, where everything you used to be is simultaneously erased and omnipresent, where you are forevermore a living dead dad. Your boy is dead, but he will continue to live within you. Your love and grief will be unending, but it will also shift in shape. ... The obliterated place is equal parts destruction and creation. The obliterated place is pitch black and bright light. It is water and parched earth. It is mud and it is manna. The real work of deep grief is making a home there. –Dear Sugar, July 1, 2011

Don’t listen to those people who suggest you should be “over” your daughter’s death by now. The people who squawk the loudest about such things have almost never had to get over anything. Or at least not anything that was genuinely, mind-fuckingly, soul-crushingly life altering. Some of those people believe they’re being helpful by minimizing your pain. Others are scared of the intensity of your loss and so they use their words to push your grief away. Many of those people love you and are worthy of your love, but they are not the people who will be helpful to you when it comes to healing the pain of your daughter’s death.
     They live on Planet Earth. You live on Planet My Baby Died.
     It seems to me that you feel like you’re all alone there. You aren’t. There are women reading this right now who have tears in their eyes. There are women who have spent their days chanting daughter, daughter or son, son silently to themselves. Women who have been privately tormented about the things they did or didn’t do that they fear caused the deaths of their babies. You need to find those women, darling. They’re your tribe. –Dear Sugar, July 15, 2010

This is how you get unstuck ...You reach. Not so you can walk away from the daughter you loved, but so you can live the life that is yours—the one that includes the sad loss of your daughter, but is not arrested by it. The one that eventually leads you to a place in which you not only grieve her, but also feel lucky to have had the privilege of loving her. That place of true healing is a fierce place. It’s a giant place. It’s a place of monstrous beauty and endless dark and glimmering light. And you have to work really, really, really fucking hard to get there, but you can do it, honey. You’re a woman who can travel that far. I know it. Your ability to get there is evident to me in every word of your bright shining grief star of a letter. –ditto

You will never stop loving your daughter. You will never forget her. You will always know her name. But she will always be dead. Nobody can intervene and make that right and nobody will. Nobody can take it back with silence or push it away with words. Nobody will protect you from your suffering. You can’t cry it away or eat it away or starve it away or walk it away or punch it away or even therapy it away. It’s just there, and you have to survive it. You have to endure it. You have to live though it and love it and move on and be better for it and run as far as you can in the direction of your best and happiest dreams across the bridge that was built by your own desire to heal. –ditto

You could describe either one of us as “joy on wheels,” though there isn’t one good thing that has happened to either of us that we haven’t experienced through the lens of our grief. I’m not talking about weeping and wailing every day (though sometimes we both did that). I’m talking about what goes on inside, the words unspoken, the shaky quake at the body’s core. There was no mother at our college graduations. There was no mother at our weddings. There was no mother when we sold our first books. There was no mother when our children were born. There was no mother, ever, at any turn for either one of us in our entire adult lives and there never will be. –Dear Sugar, March 10, 2011

It will never be okay that she lost her mother. And the kindest most loving thing you can do for her is to bear witness to that, to muster the strength and courage and humility it takes to accept the enormous reality of its not okayness and be okay with it the same way she has to be. –ditto

I miss my dad so much. I didn’t even realize I was trying to crack the code that would make it be okay for him to be gone. –Tanya, in the comments section of the March 10, 2011, Dear Sugar column

I gulped a glass of sauvignon blanc; it tasted like pickle juice. This was wine without you. The moussaka, its dry, dead hulk: This was food without you. Our loft, rich with the international booty of baskets and carvings, took on the tacky, cluttered aspect of an import outlet. This was our home without you. Objects never seemed so inert, so pugnaciously incompensatory. Your remnants mocked me … –Lionel Shriver, We Need to Talk about Kevin

I was bewildered and traumatized by the fact that people walked uncaring in the street, that night turned to day as usual, that birds sung and traffic roared. The whole world should have stopped. Because the whole world was my mother. –ClareLondon, in the comments section of Fay Schopen’s “A Moment That Changed Me – Saying Goodbye to My Mother When I was 10,” on TheGuardian.com, June 11, 2015

I was outraged that the world seemed to go on as it had before. As if nothing had happened. They played the same music on the radio, talked about the same problems in the news. Horns honked, dogs barked, just like they did before. –Gail Blanke, “Remembering a Lost Loved One”

I was lucky he was a wonderful Dad; I have tried to be grateful for what I had rather than what I have lost. However, there are still days when the wind is blowing I feel bereft. – ID7941354, in the comments section of Fay Schopen’s “A Moment That Changed Me – Saying Goodbye to My Mother When I was 10,” on TheGuardian.com, June 11, 2015

On the whole, it’s choppy and messy and nonlinear. One emotion doesn’t flow neatly into another but hits you suddenly like morning sickness and can’t be pushed down. The only way to make it stop is to vomit up the feeling—to feel it deeply and loudly. –Stephanie Wittels Wachs, “The New Normal: Pieces of Grief,” posted on medium.com on June 10, 2015

The pain comes and goes and comes and goes. You don’t pass one stage, scratch it off your list, and graduate onto the next. It’s not compartmentalized as the chart suggests. It’s circuitous and neverending. –ditto

Most of the time, I just feel like some sort of alien who is going through the motions of being human but is from another galaxy and having a hard time fitting into this world. And, no one here can win. I feel angry when people don’t acknowledge the situation, and I feel angry when they inevitably say the wrong thing. “How are you?” or “Have a nice day” tend to feel like acts of violence. –ditto

I want to give this thing an ending, but there is no end to grief. There’s only navigating the way to a new normal. –ditto

She’s been dead for over 17 years, and my eyes are wet, just typing this. But it’s ok, you know? It’s ok that she stopped suffering. It’s ok that I got married the year that Dad died, that we now have daughters-in-law and a son-in-law and a wonderful grandson; all that is ok, and amazing. And I still miss my mom and dad. And my sisters, and nephew. Life is amazing in that we can be deliriously happy and sad, all in one breath, because someone who deserved to share that happy moment is not here. This isn’t science, it isn’t therapeutic. It’s part of the double edged sword of the capacity to love. –MickiSue, in the comments section of Zoë Krupka’s “No, you don’t have to ‘move on.’ It’s okay to grieve forever,” posted on washingtonpost.com on November 17, 2014


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, “In Blackwater Woods”

... we’ve learned that grief can sometimes get loud, and when it does, we try not to speak over it. –Bill Clegg, Did You Ever Have a Family

The kindest and most meaningful thing anyone ever says to me is: Your mother would be proud of you. Finding a way in my grief to become the woman who my mother raised me to be is the most important way I have honored my mother. It has been the greatest salve to my sorrow. The strange and painful truth is that I’m a better person because I lost my mom young. When you say you experience my writing as sacred, what you are touching is the divine place within me that is my mother. [my advice column persona] Sugar is the temple I built in my obliterated place. I’d give it all back in a snap, but the fact is, my grief taught me things. It showed me shades and hues I couldn’t have otherwise seen. It required me to suffer. It compelled me to reach.
      Your grief has taught you too ... Your son was your greatest gift in his life and he is your greatest gift in his death too. Receive it. Let your dead boy be your most profound revelation. Create something of him.
      Make it beautiful.
–Cheryl Strayed, Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

Grief is shattering, unpredictable, a wily pickpocket. You’ve staggered through the initial devastation, you feel that the sands are perhaps undulating rather than shifting, and then it comes and snatches enjoyment from you when you are least expecting it: a song, a joke they would have retold, a mannerism like theirs. It’s different for everyone, and takes courage to voice. –Isy Suttie, “Prince Harry Is Right: It’s Still Hard to Talk about Grief”

Now, my grief is inextricably stitched into the memory of my father, so I feel him and feel his absence at the same time, which can be very sad and also strangely humbling. –ditto

Grief is brutally painful. Grief does not only occur when someone dies. When relationships fall apart, you grieve. When opportunities are shattered, you grieve. When dreams die, you grieve. When illnesses wreck you, you grieve. –Tim Lawrence, “Everything Doesn’t Happen for a Reason”

Grief is woven into the fabric of the human experience. If it is not permitted to occur, its absence pillages everything that remains: the fragile, vulnerable shell you might become in the face of catastrophe.
      Yet our culture has treated grief as a problem to be solved, an illness to be healed, or both. In the process, we’ve done everything we can to avoid, ignore, or transform grief. As a result, when you’re faced with tragedy you usually find that you’re no longer surrounded by people, you’re surrounded by platitudes.

So if anyone tells you some form of get over it, move on, or rise above, you can let them go.
      If anyone avoids you amidst loss, or pretends like it didn’t happen, or disappears from your life, you can let them go.
      If anyone tells you that all is not lost, that it happened for a reason, that you’ll become better as a result of your grief, you can let them go.
      Let me reiterate: all of those platitudes are bullshit.

Grief is visceral, not reasonable: The howling at the center is raw and real. It is love in its most wild form. –Megan Devine, on HuffingtonPost.com

Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life. –Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking

There’s no real formula for grieving, and that is the lesson: It’s okay to be wherever you are with it. John taught us a lesson every day. He’d walk down the sidewalk, and instead of just looking at the nicely manicured bushes in our neighborhood, he’d point out the weed growing up through the sidewalk and he’d say, “That’s life. That’s what life does. You put the cement over it, you do anything you can, and life always comes back.” You go on with your life, like a weed popping up through the crack in the sidewalk. You can’t lie down and go, “My life is over too” as much as you may feel like doing that—which I do a little bit every day. –Amy Yasbeck, speaking about her deceased husband John Ritter

Grief strops its dry and
serrated edge along nerve
endings. And they sing.

For me it’s circular and irregular. You hit milestones that trigger the grief again. That’s something that people often fail to comprehend. Of course grief gets better over time, but it still stays with you. –maoruiwen, in the comments section of Fay Schopen’s “A Moment That Changed Me – Saying Goodbye to My Mother When I was 10,” on TheGuardian.com, June 11, 2015

An immediate weight of despair and loss pressed on me until I was suddenly, unalterably, concave with grief. –Hannah Kent, Burial Rites

Grief doesn’t fade. Grief scabs over like my scars and pulls into new, painful configurations as it knits. It hurts in new ways. We are never free from grief. –Jesamyn Ward, Men We Reaped

Grief was a place ... where a person went alone. It was like a room without doors, and what happened in that room, all the anger and the pain you felt, was meant to stay there, nobody’s business but yours. –Justin Cronin, The Passage

The problem with grief is that it doesn’t go away. As time ticks on, the rawness dissipates somewhat, and you find yourself settling in to the pain, becoming accustomed to it, wearing it around your shoulders like an old, heavy scarf.
         And Life has to go on. There are children to look after, meals to cook, cards to illustrate, playdates to organize. Grief has to be filed away, compartmentalized, allowed out only when the rest of your life is sufficiently organized when you can have time to yourself to give in to the pain. –Jane Green, Second Chance

There is no space wider than that of grief ... –Pablo Neurda, “Point”

The rain-weeping and sun-burning twine together
to make us grow. Keep your intelligence white-hot
and your grief glistening, so your life will stay fresh.
Cry easily like a little child.
–Rumi, “Muhammad and the Huge Eater”

The grief-armies assemble,
but I’m not going with them.
–Rumi, “A Thirsty Fish”

Bereavement is a darkness impenetrable to the imagination of the unbereaved. –Iris Murdoch, The Sacred and Profane Love Machine

No one ever told me that grief felt so like fear. –CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

... even out of unspeakable grief, beautiful things take wing. –AR Torres, “The Lessons of Loss”

There’s this awesome bar here in Austin, LaLa’s, that has Xmas decorations up 24/7 because, I always heard, the woman or women who own the bar lost their sons in some war long ago, and never got to have that last Christmas with them. And that’s sort of creepy, but I also get it. Without mourning there wouldn’t be any monuments at all, because monuments are what’s left after something’s gone. There’s like a thousand novels where the widow or widower or otherwise bereaved builds something amazing, some maze or garden or folly, and that’s how they work out their mourning and sadness, and that’s constructive. I like that, obviously. At the end, you have a something that wasn’t there before, and it means you loved somebody, and everybody that sees it knows that that somebody was loved. –Jacob, in an American Idol review on TelevisionWithoutPity.com

Being in grief, it turns out, is not unlike being in love. In both states, the imagination is entirely occupied with one person … Everything that touches us seems to relate back to that center; there is no other emotional life, no place outside the universe of feeling centered on the pivotal figure. –Mark Doty, quoted in Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez’s The Hell with Love: Poems to Mend a Broken Heart

While grief is fresh, every attempt to divert only irritates. You must wait till it be digested, and then amusement will dissipate the remains of it. –Samuel Johnson, Life of Samuel Johnson, Volume III

I wondered if all of us churchgoers were just exhausted by grief. For the dying priest and us, I thought, “God” always refused to become glorious, instead stubbornly remaining plain, a headache, a sorrowful knot of language. –Virginia Heffernan, “A Delicious Placebo”

He who has felt the deepest grief is best able to experience supreme happiness. –Alexandre Dumas, The Count of Monte Crisco

Something rose in me that felt exactly like grief, that throat-closing, heavy longing for the irretrievably lost ... –Goldberry Long, Juniper Tree Burning

I wish for a moment that Time would lift me out of this day, and into some more benign one. But then I feel guilty for wanting to avoid the sadness; dead people need us to remember them, even if it eats us, even if all we can do is say I’m sorry until it is as meaningless as air. –Audrey Niffenegger, The Time Traveler’s Wife

Loss is the great unifier, the terrible club to which we all eventually belong. –Roseanne Cash, Composed

I’ve tried to describe the feelings and the process of learning to live with loss, and the best thing I can come up with is that my sea level is a little lower. I still experience joy, humor, anger, but it is all a little muted, and large events will carry the shadow of that missing loved one. My need for those missing spirits to be there at big family events, happy times, and holidays will color events large and small. –Julesagain, in the comments section of the March 10, 2011, Dear Sugar column

There are so many ways to lose someone you love. Even limiting the field to those losses we think of as particularly tragic does not narrow the list much. A fire burns the home of a sleeping family. A train derails. And in the aftermath, memory can become bound up with place; sites of loss can be sanctified, obliterated, or simply marked, like the cross by the side of the mountain road where the station wagon, kids asleep in the back, skidded off. –Ken Dornstein, The Boy Who Fell Out of the Sky

Time heals many wounds but this loss becomes the defining sadness of your life. –Claire Cook, “Birthday Wishes”

Some day when I lose you, will you still be able to sleep, without me to whisper over you like a crown of linden branches? –Rainer Maria Rilke, “Lullaby”

Accept that loss is part of life, and that sometimes loss leads to fulfillment. This doesn’t mean that you passively just let things slip away from you, that you pretend not to care. It means being brave enough to grab what you can while you can, even though you know it may not last. –Mary D. Esselman and Elizabeth Ash Vélez, The Hell with Love: Poems to Mend a Broken Heart

It’s an imperfect process, getting over loss. –ditto


The art of losing isn’t hard to master;
so many things seem filled with intent
to be lost that their loss is no disaster.

Lose something every day. Accept the fluster
of lost door keys, the hour badly spent.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

Then practice losing farther, losing faster:
places, and names, and where it was you meant
to travel. None of these will bring disaster.

I lost my mother’s watch! And look! my last, or
next-to-last, of three loved houses went.
The art of losing isn’t hard to master.

I lost two cities, lovely ones. And, vaster,
some realms I owned, two rivers, a continent,
I miss them, but it wasn’t a disaster.

—Even losing you (the joking voice, a gesture
I love) I shan’t have lied. It’s evident
the art of losing’s not too hard to master
though it may look like (Write it!) like disaster.
–Elizabeth Bishop, “One Art”

But loss is a precious stone to me, a nectar
Distilled in time, preaching the truth of winter
To the fallen heart that does not cease to fall.
–James K. Baxter, “Wild Bees”

Be ahead of all parting, as though it already were
behind you, like the winter that has just gone by.
For among these winters there is one so endlessly winter
that only by wintering through it all will your heart survive.
–Rainer Maria Rilke, “The Sonnets To Orpheus: Book 2: XIII”

To hold, you must first open your hand. Let go. –Tao Te Ching

We must embrace pain and burn it as fuel for our journey. –Kenji Miyazawa

Anything that is given can be at once taken away. We have to learn never to expect anything, and when it comes it’s no more than a gift on loan. –(?)

When you die of sorrow it’s as if you’ve broken all the bones in your body, bruised yourself all over, cracked your skull. That’s sorrow. –Roberto Bolaño, 2666

You have the power to withstand this sorrow. We all do, though we all claim not to. –Dear Sugar, July 1, 2011

Inexplicable sorrows await all of us. –Steve Almond, in the introduction to Cheryl Strayed’s Tiny Beautiful Things: Advice on Love and Life from Dear Sugar

For us there is only one season, the season of sorrow. The very sun and moon seem taken from us. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

Where there is sorrow there is holy ground. –ditto

There is nothing that stirs in the whole world of thought to which sorrow does not vibrate in terrible and exquisite pulsation. –ditto

I now see that sorrow, being the supreme emotion of which man is capable, is at once the type and test of all great art. –ditto

There are times when sorrow seems to me to be the only truth. –ditto

Sometimes, people end up thankful for what they mourned. You cannot achieve this state by seeking tragedy, but you can keep yourself open more to sorrow’s richness than to unmediated despair. Tragedies with happy endings may be sentimental tripe, or they may be the true meaning of love. –Andrew Soloman, Far from the Tree: Parents, Children, and the Search for Identity

But the morbidity of sorrow—not cultivated sorrow, but that which comes inevitably—is often a productive sluggishness, a time when the soul slows down, too weary to go on, and takes stock of where it’s been and where it’s going. During these gloomy pauses, we often discover parts of ourselves we never knew we possessed, talents that, properly activated, enrich our lives. –Eric G. Wilson, Everyone Loves a Good Train Wreck: Why We Can’t Look Away


Sorrow prepares you for joy.

It violently sweeps everything
out of your house, so that new
joy can find space to enter.

It shakes the yellow leaves
from the bough of your heart,
so that fresh, green leaves can
grown in their place.

It pulls up rotten roots,
so that new roots hidden
beneath have room to grow.

Whatever sorrow shakes from
your heart, far better things
will take their place

We cannot prevent…the birds of sorrow from flying over our heads…but we can refuse…to let them build nests...in our hair. –Ron Schreiber, “The Birds of Sorrow”

Sorrow is not sickness—unless it becomes a permanent state of mental ill-health. The point is there are indeed stages of grief, as all the therapists tell us, but they do not obey some great unseen timetable. –Bel Mooney, in the November 23, 2012, issue of The Daily Mail

I thought I could describe a state; make a map of sorrow. Sorrow, however, turns out to be not a state, but a process. It needs not a map, but a history, and if I don’t stop writing that history at some quite arbitrary point, there’s no reason why I should ever stop. –CS Lewis, A Grief Observed

… I’m afraid a boat
so small would sink
with the weight
of all my sorrow.
–Li Ch’ing-Chao, “Spring at Wu Ling”

… And here am I, budding
among the ruins
with only sorrow to bite on,
as if weeping were a seed and I
the earth’s only furrow.
–Pablo Neruda, “Lightless Suburb”

When you are sorrowful look again in your heart, and you shall see that in truth you are weeping for that which has been your delight. –Kahlil Gibran

The sorrow which has no vent in tears may make other organs weep. –Henry Maudsley

I feel that much of the world’s sorrow comes from people who are this, yet allow themselves to be treated as that. –Ruth Gordon, in Harold and Maude

All a person does in a moment of suffering is to suffer. There is not room for anything else. –Philip Ó Ceallaigh, “Another Love Story”

The word suffering is full and whole and perfect as a pierced heart, sweet, rushing and tender ... Suffering is the joy of someone about to be martyred, illumination of something given up as an offer. –Lydia Millet, Oh Pure and Radiant Heart

Beyond aspects of pain that are physical ... sickness or injury or privation, beyond the so-called obvious, suffering can be a work of art. It can be made of buried and rising things, helpless and undiscovered, song of frustrated want, silence after desire. It can be the test of the self falling short, constrained, distorted, disturbed, or rebuffed, the vacuum left by longing, call without an answer. –ditto

Suffering itself is beloved: love and suffering are far closer to each other than love and pleasure. –ditto

Suffering ignites the spark of contact with the sublime and offers proof of humanity ... –ditto

Suffering is one very long moment. We cannot divide it by seasons. We can only record its moods, and chronicle their return. With us time itself does not progress. It revolves. It seems to circle round one center of pain. –Oscar Wilde, De Profundis

I believe that there are more urgent and honorable occupations than that incomparable waste of time we call suffering. –Colette

Though we live in a time and place and culture that tries to tell us otherwise, suffering is what happens when truly horrible things happen to us. –Dear Sugar, July 15, 2010

About suffering they were never wrong,
The Old Masters: how well they understood
Its human position; how it takes place
While someone else is eating or opening a
window or just walking dully along.
–WH Auden, “Musée des Beaux Arts”

Know how sublime a thing it is to suffer and be strong. –Henry Wadsworth Longfellow, “The Light of Stars”

The cadence of suffering has begun. Every evening at dusk, my heart constricts until night has come. –Cesare Pavese