Did anyone in my age bracket escape studying the works of Edna St. Vincent Millay? I didn’t and she came to touch my life again, all these decades later. Apparently the above quote by this celebrated poet is commonly used in grief circles to describe a feeling that most widows and widowers have but can’t put a label on…that is until we hear this phrase, then we have an aha! moment. The presence of absence really is a palatable thing, something that you can almost hold in your hand. It’s that real and yet so elusive. Poets do have a way of simplifying even the most complicated of all human emotion, don’t they, and they often write in a kind of shorthand that cuts to the gut like the poem below written by modern-day Irish poet and composer, Do`nall Dempsey:
When I think of poetry---which I haven’t written or studied much since my twenties---I can’t help remembering having a fondness for Robert Browning….
I walked a mile with Pleasure.
She chattered all the way,
But left me none the wiser
For all she had to say.
I walked a mile with Sorrow,
And ne'er a word said she;
But oh, the things I learned from her
When Sorrow walked with me!
It is amazing how much we learn about ourselves during grief---our strengths, our weaknesses, our fears, and our ability to reach down inside to learn the lessons that the silence of separated souls has to teach. But right now, this day, I sincerely hope that poet and abolitionist James Russell Lowell was right when he wrote: “Joy comes, grief goes, we know not how…” because one thing I know for certain is that the presence of absence is everywhere for however long grief lingers. ©