Do Not Look Away. {poetry}

When death comes,

no matter how much you want to,

do not look away.

Do not hide from the sorrow of others.

Their brokenness is your own.

Do not flinch in the face of pain.

Do not blink.

Do not look away.


Let their wounds disturb your calm exterior,

get you off your complacent posterior

to go over and listen to their hearts.

Listen to the silence between their words

that holds the unspeakable horror.

Feel their confusion and despair.

Do not look away.


Even if you feel inadequate for the task,

even if you aren’t fluent in the language of emotions,

even if you are terse in your attempts to console,

you can still be present and listen.

You can hug them long and hard.

You can look them in the eye with compassion.

Do not look away.


Nothing anyone can say will take away their pain,

or shorten sorrow’s long, winding labyrinth.

But you know the rocky terrain.

You understand grief’s specificity.

Many people do not want to know this reality.

They run from death and its complicity.

You feel the thrum of the great heartache,

and you need to bear witness to this.

Do not look away.


Tonight people are by themselves in grief’s darkness.


Someone lies in bed unable to touch

the empty space beside her where her partner

used to sleep, refusing to pretend

that their love never was.


Someone stands in the shadows at the station

watching the lights of trains go by,

waiting for the one that will take him away

from his friend’s death.


Someone goes home on the bus

after the closing shift, watching streetlights flash by,

wondering if she will ever risk

trying to give birth again.


Someone watches for meteors in his backyard,

missing the presence of his wife,

waiting for a sign to tell him it’s okay

to let go and move on.


Someone can’t leave the empty beach

after the sun goes down, a beach she used to walk

with her mother. The sounds of the restless ocean

wash in, and flow away.


If your own heart is broken beyond belief,

if you have lost someone dear to you

to a heart attack, accident, stillbirth, or cancer,

and it has thrown your life into the hamper,

allow those who love to come and care for you.

Do not look away.


Bearing witness to pain is a radical act.

It takes courage to stand up for grief

when people are being oppressive and abusive,

when they lash out and are dismissive,

when they are judgmental and stupid.

Even when your grief is in remission,

you have my permission to mourn.

Do not look away.


When the darkness grows dense,

when everything we trust lies limp on the floor,

when grief rends our hearts with unending ache,

we know to slow down and love one another.

Compassion is never wrong,

and we are a strong people.


My sisters and brothers,

care for each other,

today and forever.

Do not look away.


MarkLiebenowMark Liebenow writes about grief for the Huffington Post. His essays, poems, and reviews have been published in journals like Colorado Review, Hayden’s Ferry, Citron Review, Swink, Crab Orchard, DMQ Review, and Fifth Wednesday Journal. The author of four books, he has won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, and the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay awards. His work has been nominated for two Pushcart Prizes and named a notable essay by Best American Essays 2012. His account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with his wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. You could contact Mark via his website.


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