On 23rd March 2021 it will be exactly a year since the UK began its first Covid19-related “lockdown”. The care charity Marie Curie is organising a National Day of Reflection, including a minute of silence at 12 noon, so that we can take time to focus on those who have died during the past year, those who have been bereaved, and those who have been or still are ill – as well, of course, as thinking about those who have cared for the ill and the dying.
There are various events – many, understandably, online – being held, created by various organisations. Many people, however, will either want to, or have to, mark the day alone, each in his or her own way.
Poetry has a great capacity to help us in times of sadness. The best poets sometimes seem to express what we feel, when we can’t find the words for it ourselves. Others through their words allow us to realise what we feel, when we’ve been struggling to recognise it.
Above all, when we find a poem that resonates with us, it helps us to know that we are not alone in what we are suffering: someone else has been there, too, and knows how it feels.
Here are three poems, very different from one another. There are many more I could have chosen, but there are at least as many poems as there are types of suffering, and each of us has to find what speaks to herself or himself.
Remember me when I am gone away,
Gone far away into the silent land;
When you can no more hold me by the hand,
Nor I half turn to go yet turning stay.
Remember me when no more day by day
You tell me of our future that you plann’d:
Only remember me; you understand
It will be late to counsel then or pray.
Yet if you should forget me for a while
And afterwards remember, do not grieve:
For if the darkness and corruption leave
A vestige of the thoughts that once I had,
Better by far you should forget and smile
Than that you should remember and be sad.
Though my mother was already two years dead
Dad kept her slippers warming by the gas,
put hot water bottles her side of the bed
and still went to renew her transport pass.
You couldn’t just drop in. You had to phone.
He’d put you off an hour to give him time
to clear away her things and look alone
as though his still raw love were such a crime.
He couldn’t risk my blight of disbelief
though sure that very soon he’d hear her key
scrape in the rusted lock and end his grief.
He knew she’d just popped out to get the tea.
I believe life ends with death, and that is all.
You haven’t both gone shopping; just the same,
in my new black leather phone book there’s your name
and the disconnected number I still call.
If I should go before the rest of you,
Break not a flower nor inscribe a stone,
Nor when I’m gone speak in a Sunday voice,
But be the usual selves that I have known.
Weep if you must,
Parting is Hell,
But life goes on,
So sing as well.