In Grief, As In Life, We Are All Different : Blog Of The Nation In times of grief, we can't predict what will pull us out of the slumps or how you will react to life's challenges. People cope with situations very differently. For poet Rachel Hadas, literature was the answer.
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In Grief, As In Life, We Are All Different

Grief is a different process for everyone. Chris Fertnig/iStockphoto hide caption

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Chris Fertnig/iStockphoto

Grief is a different process for everyone.

Chris Fertnig/iStockphoto

Over the past few months, we've examined the subject of aging several times on the show. We talked to Maxine Hong Kingston, about facing mortality and becoming an "elder," and with Dr. Marc Agronin about some of the mental disorders that can arise in old age.

Poet Rachel Hadas' memoir Strange Relation offers a unique look at dementia through the eyes of a woman who is watching her husband seep into the silence of the disease. The book is as much about the illness, the loss and the grief, as it is about poetry.

Writing provides the stability that her situation does not. Hadas writes:

I chose to marry George, but I never chose the way our lives would turn out. I did, however, choose to be a writer and though squeezed by the conditions of my life, I am still in charge of what I write.

For Rachel Hadas, poetry was the outlet and inspiration that she needed to press on and the book is filled with her poems on loneliness, loss and learning to live with the "fascinating new man" that her husband has become.

Everyone deals with life's challenges differently. For me, music has often been my solace in times of grief and loss. It's funny how life experiences can re-frame your understanding of and increase your appreciation for of things you've taken for granted. Or as Rachel put it in a conversation we had, "art means more to us as life presses in harder." (She is a poet. I am not).

We can't predict what will pull us out of the slumps of our surroundings in times of grief, or how you will react to life's challenges. People cope with situations very differently. The book closes when Hadas comes to terms with that fact that she can no longer live with him and decides to put him into a dementia facility. She got some predictions for how she would feel after the move. "You'll feel exhilarated, then guilty," said some. "You'll feel guilty, then exhilarated," said others. No one had said: "You'll lie flat, dreamy, exhausted."

No other individual can ever say how you'll react to loss or what you'll miss when someone's gone. Or, as in this case, when someone is physically present, but psychologically absent.

One of my favorite poems in the book is called "Faux Fur" where Hadas describes missing the weight of her husband in the bed next to her. Here is an excerpt:


Something about the heavy
throw on the hotel bed,
the coverlet, dark, mink,
striped satin on the back;
the leopard print of robe
and carpet (wall to wall)
made me miss you. Made
me feel the weight of your

constricted life; somehow
allowed me to distinguish
the past once it was far enough away.

It's also impossible to predict what you will take comfort in. My grandmother died several years ago after struggling with dementia. At the end, she had no idea who I was, but every time she saw me she would say, "Bless your ugly black heart."

Now while this is not considered comforting in the traditional sense, it's oddly a fond memory that I have of her. She only said that to me.

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