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On Grief

I was 15 when I first experienced grief and all it's shape-shifting oddities. My Great-Grandmother passed, and although I saw her death coming, the shock, anger, denial, and pain took months to work through my system. Grief is unpredictable. Smells, songs, places, and people still remind me of those I have lost. Grief is non-linear and confusing and difficult to talk about in a world that simultaneously shuns and applauds vulnerability.

Elisabeth Kubler Ross & David Kessler wrote a book entitled The Five Stages of Grief, which are: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. A few months ago, I lost a beloved professor and mentor. I was unfathomably angry. I was angry that the five stages of grief could exist in the first place-how dare someone put a name or formula to my feelings of loss. I was angry at the injustice of her passing and largeness of her missing presence. Almost simultaneously, I was in denial-there is no way, I thought, that she can possibly be gone. In my mind she is still sitting in her office, waxing poetical to her student's and drinking cup after cup of strong black coffee.

My bargaining thoughts came and went quickly, like wind passing through a window and dissipating across an empty room. "If only someone would have seen it coming," I thought to myself, "this tragedy wouldn't have happened." If I felt any guilt, it was for not appreciating her fully enough when she was still here. For not responding to her emails right away, or for making excuses to escape our conversations at the local coffee shop. I would give anything to sit and talk with her now.

I don't want to accept that she is gone. I have read and re-read the books she gave me, the notes she wrote at the bottom of essays I wrote for her classes. She helped me understand the grace, strength, and beauty of Native American culture. She gently introduced me to feminism, telling me about her difficulties standing up to the dozens of old white men who crowd higher education and the literary canon. How she had to speak loudly, sometimes stand up and shout, to even be heard. She taught me to appreciate silence. Most of all, she taught me to own my story, because our own stories are all that we have.

In one of my Master's classes, she had each of her students write an e-book. We grumbled about it at the time, not understanding how such a skill could ever be useful. She encouraged us all to start blogs, and we rolled our eyes-why would anyone waste their time? But after I graduated, I put my poems together in a book. She told me she was proud. She never had the chance to read this blog, but I think she'd be glad I finally understand its use.

I am grieving as I write this. I don't know any better way to express myself than to put words on a page. I don't know a better way to honor my professor than by writing her a poem, so here it is.

After Professor Brill de Ramirez

If I had a dollar for each time you stopped me at a coffee shop

to chat for a minute that turned into an hour

I’d have enough cash to buy a beach front home

with huge bay windows facing the sunrise,

the same direction your office perched on the third floor

of the only building on campus that felt like home

you were the first person I ever heard say,

“stories changed my life. stories saved my life.”

you were my first professor, Native American literature

came to life in your eyes,

pulled me into a non-linear understanding of time

you taught me to pay attention to empty space

wrote at the bottom of my thesis “poetry is the art of silence.”

you always said yes to independent studies

office hours extra time to complete assignments

when my chest felt constricted and anxious

you never said no to giving more

most people take, stacking boxes of belongings

around them like shields

you gave away swords

turned anger and hurt into learning and love

in the long spring days of Ramadan

you ate burritos at the front of an English class

master’s students weary but wanting to learn

to read and speak and be heard

you were always so eager to listen

when I heard you’d gone missing

my heart sank like lead

when I heard you were dead

I closed the door to my office

sank to my knees and sobbed

my limbs turning numb, ears ringing the sound of your quiet hum

I miss how your laughter skipped down the steps of Bradley Hall

where magnolia tress blossomed late into April

I want you to know

your echo is louder than the anger that stole you

your spirit is strong and tenacious

lovely and free and relentlessly kind

one day I will drive to the desert

write a poem in the sand and sign your name

pray to God you are safe now

promise to carry you with me

your spirit of iron, conviction like fire in my veins

I will run to the ocean

whisper your name to the crash of the waves

I am so far away but I wanted to say,

thank you.


Sarah Rose

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