Dealing with bereavement

All of us have to find our own ways of dealing with bereavement. One of mine was to start writing poetry.

The first effort emerged about a year after my wife died. In it I tried to express the sadness I felt that she could no longer witness the beauty and the wonders that surround us day by day – above all the miracle that was our first grandchild. But then I drew on my long-held belief that death is a transition, not an end; if so, maybe she was experiencing these wonders, but from a different perspective and possibly more vividly, more intensely than I was. The poem ends with these lines: ‘If this is so/ and not some ruse/ to keep at bay my tears, / then when I kneel/ to thank the world,/ I know you’re kneeling too.’

On a lighter note, I then wrote a poem about the marmalade she used to make every year, and how there was now only one jar left – a treasure too precious to eat.

Several of the poems are intimations that in our efforts to extend frontiers of every sort – including that most mysterious frontier of all between what we call life and death – there is indeed ‘no shore too far’. On this journey, I’ve written about immortal life, the Big Bang, Nirvana, Sleeping Beauty, and Herod; so, too, several poems about the night.

For a long time I’ve been interested in the mystery of sleep – traditionally referred to as ‘the little death’. Perhaps it’s then that we reconnect not only with all that sustains our existence, but also with those who are no longer physically present. Maybe, too, those angelic beings who were so real to us ‘before the age of reason dawned’, do still exist, and continue to help us far more than we consciously realise.

Connected to all this is the question of memory. Some people will understandably ask if what I believe is true – that there is an existence that transcends time and space – then why don’t we remember it? Why no recollections of our experiences while asleep, let alone of our previous incarnations? There is a beautiful passage in ‘The Wind in the Willows’ that inspired my poem called ‘The Gift of Forgetfulness’. This phrase is used by Kenneth Grahame when he describes how Mole and Ratty, out early in their boat to help in the hunt for baby otter, have an overwhelming experience of the god Pan. But in order to get on with their lives as before, he writes, ‘a capricious little breeze’ brings ‘instant oblivion’.

Perhaps it’s the same for us. We are not yet spiritually mature enough to hold onto these truths in our conscious lives. We have other tasks. But help is there nonetheless – a help for those of us who are bereaved, confused and sad, as well as for those who continue their journey ‘out of sight’, but not actually that far away.

(‘No Shore Too Far’ is published by Hawthorn Press – ISBN 978-1-907359-81-1. Further details on the authors website: www.jonathanstedall.co.uk)

Jonathan has kindly donated a copy of No Shore too Far to Bridge. If you would like a chance to win this copy, please email us at reception@bridgesupport.co.uk. A selection of Jonathan’s poems are detailed below.


‘It’s strange’, you said,

‘how well I feel;’

and then you spoke

another word

that helped me cope,

that helped me see

a deeper truth at work.

‘Alive,’ you said,

‘so much alive.’

And as your body slowly died,

that life in you

it grew and grew

and so outshone

what met our eyes

as words, too, fell away.


And that still lives,

I feel so sure,

the essence that is you.

But now the challenge

that we face

is build a bridge

of love and trust

so we can find

what oft is missed

as we rush round,

both on our feet

and in our heads,

to fill another day.


Our world for you

is not the same,

but not that far away.

And where you are

is closer still

if we slow down

from time to time

and try to share

in silent awe

what lives in us,

what lives in you

and never, never dies.

Letting Go

Letting go

of all the clutter in our lives,

I can imagine brings relief

and peace of mind –

a tranquil place to be.


And when I do the same at death,

and let my body go –

thus letting go of facts I know,

but not of who I am –

will those who weep

not start to see

that I who did the letting go

am still around

to take new steps,

with them not far behind?


‘I’m not so far away’,

is what she sometimes seems to say.

Or is it my imagination,

my need to feel at peace,

to trust that all is well?


‘There’s nowhere else’ –

unbidden come more words –

‘I’m here, behind the scenes,

closer than touch,

in realms where time and space

exist no more.’


Then in the silence,

in the chill,

I listen for more help.

How forge those wings

to cross that gulf

and take me where she is?


‘Stay where you are’

her voice calls out.

‘Your tasks are in the here and now,

and if you do them well

those wings will grow

and you will fly,

but not to somewhere else;

just closer still

to what is real,

to those you love so much.’

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