Processing grief through poetry

Before her mother was diagnosed with ALS in November 2013, local poet Clea Roberts had never set foot inside the tiny house on Jarvis Street that's home to Hospice Yukon. Her mother Donna was living in Vancouver.

Before her mother was diagnosed with ALS in November 2013, local poet Clea Roberts had never set foot inside the tiny house on Jarvis Street that’s home to Hospice Yukon.

Her mother Donna was living in Vancouver. After the diagnosis Roberts would go down to visit her every few weeks. Closer to home, she was looking for help and found it at Hospice Yukon.

“I needed to go to hospice to find out how I could best support my mother through the illness both physically and emotionally,” she said.

An avid reader, Roberts said she dove into hospice’s library of resources to gather information and process what was going on.

“Like most people, I’m no stranger to grieving, we all grieve in our lives over various things, but I had never experienced the death of someone very close to me. So that’s what I was trying to get a handle on.”

But it was about more than just reading material, she said.

“Just to have that kind of understanding. When you can extract yourself from your day-to-day busyness, buying groceries or going to work, and just be with people who know what the process of death is about and are very focused on that,” she said.

“It kind of normalizes it and makes you feel like, ‘I can deal with this.’”

While her mother was sick, Roberts started looking at her old poetry and realized that grief, in a more general sense, was a frequent touchstone of her writing.

“But grief is a two-sided thing,” she said.

“There’s the grief that we feel in life and that’s a really powerful thing. But you can’t know grief unless you’ve known joy too. So my writing tries to touch on both of those really important elements of life.”

Roberts’ mother passed away about a year after she was diagnosed – much faster than anyone had predicted.

The emotions that come with grief are complicated ones.

For many people finding a way to externalize the mess of emotions that are going on inside helps with healing, said hospice councillor Anne Macaire .

“It’s that movement from the inside experience to putting it out,” she said.

For the next three Thursdays in February, the 5th, 12th and 19th, Roberts and Macaire will be leading a workshop at Hospice Yukon on poetry and grief.

“Because poetry really touches us deep down, I think it’s a really great tool for accessing emotions that are deep down as well,” Roberts said.

People who register for the workshop will get a chance to read poems about grief, talk about poetic devices for describing grief and maybe do some writing of their own, though no one will be required to share, Roberts said.

Roberts said she’s always found writing poetry very therapeutic “just in figuring out how I feel about a situation.”

While her mother was sick Roberts was journaling and she has since written a few poems from the experience.

Her latest manuscript is nearly completed.

“I can see how my mother’s illness and death has impacted the manuscript in that there’s a greater awareness of mortality,” she said.

Roberts said the manuscript is bookended by poems about emotional periods – the time in her life when her children were born and the time when her mother died.

“It just seems like it has, in some very strange way, worked out OK.”

Anyone who wants to register for the upcoming workshop can call Hospice Yukon at 667-7429.

Contact Ashley Joannou at

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