Every Wednesday

Every Wednesday I will post something about grief. Sometimes it will be a reflection on an aspect of grief’s landscape. Now and then I will share from my own journey of grief, because in the sharing of our stories we find strength and build a community of people that support one another.

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Wednesday, July 11, 2018

Dancing With the Dwarfs of Grief

Elizabeth McCracken says that when tragedy comes, talk to the Dwarfs of Grief. 

McCracken had just given birth to a stillborn baby in a French hospital, and the midwife asked if she and her husband wanted to talk to a dwarf. Mistranslation. The midwife’s word was nun not dwarf (nonne vs nain). Edward thought it odd, but he also thought that speaking to a dwarf might cheer him up. They theorized that French hospitals in Bordeaux kept dwarfs in the basement for the worst-off patients. (I assume they are referring to the dwarfs of folklore, the mythical race of short, stocky creatures, along the lines of gnomes, trolls, elves and leprechauns.)

Wednesday, July 4, 2018

Empty Journals

The mother of writer Terry Tempest Williams left Terry her journals but said that she could not read them until after she died. When it was time, Terry opened them and discovered the pages were blank. Why would her mother take such care to nicely bind her journals yet leave the pages empty? 

Thus began Williams’ search to reconstruct her mother from her memory and from the memories of family and her mother’s friends. As Terry pieced the events of her mother’s life together, and added in her own reflections, she created a unique daughter-mother dialogue that became the book When Women Were Birds.

Monday, July 2, 2018


What artifacts do we keep to remind us of the people we've loved? 

Artifacts - my new essay at Hippocampus Magazine. http://bit.ly/2z6kDWc

Thursday, June 28, 2018

Recovery Journal

One of my essays was published this week in the R.KV.R.Y Quarterly. You can read it here: http://rkvryquarterly.com/wooden-gates-by-mark-liebenow/

It’s an early chapter in my yet to be published grief memoir.

A snippet from the essay – 

“No matter how death comes, it’s traumatic. But Ev dying in her 40s excavated a dark depth to life that I didn’t know existed.”

Wednesday, June 27, 2018

When a Parent Dies

for T

Losing a parent is never straight forward because the relationship is one that we were born into and not one that we chose. We may not like both of our parents, and one we only tolerate until we’re old enough to get out of the house. When they die, we can experience a wide range of feelings—grief of various intensities, but also love, hate, relief, despair, sadness, anger, and guilt.

Even if our relationships with our parents weren’t the best when we were growing up, they are still family, and in the long run this may mean more to us than we realize at the time. Whether they were good parents or bad, we only have two of them, and when they die, we become orphans.

Wednesday, June 20, 2018

On Dying

I don’t often write about the dying side of death’s continental divide. There’s enough on grief’s side of the mountain to occupy me. But my cat Minya is currently in assisted living and keeps reminding me of my father’s last months. He would not like the comparison — not a cat person. She also reminds me of Atul Gawande’s insightful book, Being Mortal.

Wednesday, June 13, 2018

Dating Again

Last week the Chicago Tribune published some of my thoughts about when to start dating after your spouse has died. This post shares more.

(This is for both men and women. I’m going to use words for a widower because men need more help with relationships, and constantly saying her/his, she/he, wife/husband/partner feels bulky.)

When is it time to start dating after the death of a spouse?

Wednesday, June 6, 2018

Walking With Kindness

What is required of us is to do justice, love kindness,
and walk humbly with our God. Micah 6:8

Most of life is lived after the parades are over. 

I can see the prophet Micah walking behind a crowd that is celebrating a religious holiday, and noticing people sitting on the side after the parade has passed by. Wondering why, he goes over to find out. 

Wednesday, May 30, 2018

Language and Grief

Riffs on Grief 2

Grief feels like a tree that has been hit by lightning.

If we don’t express our grief, it will burn us away until we are hollow people.

The limitations of language should not put limits on grief. If the language you know gets in the way, set it aside and create your own.

Wednesday, May 23, 2018

Artists of Dark Mountains

painting by Alec DeJesus, “Vices of the Burning Bear” 

When grief comes, and suffering pulls a shroud over the sun, we move into the shadows of dark alleys and walk over shards of broken meaning. We may feel abandoned and alone, but at least this place is safe from trauma.

The darkness is where artists go to create. 

Wednesday, May 16, 2018

Never Goes Away

We are healed of a suffering only by experiencing it to the full.  Proust

In my early days of grief, as I searched through books looking for answers into what had ripped my life apart, I noticed that Rainer Maria Rilke and Washington Irving had different opinions about grief.

Rilke, in Letters to a Young Poet, writes that we carry sadness around for too long instead of letting it pass. He says that sadness brings something new into our lives so we should let go of the sadness and pay attention to what is in the shadows waiting to be explored: “A stillness comes, and the new, which no one knows, stands in the midst of it and is silent.”

Wednesday, May 9, 2018

Life is a River

I do not like dying. None of us do, I suppose. Every time someone or something we love dies, part of us dies, too.
Whenever I return to Yosemite, I want to see the places I’ve come to love, but invariably they have changed in some way, and I can’t stop them from doing this. After my wife died, I wanted to preserve every aspect of my life with her, but I suspect that if I’m focused on an increasingly dusty past, I will miss seeing what life is doing now. Trying to stop life from changing is like trying to hold back the flow of the Merced River with my hands. 

Wednesday, May 2, 2018


“The wound is the place where the Light enters you.” Rumi

We think if we’re suffering that something is wrong. This is probably true. No one likes to suffer, but suffering is going to be part of everyone’s life. 

Some suffering is temporary. We get a cold. Our college team loses a close game in the national basketball tournament. Other suffering is the result of something we do. We get a sunburn because we didn’t apply sunblock. We drink untreated water from a mountain stream and pick up the giardia lamblia parasite that has us running for a few days. Sometimes we choose to endure suffering in order to reach a goal, like giving up time at home to work a second job so that we can take the family on a long-overdue vacation.

Wednesday, April 25, 2018

Clowns Are Bearers of Compassion

I like clowns. Some people don’t. Maybe they’re thinking of birthday clowns who entertain children and make squeaky balloon animals. Or the demented creeps who terrorize the woods. Or maybe the neo-fascist I-hate-people clowns. If this is the case with you, then think about fools instead. Fools like Buster Keaton, who, through his innocence and vulnerability, made us laugh and changed the world around him. Shakespeare had his rustic fools.

Wednesday, April 18, 2018

Riffs on Grief

Those who grieve don’t need words of sympathy. They need hugs and our presence.

Compassion brings hope back into the struggle, for others and for ourselves.

When someone close to us dies, we’re no longer in a rush to go in life from Point A to Point Z. Getting to a final destination no longer matters. We aim to survive this day, and to live and love as best we can. 

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

After the Funeral, There's the Quiet

Today I’m thinking about Emily Rapp’s experience after her two-year-old infant son Ronan died, as well as about people I’ve loved who died in April — my wife Evelyn, John’s wife Anne, and Judy’s husband John. I hold them in my heart, along with those I don’t know who also lost loved ones this month. Each year, this month of death makes us moody, sometimes snarly, when we think about what could have, should have, been.

Wednesday, April 4, 2018


When we lose someone close, we experience many conflicting emotions. Among them is deciding if we are going to forgive those who may have caused, or did not prevent, the death. 

My wife Evelyn died of a heart attack in a doctor’s office, with paramedics who came from across the street. Someone had to have made a mistake because dying in your 40s is wrong. I really wanted to blame one of them. And yet, even though they were unsuccessful in restarting her heart, I had to let go of blaming them, because they tried. 

Monday, April 2, 2018

Walking the Desert Road

After the horror of Good Friday, after the utter despair of Holy Saturday, after the unexpected joy of Easter Sunday, came Monday morning when the disciples wondered what they were to do now.

The future they envisioned had come crashing down, and their leader, the person they loved, was gone. But they had changed because of him and, sink or swim, they were resolved to continue on and make the dream real. 

Wednesday, March 28, 2018

Loving Differently

I love you, even though we have never met. I love you because you have suffered a terrible loss and are grieving. I know how important it is in this time to feel love from other people, even people you don’t know.

Sunday, March 18, 2018

Dying and Grief

Book: Kate Bowler, Everything Happens For a Reason And Other Lies I’ve Loved

Most of the grief memoirs in bookstores are about dying. They’re not about grieving someone who has died. I don’t know why. Grieving goes on longer than dying, in most cases, yet both are epic journeys of fighting to survive. We gain insights and wisdom by reading both.