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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Sunday, October 21, 2018

Japanese American Resettlement

During World War II, roughly 120,000 Japanese Americans who lived on the West Coast of the United States were taken from their homes and put into concentration camps because of wartime hysteria and fear. The military commander of the West Coast felt they were a threat, and politicians went along with his assessment. They were sent inland to concentration camps with barbed wire and armed guards in isolated locations like Topaz, Utah; Manzanar, California; and Heart Mountain, Wyoming.

Wednesday, October 17, 2018

In the Tender Early Light

After people we love die, there are certain times of the day when we feel the absence of their presence most keenly. These are moments frozen in time, and even if they happened a decade ago, they can feel as if they happened yesterday. Maybe it’s 5 p.m., the time when they would start cooking dinner. Perhaps it was something we would do together on Sunday mornings, like walk to the bakery for bear claws. Maybe it was watching a favorite television show every Thursday night. 

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

Grieving Our Pets

Pets start out like children. They end up being our elders.

There are differences, of course. Some of our pets will never grow to be smarter than a fifth grader. The rest don’t think we need to know that they know what we want them to do. Our pets will never go to college or move out of the house.

Wednesday, October 3, 2018

Breaking Point

Sharing our grief is hard, no matter the cause. It could be the death of a parent, spouse, pet, or child. The death of a long-term, committed relationship can be just as devastating.

It’s made more difficult when we are sharing with someone who has never experienced a severe loss. We are trying to describe what’s going on inside, and there is nothing physical that we can hold up to show them. And if we haven’t grieved before, then we don’t know the landscape we are trying to describe. It’s like being dropped in a foreign land and trying to describe it to someone over the phone.

Wednesday, September 26, 2018

My Heart Is a Wooden Room

My heart is wooden room, an empty octagon with cushions on an oak floor. The room is nestled in the earth and rises from it. The room is rooted in the earth that is rooted to the ocean in front and the mountain behind. It is organic and breathes. Love lives in this room in the midst of sorrow.

Wednesday, September 19, 2018

Crossing Boundaries

When someone we love with our heart dies suddenly, we question what we thought were the givens about life. Life as we understood it ends. 

In the year after Evelyn died, I often went to Yosemite to take a break from grief. But I reached a point where simple survival was no longer enough. I set my fears aside and headed into the wilderness to explore grief. I took risks and pushed on every boundary I could find because I wanted to understand what life and death were about. 

Wednesday, September 12, 2018

Garlic Grits

In her book American Pie, Michael Lee West writes, “Some people don’t know grief from garlic grits.” This puts me in a dilemma. I know what she means, but I like grits.

She means that people who have never experienced grief don’t know how it looks, feels, or tastes. A lot of people don’t know this about grits, either. You do not mistake grief, or grits, for anything else. 

Wednesday, September 5, 2018

The Thereness of Grief

Michelle Burke’s poem “Diameter” raises a bunch of “what ifs.” In the poem, she flies across the country to be with a friend who is grieving, a friend who is wondering if there is a there in the afterlife, and if so, is the one who died waiting for her there?

Wednesday, August 29, 2018

Men and Their Ocean of Emotions

(Finding grief books to recommend to you that were written by men continues to be a challenge. Of the books I’ve reviewed, 23 were by women but only 6 were by men. I have found women to be more honest, compassionate, and insightful. They speak of the heart, and not just what they thought. Through my blog, I am trying to overcome the male deficit, was well as share what all who grieve might find helpful. - Mark)


Men have an emotional toolbox the size of a walnut for talking about their feelings, while the emotions of grief are the size of an ocean. When men try to express their ocean of emotions through this walnut-sized hole, what comes through is so forceful that it can knock people over.

Wednesday, August 22, 2018

Laughter and Grief

For the most part, death isn’t funny.

“Grief” and “humor” aren’t often used in the same sentence. There are moments in the beginning of grief when we’re laughing hysterically, but generally that’s in the middle of the night and it’s not a happy sound. Or we’re laughing while standing by ourselves in the woods holding on to a tree. Or we’re in the shower staring at the soap for five minutes. These moments are more about trying not to cry than anything funny.

Wednesday, August 15, 2018

Standing In a Dark World, Waiting

When death comes, we leave the world of light behind and enter a realm of shadows.

Colors mute to gray. Sounds are all in the distance. Even if it’s sunny and in the eighties, the air feels cold and we wear a jacket. Food tastes like cardboard, so we don’t eat. Everything we pick up is rough to the touch, so we stay home. Our world shifts into slow gear.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

Our Public Face of Grief

When death comes to someone we love, our world changes and we are forced to change with it. When we go out in public, we bear the marks of grief. We are numb and in shock, yet most of the world doesn’t seem to notice. 

We sense people staring at us, especially those who know us well, because the face that they were used to seeing is gone. People also treat us differently because we are dealing with something that scares them, and they don’t know how to handle it.

Wednesday, August 1, 2018

What We Grieve

Our Astonishing Light

We do not grieve the memories of our spouses who died. Surprised? Me, too. Sometimes we are so overwhelmed with a profound loneliness that we grieve everything. Meanwhile the rest of the world goes on without noticing.

Wednesday, July 25, 2018

Father and Son Boxes

A box is a box is a box, Gertrude Stein kind of said. Or Pu-Tai. But a smiling box, well, that’s something else.

Being a son is sitting inside a box just as being a father is. (I imagine the mother-daughter relationship has similar boxes.)

There’s a Father box for how men are expected to act in relation to their sons, basically the law-giver box. You do what I say!

Tuesday, July 24, 2018

Publications News

I’m thrilled that in the last month a number of my poems and creative nonfiction writings have been published by literary journals. In case you missed any, these are the links.

Two long essays 
“Artifacts” with Hippocampus Magazinehttp://bit.ly/2z6kDWc,
“Wooden Gates” with R.KV.R.Y. Journalhttp://rkvryquarterly.com/wooden-gates-by-mark-liebenow/

A micro essay 

Two of my best poems
They were originally published by Fifth Wednesday Journal and Spoon River Poetry Review.

Sunday, July 22, 2018

Topaz Internment Camp

Beginning on Sept. 11, 1942, Japanese Americans living in San Francisco and the Bay area, including Chiura Obata and his family, were pulled from their homes and sent to the internment camp in Topaz, Utah that was ringed by barbed wire fences and guard towers.

Wednesday, July 18, 2018

The Metabolism of Grief

Grief is an organic, biological process.

Someone on Twitter used the phrase “metabolize grief.” I think. I haven’t been able to find who said it. Maybe my brain just took a leap. Whatever. I like the possibilities, as if I’m cracking open something important open and peeking inside.

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