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, 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

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.