Who I am.

I write about the landscape of grief, nature, and the wisdom of fools. The author of four books, my essays, poems, and reviews have been published in over 50 journals, including in the Huffington Post and Colorado Review. I’ve won the River Teeth Nonfiction Book Award, the Chautauqua and Literal Latte’s essay prizes, and my work has been nominated for four Pushcart Prizes and named a notable by Best American Essays. My account of hiking in Yosemite to deal with my wife’s death, Mountains of Light, was published by the University of Nebraska Press. http://www.markliebenow.com.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

Grief Doesn't Take a Holiday

(Baking Soufflés Against the Daleks)

If you’re grieving, the holidays are the worst time of the year. You’re expected to be happy, and if you aren’t, you feel even worse. Even if your someone died a few years ago, going through the holidays can bring their absence and your sorrow right back. 

Then smiling people in green elf hats and reindeer sweaters try to cheer you up, saying it’s not so bad. Sigh

You’re not alone in what you’re feeling. In the neighborhood, other people are dealing with their own struggles, but because they don’t want to talk about it, we don’t know what’s going on and we can’t do anything to help them. 

All of us want to appear strong and self-reliant. So we say we’re fine when people ask and close the door but we shut people out. If you’re struggling this holiday season, and someone asks how you’re doing, tell them. While many will choose not to do anything more, some will, and they can make all the difference.

As snow covers the land in a blanket of white, and cold settles in for the duration, it can seem that everything we love about life, and everything that brings us comfort and joy, has either died or is dying. On the streets we see hurting and broken people walking beneath the holiday lights, and wish that life wasn’t so hard for so many.


This season strips us down to essentials and makes us realize that we value people more than things. This is why we try so hard to gather with family and friends. We want the reassurance that, even though the year has been rough, our bonds to each other are secure. Even though we are overwhelmed with grief, we still care about each other.

Even if I’m grieving, if I see you loaded down with packages, I will hold the door open. I will get something for you from the top shelf in the store. I will shovel your sidewalk as you endure another round of chemo. I will go into the field to pick up the remnants of your home after a tornado has ripped it apart.

It’s not love that impels me to help you. It’s what I’ve learned because of grief. The compassion of others is what kept me going when I felt broken, defeated, and alone.

Grief has unclenched my hands enough to share what I have with you. It has deepened my breath enough to laugh again, even though I know I’ll be sad later on, and that suffering, hatred, and violence will continue to erupt in the world. Grief has lightened my feet enough to dance today because music is playing and I need to dance if I am going to fend off death.

Death has freed me to care about you. Call the reason love if you want. I call it grief.        


The baking soufflé note at the top is a Doctor Who reference. Oswin (Clara) is trapped on a Dalek world and fighting them. The Daleks are violent, merciless cyborgs who demand total conformity to their will and are out to destroy everyone else. Oswin maintains her resolve and fends off her fears and loneliness by baking soufflés. 

Within us there is unimaginable strength to endure extreme situations. Bake soufflés.

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