April 13, 2017

Poetry and Healing – What’s the Connection?

By Robert A. Poarch

Can something as simple as a sonnet help with healing and grieving? We delve into this subject with a short, and insightful, Q&A with Marie Langlois, a bereavement counselor with CarePartners.

How can reading poetry help someone heal?

When people read poetry that touches an experience that they can identify with, they feel less alone and in some ways this helps the healing process. Robert Frost wrote “Home Burial” about a husband and wife and the death of a baby. Frost wrote the poem from his own experience of having a child die. I think when people read something like that, they can identify with the pain. Parents can identify with being in two separate places in the grieving process. They can identify with the anger that this has happened in their lives. There’s a feeling of being less alone, because someone else is writing about it. Being isolated doesn’t help the healing process, but being with people who truly understand what you’re going through does help the healing process. That’s why we have therapeutic support groups. Being with someone who is truly walking in a similar pattern as you is helpful.

How can writing poetry help someone heal?

Writing poetry is very cathartic. It helps people get their feelings out. It’s helpful, because their feelings and thoughts aren’t playing a loop in their head. They’re getting it out of their head and onto the paper, and those words on paper can’t hurt them anymore. In many ways those words on paper clarify their feelings. They demystify the grief process. The more that you can demystify the process by understanding how you grieve and what you’re feeling, it’s like you make friends with your grief, which adds more predictability to what you’re dealing with. A lot of times, grieving people feel like they’ve been flung into outer space and they’re not tethered to the mothership. It’s a scary process. Writing is perfect because you’re engaging. Poetry is meant to be read out loud, and that is healing in three ways: you’re seeing it, saying it and writing it. It’s so much more beneficial when you write it longhand. There’s that physical connection to the brain.

How can poetry help people grieve?

Whether it’s reading or writing poetry or going to a poetry reading, that’s helpful. When you hear someone reading poetry, they put the inflection where they want it to be, which can add so much meaning. By reading other people’s poetry, as well as their own, it helps to work through feelings. And, it’s a way of self-soothing. Think about people like Shakespeare who lost children. It’s in the poetry. It’s in the sonnets. C.S. Lewis, in A Grief Observed, wrote, “I never knew that grief felt so much like fear.” It’s a book, not a poem, but to me, that’s a very poetic line. A lot of people who read this book, say Lewis “nailed how I feel.” People are fearful when they grieve. We usually don’t think about death until someone close to us dies, and then all you do is think about death–your own death, all the other people you know who can die. This creates isolation and makes you fearful. So, when you read something like, that, you say, “That’s exactly how I feel.” When you identify with it, you don’t feel so alone. You feel like you’re part of a grieving community. You feel like you’re understood.

Marie Langlois writes a weekly email for her child loss support group and has contributed articles to the CarePartners Grief’s Companion newsletter.

For information about the child loss support group, contact Marie at marie.langlois@msj.org. For information about grief services at CarePartners visit carepartners.org or call (828) 251-0126.