“The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass

The Thing Is

to love life, to love it even
when you have no stomach for it
and everything you’ve held dear
crumbles like burnt paper in your hands,
your throat filled with the silt of it.
When grief sits with you, its tropical heat
thickening the air, heavy as water
more fit for gills than lungs;
when grief weights you like your own flesh
only more of it, an obesity of grief,
you think, How can a body withstand this?
Then you hold life like a face
between your palms, a plain face,
no charming smile, no violet eyes,
and you say, yes, I will take you
I will love you, again.

Ellen Bass

On my way to work, I caught a piece on a show called “Voices In The Family” by Dan Gottlieb  on WHYY a NPR station.  The piece was entitled the Healing Power of Poetry.  The poet, Ellen Bass, read a poem, “The Thing Is,” that she wrote when she was in deep grief and it really struck a chord with me.

For those who haven’t lost someone dear you can’t completely understand.  And for those who have felt the darkness of grief after losing a loved one, you understand the poem completely.  You get it.  You not only get it… you live(d) it.

My life is forever altered, my heart is shattered into pieces, and I will miss John till the day I die, but that doesn’t mean that I don’t love life.  Even in the darkest moments, there were things to love… the rainbow… blue sky… green grass… puffy clouds… our son’s laugh… the horses nickering… a cat’s purr… the smell of hay… the whirr of a mourning doves wings or their call… the beauty of a fresh snow… the starkness of a winter tree…   every season… every day… holds beauty waiting to be found.  John would want me to learn to love life fully again.  It is a work in progress, but I’m working on it.

(If you’d like to hear the poem read by Ellen Bass and the podcast of and the show- “Healing Power of Poetry” it is currently available at the link and then should be available later on the February podcast.  The poem “The Thing Is” is published in Mules of Love by Ellen Bass. Reprinted with permission of the author.)


About Mary K. Smith

I was widowed in July 2009, when I lost my beloved husband, John, to melanoma. Cancer SUCKS. We have a young son who was just a year old when his father died. I live on a small farm in Maryland which is home to horses, cats, and a dog. I started this blog as a way for me to heal, a way to remember my husband, and eventually I'd like to share it with our son so he can see the love that his father had for him, the love that we had for each other, what a great person his father was, and how hard his father fought to live.
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2 Responses to “The Thing Is” by Ellen Bass

  1. Tamara Sachs says:

    I was glad to find this as I googled the same poem.
    Just wanted to wish you the best. I am on the same journey, one year ahead of you having lost my husband July 2008 to sudden death from an arrythmia. Our daughter was 12 when he died.
    Just in case you wish tosee a different way to do a tribute (as I am glad to see what you have done, a blog is a great idea) I have a memorial website to my husband with a photo gallery. I know that my daughter goes there occasionally and when she wants to share the story with a friend but doesnt want to talk about it, she has sent them there. Joe’s family also appreciates it.
    Anyway, I understand in a way few do and yet I am sure we are very different in the details, I wish you healing and love.

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