Being With Those in Deep Grief

Let the Candles Speak

by Patricia McKernon Runkle

Slip off your needs
and set them by the door.

Enter barefoot
this darkened chapel

hollowed by loss
hallowed by sorrow

its gray stone walls
and floor.

You, congregation
of one

are here to listen
not to sing.

Kneel in the back pew.
Make no sound,

let the candles

(From The Path to Kindness: Poems of Connection & JoyStorey Publishing, 2022.)

Editor, James Crew, writes, ‘Patricia McKernon Runkle’s simple words call us to be as present as possible with another person, to recognize the sanctity of this space we share with someone who has recently endured a loss of any kind. She asks us to see the “hollowing” of grief as a “hallowing” as well, deserving of reverence. With its shorter lines and many pauses, the poem makes us feel as if we too are entering the “darkened chapel,” step by slow step, toward the person who needs us, and she reminds us, most importantly, that we are “here to listen not to sing.” When sitting with another who’s in mourning, we might think it’s our job to try and fix things for them, to make the other person feel better. Yet often what we most need from a companion on the journey is their deep presence, their willingness to enter that place of mystery, confusion, and pain with us. That’s the greatest gift we can give to another during a trying time, and it’s essential to point out that Runkle’s poem also works in another way: we can just as easily take her advice when we meet ourselves in the depths of loss. At that time too, all we can do is listen deeply to the self and its needs, leaving all expectations for outcome or a quick recovery at the door.”

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1 year ago

Thank you Wendy. I have just been told by a friend that she has less than 6 mths to live. This helps when numbness drowns out both words and feelings.

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Let the Candles Speak