Monday, August 18, 2014

Chat Between Two Poets-Annell Livingston

Today I have something really special for you, kids. Our friend Annell Livingston, of Some Things I Think About, recently lost her beloved son, Jim, to cancer. She has been writing a series of beautiful poems to and about him, making her journey along the shores of grief. Annell and I have been chatting by email through all of this, and it occurred to me this chat might be of broader interest, since none of us escape being touched by death and loss in our lives. Annell is willing to share the depth of her journey with us, which feels to me like the most sacred privilege. Do join us, in our reverent conversation about grief and loss, and what it is teaching us. Annell, in walking this difficult path, is exhibiting grace in action. She is showing us how. [Note: the beautiful art is Annell's.]


When I die
Let it be morning
The colors new
The air fresh
The day ahead
I won't be there
I have gone to rest

When I die
We will have said
All our goodbyes
Done the things I could
Held you to my breast

 When I die
You will not wonder
You have known me
Read my words
Looked at my marks
I did what I could
I have gone to rest

When I die
You have shown me how
With your dignity
Gentle and kind
All knowing

You left at sundown
On the other side
You wait for me

May 8, 2014

Sherry: My friend, you are walking through the hardest thing a mother can experience – the loss of your child. It seems impossible to go through and yet, somehow, mothers do, since they have no choice.  

Annell: It is a burden almost too heavy to bear.  It is the part of the plan that is so hard to understand.  Perhaps it is so that we will know happiness, when it comes our way? Or it is to remind us we are human?  I will miss him always….

Note: May 22, 2014:  A day to remember, my greatest joy, and my greatest sorrow, all marked on this day. Just a note to share, my son said he saw the doctor, and his liver cancer has moved to the lungs.  He was told there is no treatment.  I know you will understand….just wanted to share.  My world has grown small….. Today is his birthday.


The smile on your face doesn’t fool me
Your hands flutter like tiny birds as you speak
Your voice a squeak like a little mouse
Survey what is before you
You point to the north
Dark clouds roll in over the mountain
And then acknowledge the other directions
And all that is sacred
You laugh out loud
It is as if you are reading the weather report
'Warning of tornado in Taos county'
Yet you are stuck in the garden
Have taken roots
Rain drops fall upon you
Leave dark spatters on your clothes
Pigeons find shelter in your hair
Someone everywhere is dying
You are crying
Planting tear drops near the wall

May 25, 2014


Sometimes things are deeper than talk
Talk is often only surface noise
Some things need to be looked at
In the quiet of morning
Before anyone is awake

Alone in the dark
Memories packed away
For years
Are taken out

You were a baby once
The one the only
Then a small child
A joy for any who looked
Into your clear blue eyes
Busy, busy never cease
The world was your oyster
Everyday was a new adventure
The nest we built was safe and warm
We would have built a wall around you
To keep you safe

But you ventured out
Went to school
Learned all that you could
I remember the gift you brought
To me
The two blue eggs
I was torn
You wanted to give me
Something you knew I would love
And yet two blue herons would
Never know this world
I kept them in a drawer
And grieved each time I looked at them
You were too young to understand

Your heart grew in mine
And one day you went away
My heart broke in two
Times two
Times two
To infinity
I looked for you
In time you returned
I was proud of your effort
To stand alone
And now you need me
I love you still

May 26, 2014

Sherry: This breaks my heart and brings me to tears, Annell. It is so beautiful. The two heron eggs make me think of a foreshadowing, that his time on this earth would not be as long as one would have expected. My heart quails at what lies ahead for you - and maybe for me, too. [I connect especially with Annell right now, because my own son is undergoing his second round of treatment for lymphoma.) 

Sometimes life requires more faith and trust than we can muster. And yet, somehow, we walk through it. Such a beautiful poem, full of mother-love, the strongest, most unshakable love in the world. Travel safely, and safely home again to the foot of Taos Mountain.


I did write something today
From the deepest regions of my heart
I sit by your bedside blue
Remembering you
As you were when you were small
Blue eyed
Boy of mine
Born of my heart
Yes there was more than
One tear shed
In your absence
Where you were unknown
My heart
Scalded and burned
Left scars by the road
For others to find

Today I am lost in your childhood
Memories abound
Nothing replaces a child
Not lovers or clowns
You were missing
My heart broken

I dreamed of you
Worried and wondered
Where you were
With curse words or whispers
Longed for your return
Years passed
In time you did return

You were my baby boy
Prodigal son
I did write something today
About a Mother's love unending
Object of my heart

May 31, 2014

[Note:  When I was at the hospital with my son, I had Laurie Kolp's new book, On the Blue Couch.  I began to have a conversation with Laurie.]

June 4.  Dear Sherry, Yes, all the fears have come is the worst. Disease won.  We moved to hospices night before last.  But I am so glad I am here to hold him through this.  Of course I thought, why me?  But he needs me now, and that is why.  So I could be here for him.  Grief comes in waves, thoughts are clear sometimes. My heart is broken.

Sherry: Your heart is broken, for sure. Just remember your desert, your home, your art and Taos Mountain are all there waiting for your return. There, you will begin yet another healing journey, probably the hardest you will ever make. I am thinking of you and willing you support and strength. I am so glad you are there. I know he is, as well. Take care, my friend. Water the roots of that tree we hold inside ourselves, and know the wind can buffet the branches but, somehow, the trunk will stand.


Just after your birthday
Day of celebration
The sweet scent of honeysuckle
Fills the air
Makes the mind dizzy with
Memories of other nights
Summer days

The breeze on the bay
Moves the palm fronds
Scrape back and forth
Cast shadows of purple
Across the fresh cut lawn

Take a nap on just washed sheets
Gathered from the line
Tis day of freshness and sunshine
Woven through the threads
Time of honeysuckle and fireflies
Like memories recorded on
Lined paper the color of shells
Like silk under fingertips

I touch your skin
Run my fingers down your back
Caress you with my eyes
Breath you into my heart
Child of mine
It is your time
Your destiny and mine

In Memory of James Henry Livingston 1966 – 2014

Annell: In Baltimore, 'honeysuckle' was blooming everywhere, and you would catch the sweet scent of it, and ‘fireflies', to say it was a dark time, but a time of childhood imagination, and he was my child….. I asked for 'grace', 'mercy' and 'enlightenment'.  And it was given….Somehow I will get through the coming days…but it is with broken heart, I loved him so.

Sherry:  Such tender and bittersweet memories, Annell. Such a beautiful poem.  That you can write it, right now, says much about your beautiful soul. Hold those memories close. I am thinking of you. Right now I am making you a cup of tea and sitting you beside a honeysuckle vine. There are sheets flapping on the line and, in this scene, it is always summer, and your baby boy is just napping.


No one asked me...
I don't like it
I don't want it
This just isn't it

This just cannot be
But the monogram is mine
When it should belong
To someone else

It doesn't fit
Not my size
Not my style
This is too hard
Surely not meant for me

Then right in the middle
You are there
Patiently waiting

You say...
Take your time
Catch up

It is too much to ask
The love of my life
I always had to play it by ear

You remind me
He always did it his way

I want to scream
To crawl out of my skin
Be someone else
Somewhere else
Not here in this way
...I don't like it...

I address you
Your leaving almost killed me
The seas boiled
No prisoners taken
Scorched earth

You told me I was strong
When I was bent in agony
Hung out to dry
Like fresh washed clothes
Upon the winter
The burden of grief
Too heavy to bear...

I am reminded by eagle
It's easy to fly
Take a breath
Spread your wings
And lift

You are my teacher
I the slow student
You show me
What I could not do

I ask for just a little bit of
Your strength
Let me see...
This is where your path
And mine join
Once again
For the last time

You open your eyes
Look deep into mine
You point your finger
At my heart
And say
"You are me"
Then point at your own
Strong heart
"I am you"
Again pointing at my heart

And it shall be
...but I don't like it

Annell: This is the enlightenment; at last I realized who he was, "my teacher."  And what he said to me, he had been in twilight, but he awoke, pushed himself up on his elbows, and pointed his finger at my heart, as I stood by his bed, and said, "You are me,"  and then pointing back to his own heart, "I am you."  I then assured him, I would stay with him, would be with him, loved him with all my heart.

Sherry:  Annell, thank you for sharing this. It moves me to tears. It is an incredible, amazing story – yes, he was your teacher – the ‘I am you’ just bowls me over. That he was so wise. He so wanted you to hear that – weak as he was, raising himself up to make sure you understood, that you are still together, even after his death. This  I know beyond the shadow of a doubt. It is just so hard not to feel their physical presence; their absence is so huge.

Annell: It is pretty amazing.  We think we know.  We know who we are.  We know who the beloved is.  My eyes were opened and I remembered that he was a spiritual being having a human experience…he knew more than I did. And as with all children, when they get through with us, we know a lot more than when we started.  I like to think of the idea that we make a contract for our lives before we are born.  I loved him so….it twists my heart into a knot and wrings me out when I think of his death. 

I also have to remember it is OK, it wasn't my way, not what I wanted, but still OK.  He had been sick for a couple of years….he could not be well. What I asked was for grace.  I longed for my Mother.  She was a tiny person, and very full of grace.  I remember her, and felt her presence, showing me how. I asked for mercy, for myself and for Jim.  I certainly didn't want him to suffer even one day, one minute. When I found out he could not be made well, I had to consent to allow him to have his destiny.

And I asked for enlightenment, and it seemed, when I realized who he was, everything began to fall into place.  Perhaps he knew I had finally realized who he was, in my life, and it was now OK to go.

Jim was in hospices from Monday night, he died Friday morning.  The time I was with him was a blessing, I only wish I had gone sooner, but I didn't know….he knew I was there.  He died just before we got to the hospital, Friday morning, his body was still warm.  But the doctor said, usually children and independent people go when loved ones are not there….he was independent.  The love of my life.

Thursday night it was very hard to leave him, I kept going back to his bedside, to assure him I would return in the morning.  He was at peace. I was drawn back to touch him, kiss him, smell him….I didn't know he was planning to leave the next morning.  When I got there at 7:15, he had just left, still warm in his bed….he was like that, always just one step ahead of me.  So I did what I needed to do and left.  I hated it there.

I didn't get home until Saturday morning.  I am just being quiet…but writing. Having a little hard time getting back to my work…I'm trying to be easy with myself…  He was my love.

Sherry:  You do have your Mother’s grace, Annell. I so admire how you walk through the hardest things with such grace. I am glad you felt her presence around you when you needed it.

Annell: Because I have walked in this dark valley before, I know grief to be like the onion, and with each layer you pull off, there is another layer….there may be no end to the layers…not a usual onion…but just as stinky all the same. I am putting together a collection of poems for him, and I continue my work, which I tell myself I do in remembrance of him, to honor him.  Who he was, and what he meant to me.

Sherry: Your work does honor him, Annell, and he would want you to continue it. It is so good you had that last week together.

Annell: You are right about the last week.... even then, in that small room, we built memories I will always treasure.  I cannot tell you what a wonderful boy he was, he was perfect for me…and I think he told me I was perfect for him.


A red cardinal flew
Right up next to the car
So close I looked into his eye
'Life is fleeting'
He whispered

Arived early
To find you had gone
The howl I kept inside my throat
Could not be heard
In that hospital corridor
Only the dead could hear me now

Was told you can go into his room
Yes, I wanted to...
I straighten my back
Walked directly to your room
The door was closed
Asking myself
Can I do this
My only child was dead

There you were
As though asleep on your bed
But you were gone
No longer my own
Your journey here
Had ended

Like the cardinal red
You were gone

June 26, 2014

Sherry: This poem goes straight to the heart - thinking of that bright eyed baby, his journey as an adult, and then his loss. Mothers' hearts are born to break, it seems, Annell. I wish they didn’t have to.

Jim, with his girlfriend, Toni, and her son Jacob


You say, remember the heart leaves behind
More than death can take away
Have you thought about what you say
Does it make sense to you
Perhaps you are just trying to be kind

When death takes what you love
Whose heart leaves behind more
Are you talking about the heart of the dead
There is nothing left

The one you loved is gone
His heart beats no more
There is only empty distance
Without sound
Not even a breath to be heard

It is over
The end of a life
The one you love is no more
It is hard to believe you will never see
Your loved one again
I hear myself saying
I can't believe I will never see you again
But this is the truth as I know it
My experience of life and death on earth...

...I cannot say about life after death
But as far as I know
My experience is that death is death
Something unto itself
Has nothing to do with the living
Except the living are left to grieve
To know the silence...

...Still in the silence of the morning
All is quiet
Memories seep in
Your laugh
Your smile
The twinkle in your eye
My heart swells
You were mine
My own
My love
My son

July 1, 2014

Sherry: Oh my friend, this brings me to tears. That last stanza....."my own, my love, my son." NOTHING can take away the emptiness of that loss, for certain. What I have found is that the grief of missing the beloved does not ease – there is a compartment inside us where grief comes to live.

Annell: You are right. Grief never goes away; it becomes a part of us.

Sherry: People do say things, trying to be kind, or not knowing what to say. Our culture is so afraid of death, no one knows how to handle it. Really no one has to say anything - just to sit with you and be there for you. No words are going to change the terrible loss that has occurred.  

Annell: Yes, I think a good, "I'm sorry" is enough. What do you think these words mean? “The heart leaves behind more than death can take away?"

Sherry: What comes immediately to mind when I read those words, is that the amount of love we shared with our loved one, the memories, the totality of the experience, all of that, and the love we still feel for them, is so much bigger than the grief over them dying? Is that what it seems like to you?  

Annell: The grief is huge.  Yes, it is, and all consuming. But what was between us was much bigger?  It is just that the love was already there in life, and death does take it away.

SherryI’m thinking of that saying is it better to have loved and lost than never to have loved? Even with the heartbreak of losing them, we would not have wished the relationship away because it was one of the most impactful relationships of our lives. 

Annell: Yes, I get that. Yes, I like what you say.  It does seem the one who is left, is left with something precious.

Sherry : I just keep remembering  Jim pointing to your heart and his heart – I think he was trying to say that is what will remain after I am gone, the huge love between us, and how deeply in each other’s hearts we are and will be for all time.  

Love Letter from Taos

Annell: Yes. My ideas have changed…about life and about life after death. I'm not counting on it.  I think perhaps we carry a memory in our cells, perhaps of our ancestors’ lives?  I'm not sure….I don't think anybody alive on this planet knows for sure…all stories made up to make us feel better. Life is amazing, and certainly death.  I have also found, life and how we live it means nothing to death, but death changes life in uncertain ways.

Now, this has been my own experience; it is as if inside of me, a bomb has gone off, things are not connected as they were, there are bits of paper everywhere, and each must be picked up, examined, and put into like piles….I see myself tying them into packets with blue ribbons.  I accept death…and in my Son's case there were no good options.  As a Mother, I would not have him suffer, not one day….and so it was.  During that week, there were moments I felt I was seeing behind what I was seeing, and we were meeting in some spiritual place.  

But I know I mix it up with earthly things….he was holding my hand so tight. And he would tell me everything he needed, but it was as if a calm spirit was there inside of him, communicating to the calm spirit in me.  It was a deep experience.  I will hold it sacred for me for all time…as I said, I don't even think there are words.


Butterflies fly free
Monarchs the large orange ones
Migrate from Mexico
To Canada

The one who arrives
Is not the one who began
You were always the butterfly
The free spirit
Followed your own star
The funny clown
With ready smile
A bit of Peter Pan

Summer light was dappled
As it filtered through the trees
The nights filled with
Honeysuckle and fireflies

Memories of home
And the little girl I was
She is still here
Sometimes she pulls me back
From the edge where I teeter
She holds my hand
Offers a hug

The tension I felt
Was a string so tight
I could balance and walk it
This difficult journey
Begun in May
Without a map
No instructions

Like the butterfly
I will find my way
When I arrive
I will not be the same

Perhaps there will be no end
I will be destined to wander
In the lonely desert
With heart in hand for all times
And I will learn it is where I have
Always wandered

 July 3, 2014

[The number '2' kept popping up everywhere….and the idea of a butterfly.  Beautiful and free.]

Sherry: This poem is STUNNING. SPECTACULAR! I love “the one who arrives is not the one who began”. Wow. And the memories, the teetering on the edge......especially the journey without GPS,  “when I arrive, I will not be the same”.  Once the heart is blown open, there is no going back. The wandering in the desert....It comforts me that you have your desert and Taos Mountain...out there under the sky, you will walk with thoughts of Jim, and I have to believe that, somewhere, somehow, he knows.

Annell:  I like to think that, too.


It was not empty
Nor very big
Could hold it in my hand
And yet...
You filled it up
And it holds the world
Or what I know of it

It's badly damaged
Just now
With your leaving
It barely beats
Lost its rhythm
Shoots pain in all directions

I take it out to take a look
Inspection reveals
An empty shell
Badly cracked
Broken heart of mine

Is one lifetime
Long enough
For it to mend
I make a mark
A stitch or two
With you in mind

I'll miss you everyday
Each minute
Each hour
The whole day through
Until the end of time

June 15, 2014

Annell: Thank you for being my friend and thank you for walking with me….holding my hand, and listening to my heart, as it chugs, and gurgles, and whispers to you.

Sherry: It is I who thank you, Annell, for your deep thoughts, and for your trust in sharing this journey with our community.  It is a privilege to read your words. Not just so I can understand and support you as you grieve, but you can believe I am taking notes on how a mother walks through the worst that can ever happen to her in this world. You do so with grace, with dignity and with great love.

Well, my friends, I really have no more words to say. This conversation impacted my soul deeply, and I am not the same as I was before we had it. It has been my privilege, this week, to bring this conversation to you. Please feel most welcome to share your thoughts, reactions, stories, experiences and words from your heart in the comments section.

And do come back to see who we talk to next. Who knows? It might be you!


  1. The more I read, the more I cried. I wish this could make your grief a little lighter.
    I was with my mother-in-law when she realized her son, my husband's brother, was dying. Then, I was with my husband, as he wailed in pain at the same realization. I was with my father-in-law and with my mother when they each passed. I know grief, but cannot conceive of it in relation to my daughter or grandchildren. I hope I never find out if I have the strength.
    Thank you soooo much for sharing these thoughts and poems. There is much I wish I could say, but in respect for you, I'll simply say I'm sorry.
    Sherry, thank you for posting this tender, sad conversation. I've been thinking of you and wondering if you're with your son now. I hope his treatment is most successful.
    My heart is with you both.

    1. Bless you, Myrna, my son's treatment starts very soon. I trust he will do well. He has the type of lymphoma that they cant cure but they can treat, it seems to return every two years, and they will continue to treat it each time it recurs....this is his second round. This time will be radiation. I will be going to be with him fairly soon.

  2. as i read the words in wet eye my words fail...i think of Tagore who had lost his three children and his only grandson...while walking on this thorny path of grief he had given us his wonderful songs which we still sing in our sorrows and joy... Annell's poems here may be personal but they have a universal appeal..they will forever console bereaved hearts...thank you Sherry & Annell...

    1. Sumana, I didnt know that about Tagore. How inspiring! The human heart is so capable of greatness, it always blows me away.

  3. Dear Sherry as I told you this is a very special day for me, the anniversary of my Husband's and my wedding anniversary, and in that marriage Jim came to make our lives richer. He was a very tender soul and I am grateful that he came to share our lives. From him I learned much, I am grateful for that, too. Thank you Sherry for your tender care of my story of loss. And it is my hope your son will recover and this will not be your story…..

  4. It gladdens my heart to know your story is being received with respect and emotion, Annell. Our "chat" impacted me profoundly. I am not the same as I was before it. Thank you, too, for the good wishes for my son. I trust his treatment will be successful and we will trudge along the path some more!

  5. I am so very proud of you and inspired by you Annell...for talking so openly..for creating your beautiful boy...and sharing him within your will always be the same nest..

  6. Whew. What we go through who love. You are deep in the heart of it, Annell. And you, Sherry, even without the death, also know the pain of loss. Thank you for making your conversation public, thank you for the poems and your truths.

    1. Powerful, is it not, Susan? Wow. Annell is so brave. She sets the bar very high.

    2. I wonder if Toni and Jacob have remained part of Annell's family, but was shy about asking.

  7. This was a wonderful idea for a conversation between poets, Sherry. Annell, again my condolences to you. You both are strong women.

  8. This is a very moving conversation between you, Annell and Sherry. The poems you chose are particularly well-chosen and speak from the heart. Thank you to both of you.

  9. Deep and moving as we all know grief and loss. It was my privilege to transcribe this conversation. I felt like I was learning material I desperately need to know. I am happy people are resonating with our chat.

  10. Sherry I have no are a brave heart..hold on to that inner strength and it will lead you to peace..Sherry thank you for sharing this conversation..beautiful heart breaking poems..thanks..God Bless You Both..

  11. You ARE grace, Annell,. Bless you.

  12. I am so profoundly moved, Annell. Your experience, as brutal as it was, has opened you up to what is truly possible. I lost my mother over 2 years ago, and your poems have touched me deeply. This grief seems unending, and yet you go on; thank you for sharing your gifts with us.

  13. hey its annell....i have been friends with her for years....smiles....
    your journey the last little bit has been heartbreaking to water...but i am so proud of you for writing your way through your grief...

  14. Oh, Annell, I am so sorry for your loss and grief. I've lost many people I cherish but not one of my children. I can't think of anything more traumatic. Thank you for sharing your story and poems which are full of grace. May each day bring sweeter remembrances and pain not so sharp.

  15. So sorry for this great loss - and thank you for sharing your journey - it has broken my heart for you - the poetry you have shared with us has moved me to tears. K

  16. Annell, I shed a tear for you.
    I smile for your son knowing he is free of the burden of suffering.
    Thank you for sharing with us that we can be honest on the page.
    Sorrow does bind us close.
    Hugs for you...

  17. Dear Annell,
    I am sorry. So very sorry. And I am grateful to you for bravely and generously sharing with us. You have taught me much.

  18. Annell, thanks for sharing your soul with us. I wish I had the same courage as you, but I do not. Thanks Annell and Sherry. I am wishing good luck for your son, Sherry.

    Pamela ox

  19. Oh, Annell... I feel your pain and appreciate you for sharing a piece of your heart with us. I'm also glad that Upon the Blue Couch inspired you to write a poem. Man, oh man, your son pointing to his heart and then yours, saying what he did... WOW. He will always be with you.

    It's funny because I also hesitated to leave the night before my mom died. And for some odd reason, she wanted to give my dad a good night kiss over and over again (she must have asked for one 13 times).

    We are forever changed, a compartment in our heart for mourning... I love that. And the cardinal!! What a connection we share, my firend. I was deeply touched by all the poems you shared and am looking forward to your collection.

    Thank you, too, Sherry. I'll keep your son in my prayers.

    1. Yes, so funny when I grabed a book to take with me, it was your book. As I sat by his bed, and read your poems, and you inspired me to write a poem as though we were chatting on that blue couch.


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