Grief and Zen literature

The road from grief to Zen


I began this biographical log as a place to park my short stories, hoping to add new ones as I went along.

When my wife died it became more of an autobiographical log, mostly about our life together, her death and my grief, becoming at times (in retrospect) an embarrassingly personal confessional.

My self-centered grief for the loss of a soulmate and my sorrow for her loss of life have not diminished. Some people find that pitiful and annoying. They lost loved ones over the years and they moved on, met other companions and so forth.


Why haven’t I? I’m reminded of a line by the poet W.B. Yeats: ‘An aged man is but a paltry thing / A tattered coat upon a stick.’

Certainly I’m aged now and in the scheme of things I’m definitely paltry, but my coat is still of good cloth. I could put it on and don my fedora or my Panama, depending on the season, and take a walk along the boulevard like I used to in my relative youth and perhaps, as I did then, catch the eye of a fine lady, older now but still jolly attractive.

The fact is I don’t have the interest or the inclination. I have my memories of S. and my books and a most companionable cat — not to mention my 80-proof security blanket (and yet I mentioned it!).

Grief and Zen literature
Ryokan (1758-1831)

Grief and Zen literature


Lately I am revisiting the Zen literature of Japanese writers and poets — Ryōkan, Bashō, Buson, Issa and others. The publishing house Shambhala Publications of Boulder, Colorado, has a large collection of excellent translations. They arrive on my doorstep. I never have to leave my bungalow, my ‘hut’ in the haiku-imbued north. It is snowing today.

The new year’s first snow / how lucky to remain alone / at my hermitage — Matsuo Bashō

Late at night, listening to the winter rain
Recalling my youth —
Was it only a dream? Was I really young once?
 — Ryōkan

Drawing at top by Matsuo Bashō in his classic travel chronicle ‘The Narrow Road to the Deep North.’

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3 thoughts on “The road from grief to Zen

  1. Thank you, Michele, I appreciate you saying that. I try, but it’s difficult sometimes. As you wrote in your book, “Life is full of curves and lines.”

  2. It is my pleasure. Thank you for remembering and sharing a quote from my poem, “Curves.” I am honored (and impressed). Enjoy your day.