Grief’s Shadowed Path, Poems of Loss and Healing by Hilary Smith

The biography of Hilary Smith reads like this: The Rev. Dr. Hilary Smith is a writer, poet, theologian and retreat giver.She has previously worked in hospice, hospital, prison and parish ministry. Her particular interest is in supporting people who are bereaved and those living with any kind of loss. Her retreats and workshops offer safe, compassionate and gentle spaces for the tending of grief and the nurturing and strengthening of body, mind, and spirit. Her faith and life, which is grounded in Celtic spirituality, inspires her creativity and work. She also gives retreats on the Celtic way and is a Spiritual Director, an Anam Cara, offering accompaniment as a soul friend and companion.

And here she writes from her heart, in a chronicle of her last months with her beloved father, his death, and the time that has passed since then.

Because Grief’s Shadowed Path is very specific, very personal — the story of one daughter’s loss of a father — it invites readers into dialogue with their own losses. I alternated between reading her beautiful poetry and reflecting on experiences in my own life and the lives of my parishioners. A wonderful book for personal grief work and for caregivers.

Read some of these poems — a few of my favorites, probably because they mean something to me. I’ve chosen the second one Magnificat just because I think how very helpful it is in the Advent season soon to begin to think about our losses and the gifts behind them.

from Grief’s Shadowed Path

dreaming

I listen to you talk about what you did today
your wry comments
and I tell you about my day –
Who said what
who did what
that sort of thing.

You are sitting in your chair
puzzling out the Codeword.

I am making a Shepherd’s pie
your favourite

ordinary
habitual
companionable
all good.

With a start
I awaken
disoriented
punched in the gut
by a dream
of vanished days.

ordinary
habitual
sharing
companionable

all gone.

Magnificat

Baubles
tinsel and trees
carols and Father Christmas
eating chocolate
over-spending and jollity overload.

the first Christmas
without you
dreading it.

Handshakes and smiles at the church door
Merry Christmas
Happy Christmas

Whose?

The poor?
hungry?
oppressed?
ill?
prejudiced against?
bereaved?
those sent by their countries to kill
and be killed.?

Merry?
Happy?

Christmas
for you
was always
about Mary’s song.
Magnificat.

Lives
opened up
looking forward
refusing to give up hope.

the most courageous trust
the deepest love
compassion and challenge.

the sentiments of your Christmas
and mine.

soul friends

I want to be on my own
where no one will find me.

Margaret and May, Mary, Kevin and Bill,
e-mailing, consoling,
listening, holding,
comforting.

Anne and Scott, Esma, David, John, and Grant,
shopping, cooking,
phoning , texting,
dependable

Eva, Hilario, Dorothy, Ken, Jenny,
there

Chris, Danny, William, Murray, Jean, Yve, Odile,
sharing, sustain, space-giving,
always in the background

Clive,
loving me, moving me on

healing voices
loving presences
gifts from God
without them …

I would not be here.

fragments of light

Gentle
healing
balancing
past and present.

Wounds are now places
where the light enters me.

Gifted grace takes me to a different place
to the cherishing of life
the nurturing of love.

the images
the echo of words
I thought
I had lost or left behind
have created a palace of memory
in my heart
to which I often return.

Your eyes sparkle again.
You tell stories
by the sea.
You bless me with love

What some others have said:

These intensely personal poems resonate with love of place and environment and, more importantly, with the love between daughter and father, close friends and family. While these poems arise specifically from Hilary’s grief following the death of her father, they are a reminder to the reader that grief is many-faceted and reshapes our sense of self. –Lynne Frith, Poet, teacher, theologian and Methodist Presbyter, Auckland, New Zealand

Grief’s Shadowed Path takes us to a heart-wrenching encounter with death. Hilary Smith’s poetry reveals the vulnerability of self-realization when the death of a loved one threatens to swamp personal response and disturb being understood by others. In the best of senses, this courageous book, simply, offers means for personal reflection and meditation. Hilary reveals her heart, broken, yet in her loss, finding a legacy of renewal and strength. –John Fairbrother, Priest, poet and former Director of Vaughan Park Anglican Retreat and Conference Centre, Auckland, New Zealand.

It is available through Amazon.com and Amazon.co.uk, direct from Vaughan Park, admin@vaughanpark.org.nz, EV Publishing,  even better through Hilary herself hilary@spiritofbradan.com, (and, of course) various bookshops in NZ.

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