Bereavement Poems and Readings


            This is a list of poems and readings that I have found meaningful and affecting, both for myself and for clients, family, and friends. They are not only about bereavement, but also touch on awareness of mortality, aging, dying, death, and how we find meaning in and make sense of these existential realities that we all must face.

            The poems express a wide range of emotions and understandings of these issues. They encompass sadness, anger, fear, anxiety, shock, wonder, joy, humor, relief, bitterness, frustration, disgust, distress, despair, resignation, indignation, rebellion, and more. Some are religious or spiritual. Others are cynical or satirical.

            If you pass them on to others, be careful. Make sure that you respect the person’s perspective and focus, their feelings, beliefs, and values. Be aware of where they are in this process, what they can take in, and what they may not be ready, willing, or able to face. 

            I stress this because of something I did, when I was a home health social worker in the early years of the AIDS epidemic. There wasn’t much hope for a cure at that time. Probably more for my own needs, I read David Bergman’s poem, Death and the Young Man, to a young man with AIDS. He became furious and summarily “fired” me as his social worker. He was focused on living, not dying. I came away humbled, but had learned an important lesson.


Time heals nothing...
A mother who lost her son to AIDS

Shall I cry out in anger...?
Morris Adler

 Stop All the Clocks
W.H. Auden

 Death and the Young Man
David Bergman

 The Widow
Nicky Bregman

 The Secret
Charles Bukowski

John Donne

 On Mourning the Loss of a Loved One
Sigmund Freud

Robert Frost

 Nothing Gold Can Stay
Robert Frost

 Do not stand at my grave and weep
Mary Elizabeth Frye

Nikki Giovanni

 It’s Good that Old People Get Crotchety
Charles Harper-Webb

The Cure
Albert Huffstickler

Kozan Ichikyo

 Man is frail..., Life has meaning...
Jewish (Yizkor) Memorial Reading

Jane Kenyon

 Fear of Death Awakens Me
Jane Kenyon

 American Indian Wisdom
Stephen Levine

 Glad I Didn’t Waste Money
Charlotte Mayerson

W. S. Merwin

 Dirge without Music
Edna St. Vincent Millay

Time Does Not Bring Relief
Edna St. Vincent Millay

 Grief is madness
Paul Monette

Naomi Shihab Nye

 The Art of Disappearing
Naomi Shihab Nye

John O’Donohue

Mary Oliver

 Summer Day
Mary Oliver

When Death Comes
Mary Oliver

White Owl
Mary Oliver

 Winter Hours
Mary Oliver

 Dulce et Decorum Est
Wilfred Owen

 Awareness of Mortality
Laura Perls

 Edges of Emptiness
Marge Piercy

 For Mourning
Marge Piercy

When a Friend Dies
Marge Piercy

Jewish Prayer of Remembrance
Jack Riemer & Sylvan Kamens

 Poems from the Japanese
Kenneth Rexroth

Rabbi Harold Shulweis

 Fear no more...
William Shakespeare

 Sonnet 64, When I Have Seen...
William Shakespeare

 Do Not Go Gentle into that Good Night
Dylan Thomas

 Twenty-Third Psalm

An Affirmation for Loss
James E. M. Willowgreen


 Last Update: 11/20/13

Stephanie Sabar, MSW, LCSW