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Living with an unbearable loss

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Moving forward into the life you create in the wake of loss

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Welcome to the club you never wanted to be a member of

Jan Haag teaches journalism and creative writing at Sacramento City College where she is the chair of the journalism department and advises student publications. She is the author of Companion Spirit, a collection of poems about her husband’s death at the age of 48, published by Amherst Writers & Artists Press. She leads writing groups in Sacramento where the topic of grief and loss often arises. Read more of her beautiful writing here.

(for Christine, in memory of Carolyn Ralston)

We regret to inform you that you
are now a member of the club without
a name, without membership cards
or handshakes or even a commemorative pin,

but there are dues, and you are paying them
moment by moment as your mind hums
with the image of one who has suddenly
left or one who lingered over the long goodbye,

the one who has departed in body, if not
in name, whose smell lingers in the house,
on the bedsheets you changed after
what used to be her was taken away.

And you are left with duties
you never wanted—going home
after a busy work week to clean
out her side of the fridge, where

a wizened half of a chicken breast
rests, not to mention a gnawed-on
red bell pepper wearing her teeth marks
because she couldn’t use a knife,

her broken wrist still healing after
surgery. You are left—not a relative,
more than friend, but not girlfriend—
with the word you two used

to describe yourselves, which defines
the ache in your chest, the emptiness
in your gut, what used to be
the sweetest word you know—

family.

You cannot quit this club;
you have become
a permanent member.

Welcome to the family of man
where everyone has a lifespan
shorter than someone would like,
where, if you are lucky, you will

give and receive love that will
one day turn to grief, a fine and
proper penance for opening
your humble, trusting heart.

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