Freedom to Grieve

Protecting grief from "closure," consumerism, politics, and other cultural distortions

Thirteen Years

My hear knows the way in grief.

On February 2, my family and I remembered our son Zachariah who was stillborn thirteen years ago. The notes, flowers, and words of comfort we continue to receive from friends and family are precious. Thank you. When people were reminded that it has been thirteen years, often they’d say, “Oh, he would have been a teenager.” Painful words of what is not to be. It is hard to grasp his absence. I try to find comfort in holding his presence. Words failed me more often than not this weekend. In his memory, I dedicate this poem.

Thirteen Years

Fresh snow covers the earth
Swallowing roads in white.
No need waiting till a path clears
My heart knows the way after thirteen years.

Finding a grave covered in snow
With every step, new footprints show.

Falling to my knees
Breathing tender cold,
Empty arms extending
With only a flower to hold.

Tenderly brushing until his name shows.
Kissing petals of a yellow rose.

Gently quiet
Falls the snow,
Peaceful and still,
Before it’s time to go.

Turning to leave, a look back
“Will my tracks help others,”
I pause to wonder,
“When lives are torn asunder?”

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Fresh grief covers the earth.
New tracks will appear.
Your imprints on my heart
Will never disappear.

“I see your footprints, little one.”
Whispering through tears,
“My heart knows your way after thirteen years.”


Nancy Berns
Zachariah’s Mom 

Nancy Berns, Ph.D., is an Associate Professor of Sociology at Drake University and the author of Closure: The Rush to End Grief and What It Costs Us.


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