A Poem for Elliott Benson

Today I got an email from my friend Phil in New York – a dear friend from graduate school who has already seen me, ten years ago, through a difficult time. A few weeks ago I received a beautiful letter from him, and I wrote an email this morning to thank him for that, and to tell him about Ronan — what was new, how I was feeling, coping, living. I told him that life after Ronan, that after life, seems impossible sometimes to imagine, that I often cannot see myself living in it even though I’ll still be alive. I was writing this before breakfast and had already burst into tears three times. About thirty minutes later Phil wrote me back, and it was tears again — in the oatmeal this time. I do a lot of that these days — crying — and on this day, as is often the case, it is prompted by gratitude. Crying, sometimes, can be a kind of grace, especially if someone can hold you in that space, can ride that wave.

Phil reminded me of why I keep writing about Ronan, why it’s important, why I must go on thinking, working, living, being. It was what I most needed to hear.

Last Friday my friend Becky’s daughter, Elliott, passed away. Becky is and was a kind of grief mentor for me — she has been there for late night emails, questions, fears, everything. I think about her and her family every day. And about Elliott, a beautiful little girl whose presence, last March, was a kind of healing. From the very beginning, Becky and Elliott were my guides — how to suffer and survive. I went back to Phil’s book while I fed Ronan his prunes, and found a poem that resonated with the moment, with the passing of this life, with the helplessness I feel to assuage the suffering of another mother.

So this is the first section of a poem by Phil from his book Meditations on Rising and Falling. A beautiful poem for a beautiful girl who was loved wholly, completely, unconditionally — all the days of her life. Held by the hands of her parents, her sister, and by many who knew and loved her. 


Two Hands


We don’t, in truth, prepare

adequately, competently



for this. The letter

that arrives or, eventually,



the doorbell unfingered

still. The word un-

furled. We learn


from what we fear to run,

but this — what nothing

taught us the way


away from — runs with us.

With, a word we once loved.

The jacket we first slip


out of, then fold before the railing,

the finches building, even

as the island is sinking,


their nests. 

We each must make our peace

with what is evident


though mistakes are made — 

fearing you’ve misplaced 

God, you decide you might


have been misplaced, might

be about to be scooped 

into arms, blue and up.


-From Meditations on Rising and Falling (University of Wisconsin Press, 2008)

6 responses to “A Poem for Elliott Benson

  1. Oh, wow – this takes my breath away. We each must make our peace with what is evident. That’s the task of our lives, isn’t it? Beautiful. xox

  2. Simply beautiful. You have others crying in their coffee too. Maybe there are no answers to surviving through life with loss and suffering, and it truly seems impossible. But, I find sometimes you just have to continue to cry and Breathe.

  3. Thank you, again, for sharing yourself on these pages. I am reminded that our tears are prayers when we don’t have words.

    Continued prayers for Ronan, Rick and you.

  4. My heart goes out to Elliott’s family, and yours. Thank you for sharing such a moving tribute to life and love.

  5. Emily, I am not really writing a response to this post, and you don’t need to post it, but I am just reaching out to say that I am thinking of Ronan, and you, and your family. I have commented here before–my son is 2 years old, had a kidney transplant, and is now battling complications from the transplant. He is our whole hearts, and the words you have written always resonate. Thank you.

  6. I read the article about RIck Santorum and I can so understand your reaction and your point of view. I often wonder if I am the only person on earth who thinks that some children suffer beyond suffering, and it it would not have been better if they did not live… Usually I get a whole group of holy crappers on my back with their purpose of life and God is almighty…
    It is refreshing to hear from a mother who has been through a lot herself and hear her say that she wanted to save her son his suffering. Why are not more parents thinking like you… It seems that medical care has become keeping alive at all cost, no matter what consequences for kids and parents and families… My heart goes out to you and your little Ronan, and I hope that if he has to go, he can go in peace and that you might feel some peace too. I “love” you for touching this delicate subject. Ronan could not have had a better mother…

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