Missing our Matriarch, Poem on Grief

We can’t avoid the saddest part of our humanity and though we know we’ll have to deal with it, as my husband’s Aunt Pauline said, “It never gets easier.”

I haven’t posted in awhile because Cecile Gruer, my 86 year-old mother-in-law and matriarch of our family, passed away last week. There’s so much to say about her decline, measures that were taken to try to restore her health, and the month she spent under hospice care. The last time she celebrated a happy occasion with the family was her granddaughter’s wedding in September 2021. Even then, she wasn’t truly herself.

There’s much more to say about Cecile, who as a young girl in Poland, ran with her parents and siblings from the Nazi’s during WWII. She spent years in Siberia, freezing and starving. After the war ended, she was a teenager in an Austrian displaced persons camp. Her immediate family eventually moved to America, first to St. Louis and then to New York. She met Morris, another Holocaust survivor, in Brooklyn, NY and they married and built a home and family. So much to say…

The outpouring of sympathy from family and friends illustrates the importance of community. It may sound cliche, but it’s crucial to support each other when a life starts and when it ends.

Hubby and I are exhausted from the many months of Cecile’s decline, reeling from witnessing her personality change, saddened by her loss of communication, and grieving her passing. A tribute post will have to wait. Though Cecile didn’t die young, Jon Pineda’s poem on grief strikes a chord.

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task was published in The New York Times Magazine January 16, 2022 with commentary by Victoria Chang. She said, “I first read this poem on Twitter, and even though it’s a simple poem about grief, it stayed with me. I’m fascinated by the way that it discloses so much in its title, showing how a title can get important information out of the way so that the poem can breathe on its own. Yet the reader doesn’t know what the ‘task’ is until the third stanza. The poem is an example of how abundant emotions can be conveyed by stripping language down to the bone.”

My Sister, Who Died Young, Takes Up the Task

A basket of apples brown in our kitchen,

their warm scent is the scent of ripening,

and my sister, entering the room quietly,

takes a seat at the table, takes up the task

of peeling slowly away the blemished skins,

even half-rotten ones are salvaged carefully.

She makes sure to carve out the mealy flesh.

For this, I am grateful. I explain, this elegy

would love to save everything. She smiles at me,

and before long, the empty bowl she uses fills,

domed with thin slices she brushes into

the mouth of a steaming pot on the stove.

What can I do? I ask finally. Nothing,

she says, let me finish this one thing alone.

3 thoughts on “Missing our Matriarch, Poem on Grief

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