Category Archives: grieving

Tough Cookie–Ethel Polk


Tough Cookie

Last night at dinner,
animated and laughing, she said
her cheeks were swollen and red
with a sinus infection
the time she was supposed to
meet Billie Holiday.
And a guy, possibly a musician,
maybe a manager, in any case,
he had a remedy that involved
smoking something, which she did
and it made her nose run,
but Billie Holiday did not come.

This was after Ethel had fallen earlier
that evening, injuries unknown but stiffening,
after the folk concert to which we all had gone,
after the extra help to get out of the car,
the painful short walk to the table.

After the century of living,
working, remembering, loving, and losing,
picking up after each fall, healing,
continuing to live, to connect,
relishing food, red wine, people, music,
near blind, but the next day
having a guest for brunch.

After the congenial dinner at Shokran
one woman got her standing,
kept her from the broken glass,
two strong men helped her walk out,
carefully, no rush, to the waiting car at the curb,
one woman carried her bag,
one willing woman held the door,
another kind man drove the car.

“Why do so many people help me?”
she said she’d asked
and the answer came back:
“because they love you!”
And she’d replied, “Am I worthy?”
And I would say to that:
We are all worthy
we are all loved.

As you ask, it is answered,
whatever you’ve sent out
returns multiplied.
And…people like to help—
makes us feel less helpless.
Grace is not earned but given
freely to everyone
not just to Ethel at 101.
Who knows the purpose of a day,
every astonishing one
until our allotted time is run?

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2018

And the rest of the story: Ethel Polk ended up in the ER that night where they found she had broken her hip! She had surgery and recovered, continuing to live vibrantly.

Until yesterday, when she died at the hospital from several things, including COVID. She is already dearly missed.

Sun Through Orchid, Copyright 2013 M D Mikus

Two Poems of Comfort

Egret in St. Pete’s by Margaret Dubay Mikus, Copyright 2008

I posted the following comment on Facebook in response to Tiffany’s request for stories upon Bill Farber’s birthday, 3/24/17, (He passed away a year ago):

“Twenty years ago Bill Farber was my Reiki teacher. He said something surprising that I still remember: that getting a Ph.D. in microbiology was the perfect training for becoming a poet.

When I was diagnosed with breast cancer 6 months later, he offered to do Reiki sessions for me before each chemotherapy, for no charge. I thought of it as making sure my energy batteries were fully charged and it made a big difference to how I handled chemo and how quickly I healed. Although we lost track of each other over the years, I continued to think of him as my teacher and was shocked and unexpectedly bereft when he died last year.

Tiffany, I don’t know if you remember meeting me when I was at the house one time, and you read me a poem you had written. It was very powerful and moving (and felt quite real, though I found out it was fiction). It inspired my poem, “To Tiffany (This came out of your poem),” which is very different from my usual style of writing. I included it in my book, As Easy as Breathing: Reclaiming Power for Healing and Transformation. As often happens, the death of your Dad also prompted me to write a poem, “The Passing of Bill Farber.”

I think I emailed both of them to your Mom. If you’d like to have them, let me know. Hang in there on this day of remembrance. <3<3”

So here they are, two very different poems of comfort, written 20 years apart.

The first is from my book, As Easy as Breathing: Reclaiming Power for Healing and Transformation. I wrote this at the beginning of chemotherapy, a time I very much needed comfort. (And yes, I had an actual stuffed bunny like this one.)

To Tiffany:

(This came out of your poem)

I snuggle deep
in my pink nest
with the bunny
I love the best.

He is comfort
and fuzzy forgiving,
always reflecting
loving and living.

His ears have
the softest fur,
white and warm
and so secure.

I hug him close
before I sleep
then put him up
on my pillow to keep

watch over me
as I sink to the deep
dark depths or float
or fly or weep.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 1996

And the second is from my poetic journal, my personal response to yet another loss:


The Passing of Bill Farber

Death lesson
like a toddler
learning object

When the object
becomes unseen
does not mean it is gone
it can come back
or come back in another form.

And death is like that
they say: not gone altogether
but gone away and yet
he or she is still somewhere
still existing…somewhere

perhaps to return
or reunite with
perhaps slipped out the door
to other dimensions
parallel or infinite

waiting with the others
speaking if spoken to
aware yet somehow distant
listening to the big picture
expanded from who they were here.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2016

33–“Soon Enough” from “Frazzle”

Sun-Soaked Gerber Daisy by M D Mikus, Copyright 2016

“…as if I could
plan my time to feel

as if you did not
understand, but…

you have never faced
such circumstance.…”

From poem 33, in Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine: Poems of Grace, Hope, and Healing. Listen to the entire poem here:

I will say only this: It is essential to be kind…to ourselves and those around us. And be as generous as you can. It is for our own good. Who do we want to be?

For more poem videos from “Frazzle”

32–“Thanksgiving Grieving” from “Frazzle”

Dad’s Planes by Margaret Dubay Mikus, Copyright 2016

“I can see him sitting there
so plainly on the kitchen chair,
cutting giblets for stuffing and gravy,
wanting help or company…”

From poem 32, “Thanksgiving Grieving,” in my book, Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine: Poems of Grace, Hope, and Healing. Listen here:

I prepare in the moment for the day’s reading. Although I wrote the book and have read it many times, I don’t look ahead at what poems are coming. As it turned out, I was taken by surprise by today’s poem, “Thanksgiving Grieving,” which was very emotional to read. The first several times through I couldn’t get to the end without tears. I wanted to skip this one (who would notice, really?) and yet…

I’m committed to this task set out before me: one poem a day, from start to finish of “Thrown Again into the Frazzle Machine.” It is not about perfect performance in an ideal world, rather it is you and me sitting at my old maple kitchen table and I’m reading as honestly and as best I can right then. My purpose in that moment is to deliver that poem. Always a part of me wants to get it “right.” Even if that is safer, it may not be as human, as healing, as powerful. I trust. I stay with my inner guides, breathe, do my best, and let it go, as open-hearted as I can.

Note: We are still at the beginning of the book. This poem begins a long narrative thread about our parents, my Dad who had passed on years before, and the other three remaining. All woven into the fullness of life.

Is there some loss you have already dealt with, that can overtake you unexpectedly? Blessings.

For more poem videos from the “Frazzle” series

Poems for Jenny Cooper

Chicago Botanic Garden Copyright 2016 MDMikus

Chicago Botanic Garden, Copyright 2016 MDMikus

A few years ago, I connected on Facebook with Jenny Cooper, another member of Eric Whitacre’s Virtual Choir. She had a breast cancer diagnosis and I sent her my book, As Easy as Breathing: Reclaiming Power for Healing and Transformation, to help if it could. (I wrote the book during my own cancer journey.) She was in her thirties with a loving husband, Chris, and two young sons. She became a vigorous online presence, healthcare advocate and educator, putting up vivid, honest videos of her ongoing journey. Jenny chose to life fully in every way. Despite aggressive treatment, her cancer returned and continued  to grow.

She went on hospice this summer and is now dying. I wrote these poems in the last few months in support and condolence, to help me as much as anyone. (My youngest sister was also dealing with stage 4 cancer, but is holding on at this point.) I stayed connected with both Jenny and her husband as she declined. I do not know why things happen as they do, but I do know that life has meaning. Jenny’s life touched so many and will continue to.


For Jenny Cooper
and Chris

In the mist
of dying
is the living

A hand to hold
is everything
a witness
to all of it

What is meaning
anyway, but
knowing you will be

One way you leave
other ways you stay
no way to not be

Your own personal
flavor of immortality
your peace-heart
expanding out to the sky

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2016



For Jenny—One of Our Virtual Choir Family

What did you think
the end would look like?
Not this pain and suffering
more medications not covering
more drugged sleeping.

The bubble you live in
becoming smaller and smaller
time with husband and boys shorter.

Yes, the bucket list accomplished
the daily online posts
that express and convince
connecting still to the outside.
But why is this?
And why you?
A mystery as all of it
unfolds relentlessly.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2016



All the Days Are Numbered

Jenny and Chris Cooper

This is what dying looks like
on the good days
like living but sharper
like living but clearer
like living but deeper
the choices and chances more limited now

What is important cuts through the clutter
to take a pain-free breath
to savor a juicy peach
to hear your child’s laugh
to look in the eyes of, talk with,
hold the hand of your beloved

This is what the end looks like up close
at the edge of the unknown
all the love you have gathered to you
all the love you sent back out
This…noticing. This profound…awareness
of the part the path you walk alone…
and never alone, entirely still.

Margaret Dubay Mikus
© 2016

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