Physics of Grief

Before I could feel grief’s full weight,
love came to meet it, and though love did not
take away the grief, not even a picogram,
it dispersed the grief into its smallest bits,
as if to increase the surface area interface
so now every single atom of grief
is surrounded, is cushioned by love.

My friend offers me words in Igbo.
Udo diri, he says. There is peace, somehow.
How, when my bright beamish boy is dead?
Yet here in the unlikely physics of grief,
love holds so tenderly each smallest bit,
and somehow, my boy, can you feel it? peace.

Short List of Wonders

Years from now,
I want to remember
the way tears
became white doves
and flew away,
the way stepping stones
appeared to help me
cross an impossible
river, the way
a crumpled letter arrived
from the dead
to proclaim
I am surrounded with joy.
Oh woman who lives
in my skin years from now,
don’t try to pretend
it didn’t happen.
It did. A rainbow
blossomed above
your shoulder.
Your head opened up
to receive golden light.
Life wrapped its strong hands
around your heart.
And when you asked
your son, Are you close,
you felt against your ribs
a knocking
from the inside.

For two hours, I am the woman
who works at the orphanage, the woman
who falls in love with a man from India
who is not who he says he is.
He and I make love for hours beneath a mirror,
twining our limbs in a sea of silk,
and he shows me the pleasure
of losing the stories I’ve told myself
about what is possible with love.
When, after many pages, we arrive at happily ever after,
I find myself on the couch in my kitchen,
notice my own thick legs curled beneath me,
my own raw heart in my tired chest
doing its faithful work. I’m surprised
to return to my own story:
the woman who is grieving—the woman
in the empty room who listens
for the voice that isn’t there, who listens
for the footsteps that do not come.
I am the woman whose son took his life;
rewrite: I am the woman still learning how to love him.
For the last two hours, I had forgotten her,
had forgotten this woman whose story I know as my own.
I had forgotten the ache she carries,
the constant throb. Though it cuts, though it wounds,
I am so grateful to return to her life,
to her story—the story of how she gave her everything
to someone she loved, how she knows he loved her, too.
Though their story isn’t one she had wanted to live,
it’s the story she would never give up, not a second of it.
He is still teaching her, even now, even now.
Such a gift to be this woman being rewritten by love,
love with its infinite ink. Even now,
she meets the next blank page of her life.
Love holds the pen.

From the Inside

In these days when the torrents of grief flood deep,
when sorrow pools like blood on the floor,
in these days when I can do nothing but meet this moment,
when I am too spent to say hello,
love comes to meet me where I am.
It holds me while I cry. It cradles me where I sit.
It steps with me as I walk. There was, at first,
a moment when I tried to push it away,
alarmed by this onslaught of love.
Too much, I protested, arms up in resistance,
but love obliterated my no.
It moved in to hold me from the inside,
slipped into my tissue, my bones,
it infused itself into each tiny cell, each organelle,
and made inside me a home. Since that moment,
I am never alone. Now it is love that moves my hand.
Love that shapes each word. Love that helps me rise.
Love that pours the tea.
Love that wakes with me in the middle of the night.
Autonomic love that makes the heart beat,
autonomic love that makes the lungs breathe.
autonomic love that meets the impossible grief
and surrounds it with an impossible grace.
Love that grips me around the heart
as if to save me from drowning.
Love that murmurs again and again,
I’ve got you, Sweetheart, I’ve got you.

As Francis lay dying
in his humble hut,
he wrote a praise poem
that honored Sister Death.
And when death came
to dance with him,
he did not shun her
nor shame her nor
push her away.
He embraced her
the way he embraced
the sun, the wind,
the water, the air.
He claimed her as family,
as dance partner, guide.
Oh Francis, here
in the hut of my heart
is a wooden box of ashes
about the size of a baby.
I can cradle it, carry it,
sway with it slow
the way I once did
with the boy in the box, now dust,
the boy the coroner
swaddled in white.
I did not want this dance.
I stumble. I trip.
I am awkward, ungainly.
Sister Death is certain, serene.
I would have barred
the doors if I could have, Francis,
but now she walks with me,
sleeps with me, makes
dinner and cleans with me.
There is no locking her out.
She brings me the costliest gifts:
Trust in life. Immeasurable love.
Perfume of the great mystery.
I tell her I’d trade them all back
for my son. She whispers,
Oh, sister. Dance with me.

New Mantra

To this day with its deepening whirlpools of grief,
I say okay. Okay to the way I am swirled
and pulled down. Okay to the thick muscled sorrow.
Okay to the throat with its clenching, its tightness.
Okay to the ambush of tears.
On this day when saying yes to the world
is too shiny, too perky, too yes, too bright,
on this day with its churning currents of pain,
on this day when there is no clear path forward
at least I do not say no.
Okay, I say, as I pull on my clothes. Okay,
I say, as I don’t make the call. Okay
is my life vest, my life raft, my passage.
I’m grateful it isn’t a verb. Okay.
Okay. Okay, I say, blessed by its unstriving truth.
Okay, I say as the whirlpool spits me out.
Okay as another pulls me down again.


I did not know how beautiful,
grief could be, how generous—
like an improvised cello sonata
in a minor key, a melody
that leaps and wails, unfurls
into harmonic bloom
and makes the whole body
tremble. There is a purity
in it—a sweetness that says
you are here and I will hold you
as long as you meet me.

When others tell me
they wish they could take
some fraction of the pain,
I thank them and I mean it,
but I would not let them
take even the tiniest portion.
To meet grief is to be
deeply steeped in love,
to know the self as wildly alive,
tugged apart by beauty, by loss.

And grief draws its bow
across the strings of the moment—
sonorous and lyrical.
Oh this sensuous rush of the world.
And how is it through tears, through ache,
through breathtaking pain,
I find myself saying thank you?

Digging Potatoes, 2021

Dear friends, 

It has been seven weeks since I sent you a poem–seven weeks since my son chose to take his life. Thank you for all the ways you’ve supported me in this time–prayers, emails, letters, gifts. Though I have been unable to respond to all your kindness with personal notes, please accept my enormous gratitude. Thank you. Thank you for all the love and kindness I have felt surrounding and infusing me–I have never felt alone. I am so grateful for you. 

I think I am ready to continue the daily sharing. We’ll see how it goes. 

with love, 

Digging Potatoes, 2021

I am not the woman I was
a year ago when my son and I
harvested potatoes. Today
I must look like her—
bare hands in the dirt,
sunhat on. But she did not know
the deep loss of losing a son.
Perhaps she’d imagined it.
That is why she did everything
she could to keep such a loss
from happening. But the woman
I am today knows all too well
what I cannot control.
I plunge my fingers
into the cold earth
and talk to my son
as if he can hear me.
I miss you, I say. And I reminisce
about all the other years
we did this together. I ooh
at the size of the potatoes,
hold them up as if he can see.
What does love care of absence?
Love grows, despite death—
it roots in each cell and insists
on tendrilling, touching everything.
In the middle of the night,
a voice commanded me to remember:
Life needs us to live it.
All day I puzzle over the message.
All day I lean into the words.
I say them out loud as I pull out
potatoes, ask my son what he thinks
it might mean. No reply. He has become
one with life now in a way
I cannot yet understand.
And so I breathe into it, this chapter
of loss, this life needing me to live it.
All around me, inside me,
I notice how so much is changing, notice
in each moment, a new invitation.

photo from 2018, Real Life Photographs

Some people come into the world and bring shine to everything they touch. Finn Thilo Trommer, born on September 11, 2004, exuded radiance. Wherever he went, he brought his curiosity, tenacity, discipline, integrity and goofiness. In the classroom, he achieved straight A plusses. He won the fencing tournament, the chess tournament and the science fair. He built his own gaming computer, then built computers for his friends, too. Finn was, as a family friend once noted, “150 percent alive.” He gave everything. Everything.

He loved using his body: He danced for eight years with Palm Dance learning hip hop and tap with Keri Sutton and had recently begun ballet. He loved skiing and learned to do backflips. He joined the golf team and took up tennis. Finn loved using his hands: building Legos, making wooden crafts, making stained glass and mosaics. He loved using words: he was an articulate communicator, mature beyond his years. He loved using his brain, and he endlessly researched what interested him most: cars, the stock market, gaming and photography. He sought out mentors who would push him—and many adults poured their love, energy and time into him, helping him become his best self. The family thanks every one of these people.

Perhaps most of all, Finn loved using his heart. He cared deeply about others and went to great lengths to be kind. One classmate recalls how when she was struggling on a backpacking trip, Finn carried her backpack for her. Another remembers how he helped her and other younger dance students feel included when they levelled up. He travelled to Guatemala and participated in mission work in Chujulimul. And for years, Finn volunteered once a week at the library with his mentor Dan Bergstrom-Noel tutoring other students in math.

Finn also had a strong sense of patriotic duty. He planned to join the military and hung an American flag in his bedroom.

He was a button pusher. A provocateur. He could never understand why others didn’t also bring their best, and sometimes he pushed others harder than they wished to be pushed. He loved to argue for the joy of arguing. In a town of liberals, he was a conservative. In a state that legalized marijuana, he was staunchly against its use. He loved country music and cello. He was so utterly, unapologetically himself, stumping any stereotype.

Because he was so blessed, it is hard, perhaps, to understand why he took his own life on August 14, 2021. Perhaps some people are so radiant because they have to be—because they have an inner struggle that forces them to show up brilliant just to be able to meet a morning. This was the side of Finn that few outside his closest circle knew. He was never satisfied. He was insatiable for experiences and knowledge and things—almost as if there were a hole inside that could never be filled. He felt life so deeply—felt it all. He desperately wanted to feel at peace, and despite therapy, mentorship, medication, unconditional love and other healing modalities, peace eluded him. His first word was “shadow”—a word that now feels prophetic. He was forever linked to both the light and the darkness, and though it was the darkness that took him, it is also what shaped him into the luminous being he was.  

He was known to his mother Rosemerry Wahtola Trommer as My Beamish Boy and Finnito Bambino; to his father Eric Trommer as Tall Man; to his sister Vivian Rose Trommer as Finny; to his sister Shawnee Trommer Adelson and her husband Drew Watts simply as Finn, to his grandmother Julianne Wahtola as Sunny Funny Finn, to his grandfather Charles Wahtola as Finnstermuffin, and to his gaming friends as Green Tractor.

The family thanks the community for all the generous love and support in this difficult time—we are astonished by the goodness of people. The love doesn’t diminish the pain of his loss, but it helps us meet the pain and move forward. Finn was a comet—brilliant, then no longer here, but not gone. With his unrelenting realness, he forced others to meet the world as it is. Let x equal x. In Finn’s memory, consider an act of kindness, especially toward someone who pushes your buttons. A community gathering will be planned in the future.

A short update

Dear Friends, 

I have never felt such an infusion of love. And I have never needed it more. Thank you. 

This is the most difficult time of my life. My beautiful, beloved boy, Finn Thilo Trommer, killed himself on Saturday, August 14. He would have turned 17 on September 11.

As I wrote to one of his mentors earlier tonight:

“It was something I have known about Finn since he was born. He carried inside him a deep unease, a lack of peace. He expected so much of the world—he wanted everyone to be as dedicated and as 150% as he was. He shined so brightly, I believe, because he had to summon that much luminosity just to meet the darkness that was ever inside him. And so although the inner struggle is what eventually killed him, I refuse to vilify it, because it is also what shaped him into the radiant and magical being he was. He lived such a big, rich, full life. He gave everything. Everything. He was a comet. Astonishingly brilliant and then gone. I pray every day now that he finds the peace he never had in this life. I pray that peace finds him. That he feels what it is to know no lack. To know his own beauty and sufficiency.”

In fact, I pray this for all of us–that we may all know for a certainty the love that supports us, that is all around us, that is us. I pray that we may all know beauty and communion with the world, with each other, with the divine. I pray for us to know and practice love, to choose it in every moment. 

I am so grateful for all the notes you send. I read each of them, and as I read them, I thank each of you by name. I am sorry i cannot respond to you all personally, but please know that your love is sustaining me. I don’t know how anyone would ever meet this heartbreak, this devastation, without a tsunami of love. 

I have been deep in a cocoon of grief and love. This weekend I will celebrate the wedding of my wonderful stepdaughter to an amazing man. In the meantime, I am protecting this tender, raw space in which I am able to meet grief so nakedly, in which love is transforming me in the most astonishing ways. I am being rewired, rewritten, remade. It is the most unwanted and powerful gift I have ever been given. 

It will be a bit longer before I resume the daily poems–I am not ready yet to have any commitment beyond meeting each moment. I want to experience every second of this, to feel it all, and it is taking all my energy. But soon there will be poems to share. They are shaping me, helping me meet this most heartbreaking, heart-opening time. 

If you pray, please pray for the peace of all who do not know peace–pray for my son and for anyone who has been unable to find peace in an enduring way. 

I have never been more certain that love is everything. Everything. It matters so much how we treat each other, how we treat ourselves. I am so grateful for you, friends. 


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