I opened up Sheree Fitch’s memoir in poetry You Won’t Always be this Sad and was sobbing by page thirty. The famous Maritime author breaks our hearts once again as we follow along on her journey through grief after her son, Dustin, died at thirty-seven on March 2, 2018. Fitch describes the path to the other side of grief as a labyrinth: one gets lost in a labyrinth, often has to backtrack, finds themselves back where they started, loses a sense of grounding when there’s no sight over the walls, but a labyrinth has an exit. Thus, the memoir is in three sections: releasing, walking into the labyrinth; receiving, pausing in the centre of the labyrinth; and returning, leaving the labyrinth.
Releasing is the most emotionally intense third of the book, the first poem which introduces her son’s death initially talks about life, about bees buzzing to say “hello, again/ yes, we’re alive so very alive. . .” (15), before Fitch receives a phone call from her son who is choking. Presenting this scene and all other moments in the collection as poetry adds to the visceral and emotional intensity of it all because the structure of a poem can be manipulated to reflect the content more than prose can. Sheree Fitch utilizes the whole page, she plays with word structure, with shadow and negative space, in order to convey to readers— as close as she can— the pain she feels. All parts of the poem, the whole structure, reflect its content:
incoherent rattle babble
syllable slip trips staccato —
p o ohh
Fitch stretches out the word stretcher (16), shatters the word shattered among shapes like shattered glass (22), compares herself to a wolf howling in pain along the shape of a dark moon (44). She pulls words apart to add to their meaning: on the phone, a repeating dial tone is drawn out to “die all” (32), “now” in “who are you now” is “n-o/ ow/ Full of pain this now/ full of no it cannot be like this” (149).
Of course, as much as poetry helps convey the emotional reality of an event through structure, it still cannot reach even close to the actual emotional reality. I was sobbing reading, but when Fitch writes “Not everything can be written down. Not this/ Not everything can be re-written. Not this,” as she writes “this,” I believe her. The immense pain and suffering that emanates from her poetry does not touch the immense pain and suffering she must have felt in losing her son. As she writes, no mother should have to bury her child.
It is through religion and gratitude that Fitch begins to recover, to accept the loss (stand in the centre of the labyrinth), and move on more or less (leave the labyrinth). Fitch uses epigraphs quite intentionally in the memoir. One selected epigraph at the beginning of the entire text is a quote from her son, “because you know, mama, you can’t lose the music,” which she remembers and repeats as she re-learns to find gratitude and acceptance in her current life— now. Of course, now is still a n-o ow, but that doesn’t mean that all music is lost in grief. She also quotes Dante Alighieri and M. Travis Lane at the beginning of the first part. The experience of navigating the labyrinth that is grief is encompassed in Lane’s quote: “what makes us think the heart breaks once? It breaks all day. It breaks like rain. All that I did not want to bear has been born, and what I mend has to be mended all over again.” Sheree Fitch has to continue to walk through the labyrinth, and feel pain over and over again, keep walking to feel okay to do things like go to grocery stores again. The comparison to Dante also works on many levels, as Dante is guided through hell and up to heaven in the Divine Comedy. Sheree Fitch navigates a labyrinth that is a hell, and through guidance, love, and spirituality, she comes to the conclusion: “Dee is everywhere/ look my love,/ There he is!” And further, “Spirit’s silver-shimmer/ God’s glory-glitter/ Everywhere” (207-208).
As the collection progresses, Fitch writes that she is grateful for more and more things. We read as she becomes less and less sad. Every person in her life is a Mother Mary who is there to help guide her through this pain, and she feels grateful for dreams about Elmer Fudd giving the weather report because she has “such a beautiful place to be sad in, look at that river,/ sparkling [. . .]/ Elmer Fudd gave [her] the weather report in a dream and [she] woke up/ laughing and have a beautiful place to be sad in.”
Reading through this short but impactful poetry memoir is an emotional rollercoaster. When I say I sobbed I mean I sobbed. But while Fitch breaks your heart she shows you how to mend it again, how she mended it. When the world feels like it is over and everything has shattered around you, she reminds you, readers, as much as she reminds herself: you won’t always be this sad.
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