The Hard Romance of Grief: Mark Liebenow riffs on losing a spouse

About a year ago I experienced the loss of someone close to me. The pillars shook, the sky fell, and the ground gave way. At times it felt as if I was adrift in white water and unable to swim. Many times I sought comfort in the written word. That is when I discovered the writings of Mark Liebenow.

This week’s guest post comes from Mark. He writes about grief from a very personal space: the loss of his beloved wife. The loss was unexpected, and the void incomprehensible. “I fear that if I do not face grief directly, it will tear me apart inside,” Liebenow writes. Mark has written a book and several articles. In this post he compares grief to romance. The similarity is enticing. I thank Mark for allowing me to share his work.

The Hard Romance of Grief

by Mark Liebenow

I admit it’s unexpected, but I find Grief romantic.

She gives me her undivided attention, but she’s bad-ass. A tiger-woman. Wounded-little-bird-woman. Wild frontier-woman with soft doe eyes and fishnet stockings. I never know what she’s going to do next.

Grief whispers in my ear, entices me to dig deeper into emotions than I want to go. Asks what I loved best about Evelyn, and twists the knife. “You don’t have that anymore, do you?” Then she slams me to the floor, walks out of the door.

Never a dull moment with her.

All I wanted was a fling, something to distract me for a month from the incessant battering of Death. I didn’t realize they were cousins and talked to each other behind closed doors.

I’m falling in love with her melancholy ways. She’s sexy and mysterious, but my god, so intense! When I finally straggle to bed, she crawls in beside, wanting to cuddle. But her skin is cold, and she stares. I don’t think she ever sleeps. Every night at 3 a.m. she wakes me to go party at the Bar of the Dead, a catacomb dive with morose skeletons listening to Tom Waits.

Push-me, pull-me. Whatever. She gets what she wants. A siren singing to my sailor, luring me to her crashing rocks. She’s manic. I’m depressive. We’re a great pair.

Grief strokes my hair, and listens as I pull out my heart in pieces and chunks. Pours another drink, says, “Tell me more.” But she has no memory, and tomorrow I’ll have to repeat my stories again.

She’s a roller-coaster ride through the dark with a 10-second loop.

She says suffering proves the depth of my love. I tell her to “Stuff it. I don’t need to prove anything to you!” She whacks me in the head. I call her names, she calls me worse. I apologize. It’s this way with us. But I could use less drama.

Grief is driving this big rig without brakes, and we’re barreling down the mountain highway so out of control that I scream until I pass out. When I wake up, she’s leaning over and says, “I will never leave you.” And I believe her. I have to. She’s all I have left.

One day she goes out for cigarettes and whiskey, and is gone for an hour. I get a tattoo of her, but when she leaves again and doesn’t return, I think I’m so pathetic that even Grief doesn’t want to hang around.

A year later, after I’ve forgotten about her and have begun talking to other women, she sneaks up, whacks me behind the knees, and down I go, sobbing. I wail that I missed her, but she brushes me off. Tells me not to forget again. And she’s gone.

She drops by now and then, especially when our song comes on, and asks if I’ve thought about X or Q. I haven’t. So I make coffee. We discuss Q, then X, and I come to see what she was trying to help me understand a year ago.

I thought I loved Grief, but what I wanted was to feel not dead.


This article was originally published by The Rebelle Society.

Mark Liebenow is the author of four books, most recently “Mountains of Light: Seasons of Reflection in Yosemite”, his account of going into nature to deal with grief. His essays, poems, and critical reviews have appeared in journals like the Colorado Review, Crab Orchard Review, and Fifth Wednesday Journal.

You can view his website at and follow him on Twitter at @MarkLiebenow2

Mark also has an excellent grief blog at

1 Comment

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One response to “The Hard Romance of Grief: Mark Liebenow riffs on losing a spouse

  1. Pasco Paul

    This prose is amazing! Liebenow writes in such a way that I can feel a shroud going over my heart. I never would have thought to compare grief and romance but it fits almost too well.

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