Riding Past Grief
2008, for Mezzo Soprano & Piano with optional narration of additional poetry.
Length: 10 minutes
Revision: 1
Difficulty: Moderate to Difficult
Cost per Copy: $12.50

Poet Deborah Rebeck Ash wrote the poems in her book Riding Past Grief during the year following her mom Joanne's passing from cancer in 1998.  I set these poems to music during and after my father's final months of life, and thus I have a strong relationship with both the text and the music.

The poems I set to music are as follows:

Poetry by Deborah Rebeck Ash

Final Moments

Breathe in life
    exhale living
    breathe in family
    exhale love
    breathe in love
    exhale living
    concentrated life
    basic essentials
    breathe in love
    exhale love
    breathe in family
    exhale love
    breathe in
    exhale ...

Author's note: Written the day she died, this poem recreates the last moments in my mother's life.  When she stopped talking, we surrounded her bed, held her hands, and told her we loved her.  I could feel love in every breath.

A Chocolate Moment

It was a chocolate moment
    aroused by sweet aroma.
Palatal senses prepare,
    plunge into richness,
    thick, full, savory.
You lived as a moment
    savoring its sweetness
    even when it melted,
    cancer-ravaged gooey mess.
Chocolate, still appreciated,
    became gifts to others.
When I bite into candy
    the sugar stirs, zings me
    into a momentary high.
Meeting you in chocolate moments,
    your joy coats my sorrow.
Everyone knew your weakness.
You lived a chocolate moment.

Author's note: Mother was a chocoholic.  It was one thing she would eat during chemotherapy treatment.  Lots of people showered her with chocolates.  After daintily nibbling on one, she ended up giving the rest to my children.


I wear her clothes.
I drive her car.
I have her genes.
I feel her energy
    when mine does wane.

I wear her watch upon my wrist.
I don her mother's ring.
I use her mirror.
I see the same eyes,
    though mine are brown.

I think like her.
I walk like her.
I almost feel I am her.
I hear her voice come from my
    but look in the mirror and still
    find me.

The songs were written for Linda Sheehan, who premiered them on March 14, 2009.  In the premiere, Tracey Mason also read other selections from the book Riding Past Grief before, in between, and after the songs were sung.  The selections read by Tracey were as follows:

The Way We Die
by Deborah Rebeck Ash

The way we die
    unlearned, unrehearsed.
We are novices
    on a journey
    with one chance.
It cannot be replayed
    or redone.

SING: Final Moments

Riding Past Grief
by Deborah Rebeck Ash

Quietness surrounds her contemplative persona.
Six weeks past from the Pinery she rushed
    to ailing grandmother's bedside,
    unaware her last hug it would be.
The dying one waited for her return,
    leaving this world shortly thereafter.
Tears were shed, mementos were found,
    especially those things with the grandma smell.
Wearing grandma's dress at memorial service,
    she grew up sparkling her grandmother's joy.
Cousins and aunts shared in the mourning.
Food sent by others helped us focus on being.
Back to school and living life,
    it's not every day you lose a grandmother.
And so the days went missing a presence,
    nose back in books, mind quietly busy,
    shedding dry tears, silently grieving.
She crafted an angel of copper bright wire.
Hung in her room, Joanne's angel was home.
Not much was said of her loss or her sorrow.
Youth does not know how to mourn death.
Homebound, carpool with kids after school,
    safe haven for riding past grief.
Turning a corner to the school where grandma taught,
    "There's grandma's room" she said quite aloud,
    a connection in seconds midst riding on memories.
No one else noticed, once it was out
    as natural as anything, innocent memory.
She's grieving as kids do, in their own way.
Small connections become milestones.

by Deborah Rebeck Ash

Champion of world bazaars, she collected
    souvenirs, travel remembrances,
    T-shirts from everywhere:
    Paris, Rhodes, Australia, Boston,
    Boca Grande, Montana, New York,
    Switzerland, Alaska, Hawaii.
She bought trinkets and priceless
    fine white sand, shells, and sea dollars,
    Norwegian sweaters, Mexican flutes,
    silver charms for her bracelets, Scottish dolls,
    British "Bobby" hats, stuffed bears,
    fine French perfume, German woodcarvings.
Armed with tour books, guide books, language books,
    menus, beer coasters, foreign currency,
    hotel complimentary soaps, toiletries
    in her purse of Mary Poppins proportions,
    she brought the world home to us.
Novel tourist, ageless and fearless,
    modern conqueror of Grand Canyon mules,
    Caribbean cruises: Aruba, Nassau, Bahamas,
    courageous Windjammer, burning plane jumper.
What remembrances of her do we now hold?
Well-worn shirts of worldwide manufacture,
    a hand-spun New Zealand woolen vest,
    Aborigine Digiridoo, Williamsburg fife replica.
She sent us the world via postcards
    marked with arrows pinpointing her room
    always telling us we'd love it there.
We'd have to come sometime and never did.
We met her once at Tivoli after her mother died
    and I was abroad missing the wake.
I wasn't ready for death then, half a world away.
I've seen the world through her souvenirs since then.
Now her collections remind me of her.

SING: A Chocolate Moment

Grief Tears
by Deborah Rebeck Ash

Grief tears are toxic.
They're hot and they sting,
    make your face red,
    make your heart burn.
They come without warning.
Toxic tears compress outsides within
    tightly pressed blocks steaming you flat.
Tears drain, running warm on dry skin
    ceaselessly dripping down cavernous cheeks.
My tears contort, stretch me, and pinch.
Rivers blocked by stiff dams,
    I try to keep going, keep happy, to smile.
Grief tears harass joy, peace, and living.
Flow free my tears, oceans of sorrow.
What can be left when they fill past the brim?
Toxic tears dilute in fresh living water.
Tears turn crystal clear cool in the light.
My tears scream out my loss.
Toxic grief tears must run their course.
Tears carry pollution away from my soul.

Grandma's Ring
by Deborah Rebeck Ash

I didn't understand why she wore that ring
    clutched in her hand the day her mother died,
    ordinary engagement ring set in platinum.
My mother wore grandma's ring as her own.

Now I wear the ring in familiar setting,
    eighty-year gem, old-fashioned cut,
    worn by three generations of women.
With it I feel balanced, complete.

I understand why she wore the ring,
    feeling her presence since first slipping it on,
    memories of women forging before me,
    diamond on each hand, today
    next to yesterday.

SING: Mother

My Daughter

by Joanne Rebeck

My daughter
A gift from God
My rock
Precious jewel with many facets-
Deep thinker – thoughts divine
Creator of
    music, art, written words,
    life, emotions, love, human depth,
Faces adversity with strength and Christian love,
Bent like the twig
Bounces back, braver, stronger
Priceless jewel –
    undeserving me.

Riding Past Grief (the songs) were written in 2008.

Have you performed this work? Please let us know when and where! Do you have any other comments, criticisms, or suggestions for the work? Let us know those too! Click here to send us an email.
Copyright © 2006-2019 Henry Flurry