6 Grief Poems That Transform Pain Into Beauty

After all the training you go through as funeral professionals, it can still be difficult to find the right words of solace to offer families who are navigating grief.

Even for myself — who has been working with funeral professionals for many years now — find myself turning to poetry, books, and music for inspiration.

Why? Because great writers know how to transform pain into beauty. And, because this sharing of grief through art unites us by reminding us we are not alone in our experiences.

Great words weave a web of understanding that witnessing sadness and offering empathy are the most potent ways we can connect and comfort one another as human beings. 

And my hope is that after reading this collection of poems the f1 team has put together, you’ll feel inspired to find new and better ways to hold your families in their grief. 

Check them out below:

5 grief poems that transform pain into beauty:

May these poems serve as inspiration for new ways to support your families, as well as a soothing salve for grieving hearts:


1. “Mama Never Forgets Her Birds” by Emily Dickinson


Mama never forgets her birds,

Though in another tree –

She looks down just as often

And just as tenderly

As when her little mortal nest

With cunning care she wove –

If either of her sparrows fall,

She notices, above.

                                                     – Emily Dickinson

It is believed that Emily Dickinson wrote this poem for her young cousins to console them upon the death of their mother. “…Her little mortal nest, with cunning care she wove…” reminds us to hold the comfort of the care our loved ones provided during their time on earth. And to open up to allow ourselves to feel held by our loved ones even after they’re gone, is a beautiful step in the healing process.

Read the full poem here.



2. A collection of poems by Mary Oliver


The Uses of Sorrow

Someone I loved once gave me

a box full of darkness.

It took me years to understand

that this, too, was a gift.


When Death Comes

When it’s over, I want to say all my life

I was a bride married to amazement.

I was the bridegroom, taking the world into my arms.

In Blackwater Woods

To live in this world

you must be able

to do three things:

to love what is mortal;

to hold it

against your bones knowing

your own life depends on it;

and, when the time comes to let it go,

to let it go.

Mary Oliver wrote many poems as she was grieving the loss of her partner of nearly 50 years, Molly Malone Cook. She transcribed her grief into pages and pages of poetry, and eventually into a book combining her partner’s art of photography and her poems remembering her. The poems above inspire us to believe that the pain we feel now, can be transformed into something beautiful if we allow the process to happen.

Check out some more of Mary Oliver’s poetry here.



3. “In Lieu of Flowers” by Shawna Lemay


In lieu of flowers, 

I would wish for you to flower. 

I would wish for you to blossom, to open, to be beautiful…

Shawna was inspired to write this poem after she read a friend’s father’s obituary. His father had requested, “in lieu of flowers, please take a friend or loved one out for lunch.” The resulting poem gives suggestions for ways to celebrate life and take care of oneself while grieving.

Read the full poem here.



4. “On the Death of the Beloved” by John O’Donohue


Though we need to weep your loss,

You dwell in that safe place in our hearts,

Where no storm or night or pain can reach you

Let us not look for you only in memory,

Where we would grow lonely without you.

You would want us to find you in presence,

Beside us when beauty brightens,

When kindness glows

And music echoes eternal tones.

Philosopher and poet John O’Donohue has a gift with his words that can best be described through this quote by Martin Wroe: “[John O’Donohue] believed that it is within our power to transform our fear of death so that we need fear little else this life brings.” Just like the poem above, the pain we feel is truly powerful in the sense that it can move mountains and change the world. It’s important not to forget that. 

Read the full poem here.



5. “The Window” by Rumi


Your body is away from me

but there is a window open

from my heart to yours.

From this window, like the moon

I keep sending news secretly.

Rumi, one of the most influential poets of all time, shares the power of his heart through his poetry. Although this poem was written nearly one thousand years ago, it is timeless and so relevant today for those who are experiencing loss. The person we may lose physically, but the connection never dies, and this we know is true.



6. “Kindness” by Naomi Shihab Nye


Before you know what kindness really is

you must lose things,

feel the future dissolve in a moment

like salt in a weakened broth.

What you held in your hand,

what you counted and carefully saved,

all this must go so you know

how desolate the landscape can be

between the regions of kindness.

This poem has held me personally in some of my deepest grief moments – reminding me that it is our pain that is our strength. That it is losing things that teaches us how valuable life truly is. And that the things we lose are actually a huge gain for our spiritual and emotional growth. 

Read the full poem here.


What are your favorite poems on pain, grief and loss? Tell us in the comments below!

PS. Did you know that Life Tributes’ Tribute Book contains one of the largest collections of poems in the funeral profession? Get a 30-day free trial of Life Tributes, the all-in-one personalization software by clicking here or giving us a call at 800-798-2575, ext. 5.

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  1. Jacob Folstrom

    Loved each one of these poems about grief….I made a copy of each of them, and made better and more content as a result of having read each of them.

    Jake Folstrom

  2. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks for sharing, Jacob, that means a lot! Happy to have helped you on your grief journey.

  3. Mary

    I am grieving a loss right now and all of these were worth reading and saving. Thank you.

  4. Krystal Penrose

    Thanks for sharing Mary, bless your healing path!

  5. Liz Abney

    I lost my husband over a year ago. I am still in my grief journey, but one thing I have learned is our love is still alive. I will continue my journey to strength and peace, and he will always be with me in Spirit as I continue to grow.

  6. Krystal Penrose

    Hi Liz wow that’s so touching to read, it’s so true that love never leaves us, it is always with us! How we relate to it may change, but the love is always there. May that love uplift you and inspire you in the next steps of your life.

  7. Kate

    Thankyou for this beautiful collection.

  8. John

    These are wonderful poems. I would also include, The Well of Grief – David Whyte

    Those who will not slip beneath
    the still surface on the well of grief,

    turning down through its black water
    to the place we cannot breathe,

    will never know the source from which we drink,
    the secret water, cold and clear,

    nor find in the darkness glimmering,

    the small round coins,
    thrown by those who wished for something else.

  9. Theresa

    I need to find the poem that starts with, “ don’t mourn for me”

  10. PETER

    I lost my wife to be on November this year. On this December 15 was going to be a negotiation of lobola and on the 26 of December 2020 I was going to pay the lobola.which she was going to be my wife. Fortunately she passed away on the 4TH OF NOVEMBER 2020



  11. Krystal Penrose

    Hi Peter we’re so sorry for your loss! It sounds like you’re feeling a lot of grief and please know this is totally ok! Please seek out the support of your loved ones and family, they are here for you. You are loved and supported during this tender time for your heart. Many blessings to you.

  12. Thomas Malley

    A great selection there. I’d also include The Lingerer, a more recent poem by Irish-American poet Stewart Stafford.

    The Lingerer by Stewart Stafford

    Another lonely start,
    O shadow companion,
    My twin bereft of heart,
    On grief’s stormy galleon.

    Each step disbelief,
    Strangers pass in proximity,
    In motion an artist’s relief,
    Abstract as infinity.

    The quickening pulse of streets,
    Tears on cheeks reflective,
    This scarred heart missing beats,
    Damaged and defective.

    Home now just where memory sits,
    Perspective greatly shifted,
    This shapeless form no longer fits,
    The body it was gifted.

    And if, my love, you see me now,
    I beg you, look away,
    Love’s blush departed with a bow,
    Then withered and decayed.

    © Stewart Stafford, 2021. All rights reserved.

  13. LDavis

    I love Emily Dickinson, Mary Oliver, and John O’Donohue’s poems above! I would add Jan Richardson’s Blessing for the Brokenhearted. She wrote an entire book called The Cure for Sorrow that is poems following loss (she wrote it after losing her partner unexpectedly).

  14. Krystal Penrose

    Thank you for sharing this beautiful poem!

  15. Cam Wind

    I really appreciate the poems posted, thank you. I am trying to come to terms w loss, so thank you!

    I wanted to to scream to stop them in their tracks
    a child has died’ a CHILD has died – a child has DIED
    I wanted them to stop! STOP it all – stop them ALL
    I wanted to scream to stop them in their tracks
    For a child once lived, a CHILD once loved, a child once LIVED
    But he is no longer
    He was loved, he WAS loved, he was LOVED
    That boy that is no longer
    Oh how they wept, the innocent naive surrounding youth.
    They lost it that day
    They had it all ahead, first kiss, first love, first broken heart, first all
    They had never said good bye, not like that.
    Stop TIME, time to stop, stop wasting time,
    You cannot move on, how to move on without
    I wanted to scream.
    But he wouldn’t want that. A boy who died. A boy did live!

  16. Krystal Penrose

    Thank you for sharing! So beautiful 🙂

  17. elliott yurman

    Kindness by Ms. Nye, on the anniversary of our daughter’s death 2006, deeply affected me.

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