I Listened to Mark Twain and My Post about Grief Went Viral


Post commentsI was shocked when the numbers kept rising. Sure, one time a poem I wrote reached 50,000 people on Facebook, and I was thrilled. But this was different. My poem reached over 1,605,000 hurting people. And not only that, 6,500 people had shared it! And it now has over 1200 comments.

Mark Twain said, “Write what you know.” And I’ve been posting a meme every day for over a year. Much of it is hot off the press.

Write what I know? What do I know? I know grief. It’s true, I know about other stuff. I know poetry, I know… um, let’s see… Okay, mostly, I know grief.

And I remember when it first started.

As a Child

You see, grief came and visited me as a child and never seemed to leave. Oh, maybe sometimes we’d get a little reprieve, and then when grief reappeared he would camp out.

I learned grief comes in waves and you never know when the next wave will come. It’s painful when you watch your loved one suffer and die. But there’s another kind of pain you feel when you’re not there to watch them take their final breath.

It hurts when death attacks your family, like when it grabs your loved one’s heart and squeezes it too hard.

One of my greatest losses was when I lost my mother. But since she wasn’t my first loss, let me back up and tell you about when I was 12. Our 6 year old cousin, Julie, had just won a bicycle and she was proudly riding it outside, hoping everyone would see her. And I’m sure everyone did, except the garbage man whose truck ran over her.

The next day when my parents told our Grandma, she died as well. They said it was heart failure, but her heart knew how to beat. Her heart just broke.

You can’t go through two funerals in one week and not have it affect you.

But let me share an even earlier loss. I was 6 years old when mom told us to go downstairs to wait for our Aunt Jeanette. She was going to take us to Kiddieland. I had overheard my parents talking, and being the future writer I was meant to be, I skipped down the stairs chanting,

“Yia Yia’s dead, Yia Yia’s dead.”

As my Aunt Jeanette heard my words, she rushed past me up the stairs. No one explained to us what happened, but we never saw Grandma again. And everyone around me wore black for a very long time.

But even that death was not my first introduction.

I was 5 when one day we played outside in front of our house. We were always warned to be careful being near the big street. Our big street was Jackson Boulevard in Chicago.

Our childhood fun and laughter stopped suddenly when we heard a screech and loud boom. We all looked around for Billy who was 3. He had run into the big street to get his rubber ball. Billy never came back. I can still hear the sound of his mother calling his name and wailing that summer night.

Yes, I was introduced to death at a young age.

Grief just kept coming back again and again. Grief is an intruder. And I learned each time you grieve someone’s death, there are still fragments left from earlier losses.

My life changed forever

I was 16 when my mom died of a stroke. She was there one day, and gone the next.

She used to say she didn’t want anyone to bring her flowers when she was gone.

Unappreciated flowers were everywhere. Her death changed me forever.

Then at 24, I stood before my father’s hospital bed.He apologized for being physically abusive. The next day the cancer he had took him. But grief wasn’t done with our family. He had just begun.

When I was 30, we lost our sister to domestic violence. That death shook my siblings and me to the core. I wrote about it in my book, Broken: A story of abuse, survival and hope.

Now could we live for a while without grief? The short answer was no. Grief has a voracious appetite. It would visit and take others we loved.

I Got a Call

“Anne I have something to tell you. I have pancreatic cancer,” my brother Gus, said.He had surgery and they said it was gone, and we rejoiced. Until we got another call not too long after.

“Anne, would you do me a favor and tell George and Steve?”

And still another call, “Anne, would you make the final arrangements for me to be cremated?”

There was the time I helped my brother Steve and his wife Annie when they had their first child. And after five days, I returned home to get still another call.

“Anne, pray, the baby is blue, they are working on him now.”

I paced back and forth pleading with God. “God, not the baby.”

But the next call, Steve simply said, “He’s gone.”

And their baby’s casket was laid atop our mother’s casket, because, well we just had to. It gave some comfort to my brother, who only knew mom for 7 years.

You also grieve when you lose someone you never got to hold yet. That happened to me twice. There are no little losses. Every loss hurts big.

And it seems like we often get calls that bring the grief on.My brother, Steve had a heart attack. Finally he would be with his baby son again. Steve was only 51.

And still another call

Another call came that was hard to hear. I even thought if I could get my son to stop talking, it wouldn’t be true. But it was true. In March 2016, we released white balloons in a pure blue sky and said goodbye to our granddaughter, Olivia Jane Peterson. She was only 14 months old. The doctors had said she would probably not make it to her birth, but nobody told Livie.

When you lose a grandchild, the grief is compounded. Yes, I was grieving Livie, but I also hurt as I watched my son, Nathan and his wife, Heather, as they stood before the casket. And I watched my 3 grandchildren lose their baby sister.

Memories can keep us company when we hurt. One such memory is when Livie’s siblings would gently touch their foreheads to their sister’s forehead. Their way to love Livie.

Or the time I asked why they named her Livie, and Charlie, who was 7, explained, “It’s because it has the word, “live” in it. We want her to live.” You never forget memories like that.

There used to be seven people in my immediate family. Now it’s just two. Me and my brother, George.

I understand grief

I understand grief because it’s been around my whole life. And because of that, I still remember how it felt. And I don’t want anyone to ever feel alone in their grief.

When we grieve, we feel as if our world has just shattered and we can’t understand how those around us can keep going as if nothing has happened. How can the sun shine when inside everything feels so dark?

In 1972, I accepted the Lord at a home Bible study. There I learned about God loving us so much He sent Jesus to die for us. I also learned that God is near the brokenhearted. He helped me through my grief because God knew that I would accept Jesus.

I wrote a book called Always There, talking about God’s presence in our grief, and how he hurts with us.

Reaching those who hurt

With Christmas approaching in 2023, I scheduled this meme to post on Facebook. It posted on December 22nd. This is the meme:


Why did I write it?

I wanted those who are grieving to not feel alone in their grief. I talked about how I felt going through the motions of daily life. Almost like a book I wrote called Getting Through The Holidays. I talked about how the time had passed and seemed to meld together. And how holding onto our memories seems to somehow help.

Seeing the hurt in those 900 comments made me want to respond. So I jumped in. After writing 324 responses, and feeling like I had made progress, the number of comments jumped to 1200 at the end of the day!

And these were not one word comments. People were openly sharing about losing their husbands, their children, or other loved ones. I felt honored that they were sharing with me.

Did you read my poem in December?

If you are someone who read my poem on Facebook, Times Spent with Me, I want to thank you. And if you were one of the 6,500 people who shared that poem, words cannot convey how grateful I am.

Grieving people need to know they are not alone. If we can be present with them in some small way, maybe they will hurt a little less.

My name is Anne Peterson.

Life is hard. I write words to make it softer.


If you are weary, listen to my podcast called Words for the Weary as I share my poetry about the struggles we face and God’s faithfulness. Listen Here




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