Bereavement through poetry: a review of 'Requiem' by David Donnison
Siril Henrickson Berglund is a Freedom from Torture volunteer. She writes here about a book of poems by David Donnison about the passing of his wife, who was a supporter. We are very grateful to David for offering proceeds of his book to Freedom from Torture.
When David Donnison's wife died, it was a loss so great that he found he had to create a new life for himself. By joining a Lapidus writing group, he found comfort in writing poetry as a way of identifying, expressing and managing his pain and loss. He states, 'I felt a need to put down words to help me find a way through a vale of tears'. Donnison's poems honour the life they spent together. After her death, this became a journey on which he was the sole traveller.
When I read the poetry collection 'Requiem' it felt like I was witnessing a dialogue that he carried out with himself. At the same time, his dialogue reminded me of the losses I have experienced in my life and how I dealt with and still deal with them. As yet, they have not been as great as his. The collection of poems can be read as a whole. However each poem feels like a stepping stone representing a particular process within the larger grieving process. Thus, his poems together read as a journey towards building a new life and identity without the person who had been central in his life. This collection of poems demonstrates the non-linear nature of grief. It has its ups and downs, it takes time and sometimes you find yourself feeling that you have taken steps backwards.
In the poem 'Grieving for the world', Donnison reflects on the rationalisation of grief. He writes: 'I've got my act together, raised my game...til my foot breaks through thin ice of reason into caverns of pain'. This perfectly illustrates the process of bereavement and grief. You will have peaceful times when the pain has fallen into a subconscious place, only for the sudden eruption of a pain so raw that it feels like it was only yesterday you lost the person you loved.
The poems create a coherent body of work, but some poems do not appear in the order in which he wrote them. While you are grieving, you may not feel you are making progress until you look back on those times and see that you have. This is an important point to realise, which I feel "Requiem" highlights in a subtle way.
Thought you wrote some poems?
You were wrong.
Powered by pain,
Half scream, half song,
they kept your head to wind,
drove you through the storm
The poems wrote you
In 'Godless Prayer', Donnison reflects on the realisation that 'each bitter dawn offers scope for hope – liberty of the lonely'. This illustrates vividly that for every hard turn dealing with your emotions and experience, you are one turn closer to the end of the journey; the freedom from pain and the building of a new life.
Donnison's experience in using poetry as a form of therapy is not unknown to Freedom from Torture's survivors. Two of his poems in particular reminded me of the processes that the survivors of torture that we work with go through.
In 'At the end of the day', Donnison writes 'All things change, come to an end. Though wrecked in grief, I've been so blessed I know for sure I can survive'. This poem reminds me of how survivors can find hope in change. Life will go forward and we must (and will) learn a way to cope with the pain and experience.
I believe David Donnison's collection of poems would make his wife proud. And I am sure that she would be equally proud of the new man shown through the poems. Equally, I hope that its readers will find comfort and inspiration. In fact, the collection has potential to inspire others to reach for the pen and to write about their life.
David Donnison's wife was a great supporter of Freedom from Torture. Half of the proceeds from the sale of 'Requiem' (at £5 per copy) will be donated to Freedom from Torture. To order your copy, please email firstname.lastname@example.org or call 0141 946 8096.