“At the edge of the mystery of death, we offer the poetry of our truth.” — Ram Dass
When Mike Bernhardt’s wife died in 1991, he turned to writing poetry as a tool of healing. He later solicited the poetry of other people whose loved ones had died and received hundreds of submissions from around the world.
The result was Voices of the Grieving Heart.
More than just an anthology of poetry, it is a companion on the darkest road many of us will ever have to travel; grieving the death of someone once loved.
Mike sought out books in which other people shared their experience with grief.
However, he mostly found “how to” books that advised readers on what to do to get through their grief. He, therefore, decided to put out a national call for submissions of poetry from other people who had lost loved ones.
He received hundreds of submissions and ended up putting together the book “Voices of the Grieving Heart,” published in 1994. It consisted of 65 poems by 45 contributors who, for the most part, were not professional writers.
They were everyday people who had lost loved ones due to suicide, AIDS, cancer, car accidents, miscarriage, stillbirths, etc.
Each poem was chosen for its honest expression rather than its literary mastery.
Steven Levine, author of several books on death and dying, wrote the following testimonial for the book’s first edition: “Each poem is a perfect mirror, an encouragement to heal. This is the poetry of our joy and exhaustion, living and dying with the consequences of love. This is our voice when our heart is broken.”
Naomi Shihab Nye, Young People’s Poetry Laureate, Poetry Foundation, endorsed the new edition of the book: “Voices of the Grieving Heart, carefully curated by Mike Bernhardt, is a profoundly compassionate friend of a book — listening, gently responding, sharing the heavy load of sorrow, letting anyone of any age living through any sorrow know, they are not alone. We will never be alone.”
Last year, with the coronavirus rampant and so much death, loss, and grief in the world, he decided to republish the book.
A new call for submissions brought hundreds of more poems, many dealing with grief and the hardships of mourning during the pandemic.
A new section in the book is devoted just to pandemic-related grief poetry.
The new edition of Voices now has over 130 poems from 83 contributors from all around the USA and abroad.
Voices of the Grieving Heart was released on April 7 and is available on Amazon, and profits from sales will be donated to the Institute for Poetic Medicine, a non-profit dedicated to promoting the use of poetry as a tool of healing.
This new, expanded edition contains over 130 selected poems, essays, and images by 83 contributors who share their journeys through loss, grief, and transformation, including:
• Deaths due to suicide, miscarriage, COVID-19, and other causes
• Reflections on grief, 30 years later, from first-edition contributors
• Prompts and blank pages for readers to add their own poetry
Mike Bernhardt is an award-winning writer whose work has appeared in many prints and online publications including DIVER Magazine, Journey Beyond Travel, GeoEx Travel, Hidden Compass, and others.
He grew up in New York City, where he wrote poetry and kept a journal throughout his teenage years. He moved to the San Francisco Bay Area when he was nineteen and was working as an electrician when he met his first wife, Susan, in 1983.
In the years after Susan’s death in 1991, Mike met and married his second wife, Yvonne, and published the first edition of Voices of the Grieving Heart.
He retired in 2016 from a career in information technology and began writing again. Mike still lives in the Bay Area with Yvonne, their two cats, and their 23-year-old son (who is currently working remotely from their home because of the pandemic).