Befriending My Body

My body tried to tell me something
But I didn’t listen
Until she screamed.

And once her loud voice
Woke me up
To truths
I had long pushed aside
Griefs I didn’t think I could face
Wounds still bleeding
That hadn’t been treated…
Once she woke me up
I realized I had her
I wasn’t alone.

I sat her down
Gently asked her to tell me
What was wrong
Spent time learning her language
Each ache and knot
Raw nerve endings
And each heart twisting.

It took me a while to learn to speak
To my body
But soon
I understood enough.
And with tears pouring down my face
I ran for her a bath
Fed her her favorite foods
Gave her grace when she couldn’t
Do all I asked in this season.

With stumbling humility
I admitted I hadn’t seen her
And I submitted myself to my body
Studied her reactions
To the trauma of before
And I learned what she needs
As she heals.

With fear that she’d leave me
For how I’ve treated her
Neglected her
With how I’ve let her be treated
With fear but with glimmers of hope
I brought her to those who would nurture her
Sat her in their arms
Let them care for her and teach me how.

With tenderness
I placed my hand on my chest
Told my body
I wanted to befriend her
And I wept
That it had taken so very long.

But now
As I sit
In my body
Facing the sun
Listening to the trees
Seeing orange reflecting
Off of peaks in the distance
I feel that my body
Is coming back to me
Learning that
While she has loved me for all my life
Perhaps for the first time
I love her too.



She likes to sit
On my shoulders
A weight I cannot shake.

She hides in my back
Twisting muscles
Into a canvas of knots
For her to climb
Reaching out
To grasp my head
With a painful embrace.

She rides up and down my nerves
Sending mixed messages
Warnings from my brain
That something isn’t right.

She likes to work
In the pit of my stomach
That place between my ribs and belly
Throwing punches
When she remembers.

She brims when I’m in public places
Spills down
Out of my eyes
When someone says a kind thing
Kindness to her heart starved for it
Giving her permission
To be free.

She sleeps
In my very heart
Waking me in the middle of the night
Pounding on the walls
Of what keeps me alive
Keeping me awake
As I struggle to breathe
And fight rest for fear
Of being no more.

I cannot tell myself from her anymore
We are such intimate partners
After the deaths,
Deaths of dreams, relationships, health, proximity
And the very death of bodies I hold beloved.

She knows me
She is even
Screaming at me that I must
But I have pushed her away
For fear
That if I listen to her
I will cry
And never
Ever stop.


Artist’s Statement

I can’t seem to get away from grief. And these days, I’m not so sure I want to.

I wrote these poems in a season of grief. I won’t get into the details as I know you all have your own stories too, but I was rethinking a career that I held close to my heart, was reeling from the sudden death of someone dear to me, and wondering where I might again feel safe and find peace. My body, understandably, demanded that I take a break and listen to her.

So I did. And my body taught me what was wrong and how I needed to grieve. I learned how to hear and heed what she was telling me. I followed her wisdom and took care of myself, asked for help and rested at every opportunity.

And grief became my companion. I wouldn’t call grief a friend, but it certainly taught me a lot and made me become friends with my body, which I had neglected for so much of my life. My body, as most bodies, had been subjected to cruel words, and I began to believe them. But grief taught me to listen to my body and treat her with tenderness.

Together, grief and I found a new way forward with my body leading the way. I tend to think our faith is physical in more ways than the powers that be give it credit for, and now I get the privilege of sitting with others in their grief as their bodies cry out for tenderness and care and as together, we connect with the Divine.

Grief brought me here, to this friendship with my body and to the care of other beloved spirits and bodies. And I think I’ll stay here a while.

Cover photo credit: Alex Boyd



  • Ellie VerGowe Highlands

    Ellie VerGowe Highlands is staff chaplain for the Intensive Care units and the Bone Marrow Transplant unit at the Seattle VA Hospital. Ellie feels honored to hear people’s stories and meet with them in moments of crisis. She lives in Des Moines, WA on the traditional lands of the Duwamish people with her husband Aaron, and their Australian shepherd Fiona. She loves hiking, singing, painting and writing, eating good food with good people, reading on a rainy day with a cup of tea, and noticing the Divine presence everywhere.