Local author pens heartbreaking story of coping with his wife’s death in poetry collection

Katie Tower
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Retired English professor and local author Michael Thorpe has released a collection of poems about his late wife Elin and the struggles he faced in coping with her death three years ago. The photo he is holding of his wife, above, was taken by renowned photographer Thaddeus Holownia, who also published the book of poetry, titled Losing Elin. TOWER PHOTO


It's been three years since his wife Elin died from lung cancer but Michael Thorpe's recently-released poetry collection relates the story of his heartbreaking loss as if it were just yesterday.

Losing Elin is a memoir written by Michael, a sequence of poems he penned during and after his wife's illness - starting from the moment they find out she has cancer, to her last dying breath, and then the lonely months following her death - a husband trying to come to grips with her being gone.

It is an honest, raw portrayal of how someone copes with losing someone they love.

"It's about the struggles you go through as you try to face the death of someone close you to and how to come to terms with it," says Michael.

Elin Thorpe, a published author and teacher who was adored by her students and loved by her family and friends, died on Dec. 11, 2008 - a mere six weeks after being diagnosed with Stage 4 lung cancer. She was only 58.

It wasn't long after they learned of her cancer diagnosis when Michael says he began to put his thoughts to paper.

A professor emeritus at Mount Allison University and a published author of several other poetry books, Michael says it simply felt right to turn to the written word.

"For me, it's the obvious thing to do when you want to express your feelings."

Michael had been told by Elin's doctors there was nothing that could be done for his wife to prolong her life. Her cancer was already too far gone. There was nothing to do but wait for her death.

That knowledge was staggering and nearly unbearable for him, particularly as he watched his wife continue to live on hope - hope that she would get better and have more time to live.

Several of the poems he wrote during those times were addressed directly to Elin. He says as he wrote them, he imagined her reading them but knew she never would. He knew hope was all she had left and he couldn't take that away from her.

"The poems were thoughts I would have liked to express to her but could not because it was a harsh truth."

At times, in some of his writings, he would even try to imagine what she was thinking.

In the poem Imagining Your Thoughts, for instance, Michael recalls how Elin had said she was "raging inside." He believes that she was expressing her anger at herself for having caused her own death. She had been a smoker for 40 years.

Michael says he never imagined he would publish these poems for others to read. But as time passed, he began to change his mind.

"Very little has been written about the day-to-day experience . . . of what it's like to go through it as an observer.

"I wasn't writing as a literary critic who was writing an elogy to someone, I was simply expressing how I felt at the time. I think that helps to make them truer.

Michael says he understands death is a subject that's not often written about and many readers may find it difficult to read the personal thoughts of someone coping with their loss. But he says the poems may help others deal with their grief.

"It looks at questions about consoling and what makes it bearable."

Losing Elin, published by Thaddeus Holownia and Anchorage Press, is available at Tidewater Books in Sackville or online at www.anchoragepress.ca.


Organizations: Mount Allison University, Thaddeus Holownia and Anchorage Press

Geographic location: Sackville

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