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  • Writer's pictureLee Erickson, MA, LPCC

My Dead Friends by Marie Howe - A Poem for More Life - Less Worry

Updated: Jan 9

I have begun,

when I’m weary and can’t decide an answer to a bewildering question

to ask my dead friends for their opinion

and the answer is often immediate and clear.

Should I take the job? Move to the city? Should I try to conceive a child
in my middle age?

They stand in unison shaking their heads and smiling-whatever leads
to joy, they always answer, 

to more life and less worry. I look into the vase where Billy’s ashes were-
it’s green in there, a green vase, 

and I ask Billy if I should return the difficult phone call, and he says, yes.

Billy’s already gone through the frightening door,
whatever he says I’ll do.

Copyright © 2022 by Marie Howe. Originally published in Poem-a-Day on February 22, 2022, by the Academy of American Poets.


I am in the process of making a big decision in my life. It is one of those big decisions that I would normally turn to my dad or my brother Randy to ask them for their opinions. I have consulted others in my family, my mom and my oldest brother and they both offered good, wise counsel but I can't help but wonder what my dad and my other two brothers would say about this big decision.

As I have been pondering what to do, I was reminded of this brilliant poem by Marie Howe. In the poem, My Dead Friends, the poet says that when she is faced with difficult decisions, she asks her dead friends what she should do.

In unison, they say whatever leads to more joy, more life and less worry. People we ask for advice need to know a lot about the intricacies of the decision. They need to know the depth and the details. We need to trust that they will have our best interests at heart and that they will be able to anticipate the level of fear and anxiety we will face before and after the decision is made. They also need to understand the rewards and consequences if we decide against a decision.

What I've come to realize is that when I ask people for advice, I want them to universally support my decision. I want them to say that my idea is great and they trust that I have the knowledge and skill to decide what is best for me and then support me as I go through the joy and struggle of my decision making.

That is hard for people to do.

What I notice is that, oftentimes, people filter the advice they want to give me through their own layer of fear. Sometimes that layer of fear causes me to doubt myself or my decision, pushing me to wonder if what I'm about to decide is the right thing or not?

When people support me unconditionally, it oftentimes fills me with confidence and helps propel me to new heights.

In the poem, Howe says when she looks into the vase where her brother's ashes were... "it's green in there, a green vase" she says... it seems as if she is reminded again that her brother is gone and she projects that the passage from this world to the next has somehow filled her brother with knowledge of what to do. It's also curious to me that she says the word green twice in the passage. I look out my window and I see that spring is slowly melting into summer and things are alive and bursting forward. Green is the color of renewal; the color of hope.

I think her brother is merely supporting her unconditionally from the great beyond. He doesn't know all the details about the phone call she is reluctant to return but he's telling her, "You can do this... and I am here with you."

I like to think of my loved ones who have died sitting on the sidelines like a giant cheering section encouraging me to trust my core, believe in myself and to know that they want the best for me even if what is best for me is not always the easy path.

"whatever leads to joy, they always answer, to more life and less worry"

If I trust and believe, then the decision to my bewildering question is already made and I feel as if I am guided by those I love who have died.

Someday after I have died, I too will be sitting on the sidelines cheering, encouraging and passing back to those I love who still remain, the knowledge I will have learned when I passed through Howe's "frightening door".

And it will be advice filled with unconditional love and support.

We all need more joy and less worry.

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