Hektoen International

A Journal of Medical Humanities

Managing loss and emotional turmoil through poetry

Maria Shopova
Dublin, Ireland

Healing the Heart with Words by Maria Shopova

Loss is a universal human experience that spans borders and cultures. Patients, facing death, may struggle with existential questions and anxiety due to the loss of health. Families bear the agony of watching a loved one deteriorate and die, and then enter a period of grieving. And medical professionals, who are not immune to loss, must confront their own powerlessness before death.

Coping with loss is a complex process. Patients, loved ones, and healthcare professionals may feel overwhelmed by emotions at times. Cultural norms for grieving may add to the complexity. Poetry can provide a safe space for individuals to express sadness and loss. As Shakespeare said, “Give sorrow words; the grief that does not speak knits up the overwrought heart and bids it break.” Putting feelings into words can help lighten the weight of the situation. Writing helps people express their emotions and memories, acts as a doorway between the past and the present, and helps connect people with what they have lost.

Bulgarian poet Dimcho Debelyanov wrote “I Wish to Remember You Forever Thus” during a tuberculosis epidemic in the early twentieth century. The poem depicts the experience of gradually and painfully losing a loved one to sickness. Debelyanov portrays the anguish and memories left behind by such loss in simple but emotional words. He asks to remember his lover “forever thus,” or as she was before she died. Debelyanov’s words reach out to others who have experienced grief, providing comfort and a sense of community. Poetry reminds us that we are not alone in dark moments.

A 2020 US study found that poetry therapy can improve the emotional well-being of patients. The study involved 700 chronically ill patients, who were asked to listen to a poem and then write a poem in response. The results showed that 97% of participants felt better after expressing their feelings about their challenging situations.1 Another study found that poetry writing and reading sessions reduced fear, sadness, worry, and fatigue in sick children.2 Both studies showed the positive impact that poetry can have on the emotional well-being of patients.

Health professionals also benefit from poetry, as they often face emotional challenges in the course of patient care. Through reading and writing poetry, they can take a break from the stressful environment to reconnect with themselves and their emotions.

Poetry is a powerful way to express and process feelings, delve into emotions, remember the past, and find comfort in community. Poets like Dimcho Debelyanov remind us of the power of words and poems in the face of grief. Studies support the idea that poetry can provide emotional healing where conventional medicine may fall short.

“I Wish to Remember You Forever Thus” by Dimcho Debelyanov (translated by author)


I wish to remember you forever thus:
A wanderer, forlorn and hopeless,

Your fiery hand intertwined with mine,
And on my breast your sad face resting fondly.

The distant city, trembles in murky haze,
Beside us, on the hill, trees shiver in a daze.
Our love, it seems, in a world of its own,
For we must part, in sorrow, we are thrown.

I’ll leave at dawn, you must come at dawn
And bring to me your parting look of sorrow
For I want to hold onto its faithful, mournful essence,

In the hour when Death emerges triumphant!

My love, my love, a broken straw in the storm,
Conceal your pleas. Have faith.
Our spring – an unfulfilled dream shall not remain
You shall return to me again!

Ever more fearfully descends the night upon us,
Creatures tracing webs in the darkness,
The solace of death awaits your frailty,
And, in my faith, I myself cannot believe.

And you release a palm that’s hot and flushed
And off you go, into the darkness,
Too weak to shed a tear, too weak and weary.
I wish to remember you forever thus…


Аз искам да те помня все така: бездомна,
безнадеждна и унила, в ръка ми вплела
пламнала ръка и до сърце ми скръбен
лик склонила.

Градът далече тръпне в мътен дим, край
нас, на хълма, тръпнат дървесата и
любовта ни сякаш по е свята, защото
трябва да се разделим.

„В зори ще тръгна, ти в зори дойди и
донеси ми своя взор прощален – да го
припомня верен и печален в часа, когато
Тя ще победи!“  

О, Морна, Морна, в буря скършен злак,
укрий молбите, вярвай – пролетта ни
недосънуван сън не ще остане и ти при
мене ще се върнеш пак!  

А все по-страшно пада нощ над нас,
чертаят мрежи прилепите в мрака, утеха
сетна твойта немощ чака, а в свойта вяра
сам не вярвам аз.  

И ти отпущаш пламнала ръка и тръгваш,
поглед в тъмнината впила, изгубила дори
за сълзи сила. – Аз искам да те помня все


  1. Kwok, Ian, et al. “Poetry as a Healing Modality in Medicine: Current State and Common Structures for Implementation and Research.” Journal of Pain and Symptom Management 64, no. 2 (2022).
  2. American Academy of Pediatrics. “Effects of a Poetry Intervention on Emotional Wellbeing in Hospitalized Pediatric Patients.” Hospital Pediatrics 11, no. 3 (2021).
  3. Debelyanov, Dimcho. “Димчо Дебелянов поезия.” Accessed April 01, 2024. https://chitanka.info/text/6166

MARIA SHOPOVA was born in Bulgaria and raised in Belgium. Since September 2023, she has been pursuing her medical degree at Trinity College Dublin. Engaging in art as a hobby, she believes that merging art with medicine can enhance patient care and provide emotional support to caregivers and patients.

Spring 2024



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