on grieving (& supporting someone who is)
First, I want to say thank you to every person who reached out by email or text or otherwise to let me know they read my last post and were in some way moved by what I shared. It felt good to finally have the capacity to write about my mom’s death and hearing from so many people that what I wrote was resonant was something I didn’t realize I needed until I received it. So, anyhoo, thanks.
What follows are a few short musings on grief. I almost didn’t send this out, thinking everyone is probably tired of hearing about my dead mom, but then decided so what if they are. It has been 107 days since my mom left us and I continue to miss her in every moment, my grief colors everything I do.
As much as I was unprepared to lose my mom, I was, perhaps, even less prepared to bear witness to my dad’s grief. In many ways, it compounds my own. I see him miss her in the mundane more than anything. In the texts he no longer receives, in the knee upon which he can no longer rest his hand, in the clean handles on the kitchen cupboards that were once always (and hilariously) dirty. In all the seemingly insignificant things we wander through our days not noticing but which drastically improve our lives. In the stuff we take for granted, in the parts of each other that drive us nuts, in the throw away moments, the hellos and good-byes, the I love yous, the what do you want for dinners, the how was your day tell me something goods.
I am trying to pay better attention, trying to bookmark the moments that would otherwise go unnoticed, all the things that seem inconsequential but only because I am used to them and believe in their endless supply. This is a fallacy, this notion of permanence, of the perpetuity of anything. And so I want to bask in what feels monotonous today, knowing it might be the thing I’m left missing most tomorrow.
There is a closet in our house we open approximately twice a day. It houses the cat food and, thus, is opened primarily to facilitate feeding said cats. Most days, I feed them in the morning when I wake up and my partner, Jeff, feeds them in the evening before I get home from work. The door to this closet keeps falling off. Or, more accurately, I keep accidentally pulling it off and have yet to successfully put it back on.
Jeff has never once mentioned the door or been annoyed with me for breaking it. He has never once complained about repeatedly having to fix it. Yesterday, as I opened the door to procure the cats their food, it occurred to me that this is what love looks like. This is the shit that makes up a life — our life. Not grand gestures or big events or extravagant gifts. Love is repairing a broken closet for the eighty millionth time and saying nothing about having done so. A shared life is made up of this. Small gestures of generosity, of grace-giving, tiny endearments of the everyday.
There are a lot of things nobody tells you about losing your mom too soon. Like how envious you might feel of people in your life whose moms are still alive. Particularly if those people’s moms are older than your mom was when she died. Which, when your mom dies at 61, is a lot of people’s moms.
Am I not supposed to talk about this? About the envy I feel? Should I feel badly about it? About sometimes feeling angry other people still have their moms? Can call them? Visit them? Be annoyed by them? Am I only supposed to whisper about this in private? With my couple of friends who have also lost their moms? Is my envy embarrassing? Juvenile? Unenlightened?
Maybe. Maybe it is. Maybe I’m not as evolved as I thought. And maybe there is someone out there who also watched their once-vibrant mom succumb to cancer in less than three months and somehow managed to not feel enraged. Maybe there are motherless daughters who don’t envy the women who still have their moms. But I am not one of them. That is not me.
To be clear, I don’t begrudge you your mom if she’s still alive. I’m honestly thrilled for you. And I’m not mad at you. I’m just mad. At the circumstances, at the (sur)reality, at the absurdity of my mom not being alive, too.
My dearest friend — we’ll call her S for semi-anonymity’s sake — lost her younger brother a mere six weeks before my mom’s diagnosis and approximately four months before my mom died. Mostly this has been terrible for both of us. But there have also been moments of deep understanding between us over these past several months, a level of “getting it” that only someone else navigating profound loss could get. There has been plenty of reaching out to one another from inside our individual grief caves to say Hi, how are you, I love you, this sucks. We’ve cried together. We’ve wondered at the inanity of it all. We’ve shared stories about our people. And we have texted so many memes back and forth it’s ridiculous — a way of checking in on each other without having to say Does it still suck? Yep, still sucks.
A few days ago I texted S to say that I appreciate the meme exchanging so much, because although most days I’m approximately 70-80% grief and only 20-30% joy, I’m always 100% hilarious. Which may or may not be true but did make us both laugh. And the intimacy of laughing hysterically with someone else who is deep in their grief? That, my friends, is priceless.
One last thing: If someone you love has recently lost someone they love, I promise you it will not bother them if you call or text to say Hi, I’m thinking of you. I PROMISE. You do not need to tiptoe around this person. They will appreciate hearing from you, knowing they have been on your mind. Unless you are contacting them to say something outrageous like “Your (parent, sibling, child) is in a better place” or “At least they’re not suffering anymore” or (cringe cringe cringe) “Everything happens for a reason” or (goddess forbid) “God has a plan,” I guarantee the person you love who is grieving will be grateful you reached out.
I shared this on instagram shortly after my mom died, but I want to re-share it here (updated slightly):
A couple of weeks after my mom died, a woman a few years older than me who lost her mother ten years ago (also to cancer) said: “If you ever want to meet for coffee and tell me all about your mom, please let me know.” And this is without a doubt the kindest thing anyone offered in those first few weeks she was gone.
Too often we don’t know what to say when something so non-sensical and devastating happens and so sometimes we don’t say anything at all or we try to avoid talking about the person who has died so as not to add to anyone’s pain.
But I know now more than ever before that this is the least helpful response to such a profound loss. Because all I want to do every minute of every day is tell people about my mom and how amazing and hilarious and hardworking and kind and joyful she was. To yell it from the rooftops so that everybody knows.
So, to every person who has let me do just that over the past few months, who has let me show you photos of her and recount stories, who has reached out to ask how I’m doing and has not shied away from my grief, THANK YOU. It means more than you can possibly know.
I deeply appreciate you being here, reading my words, witnessing my grief.
A few things that have helped me through my grief these past few months:
1. When Women Were Birds by the ever brilliant Terry Tempest Williams.
3. A Little Life by Hanya Yanagihara. A masterpiece of fiction. 800 pages and worth every one.
5. Dead Mom’s Club by Kate Spencer. If you have a dead mom, this might be for you. Especially if your dead mom also died of cancer.
6. Hard workouts and easy walks. In equal measure. And so many naps. Nobody warned me how exhausting it would be to grieve.
7. Forgiving myself for not being my best right now.
9. Fresh flowers:
10. Asking for what I need. Hardest thing I’ve ever done.