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Good Grief

I’m losing my mother this year. In a way, she’s already lost to me. I don’t really want to talk about her situation in detail. What I choose to reveal on the Internet is actually guided by her opinions and my respect for them since I think they’ve served me well. Instead, I’m just going to talk a bit about how I’ve been dealing. This sort of grief is completely new and foreign to me and I’m not sure how it compares to others. I’ve talked about it with a few close friends, but writing about it helps to put it all in perspective.

When I found out my mother was going to be lost to our family, I cried. Not for very long, but I did. I was with her at the time. The news was delivered over a frustrating phone call. The day prior the doctors had given us hope so we’d thought there was some reprieve in her situation. She was sad but annoyed that I cried. I don’t think it was anything about being weak but more that to her crying was a waste of time and time was an asset we shouldn’t be wasting. It was pretty intense sobbing but I shoved it away and moved on.

In the weeks that followed in managing her situation I was comforted by people who I didn’t know very well offering my family assistance. The medium doesn’t matter: voice mails, text, chats, emails. However they’re delivered, simple open ended offers to do anything set me off. It’s worse in the morning when I guess I’m tired. Looking at them on my phone at a Starbucks waiting for a coffee, walking 10 minutes later on the sidewalk towards work, or hours later just dwelling on them. All these things would trigger the familiar tensing and lurching in my chest that would last no more than 5-20 seconds. I didn’t really feel like it was grief. I was grateful and relieved that these people were just being human towards me and my family. Towards my mother. I needed that so much more than any of them could realize, but I couldn’t embrace it because no one sobs uncontrollably in public. Even if I tried to embrace it, the feeling would escape me and I’d be left grasping for the gasps and chokes. It’s the sensation of a sneeze that never comes, but more miserable than uncomfortable.


I remember distinctly reaching out to a friend one morning over instant message. I explained what was going on after some light dialog. She didn’t see the whole story until later when I was in a meeting. She finally responded with an offer to help and a message from her and her partner that “we love you.” Sitting among coworkers I had to crush the sensation to bawl and resume literal business as usual. I missed my friend so much, and I felt I couldn’t even describe what her words meant to me until weeks later when I paid her a visit. She felt bad at first because she thought she had done something wrong by putting me in that situation, but I just patiently told her how wonderful she was as if I was still in that meeting.

Something more recently has changed. I’m more fragile and the triggers are becoming, at least to me in some cases, more and more absurd.

When my mother was still able to walk, I mentioned to her I was shopping for a brown coat for myself. We spent one day walking around the mall shopping for a coat for her and one for me. The mall was a good choice. She was very weak and had to hold onto me for support. Malls do conveniently have many places to sit and lean, and department store shoe sections offer great rest stops. So though we found a coat for her, we failed to locate anything for me. Instead she bought me a pair of shoes. Later, on a return visit, I came into her house to discover she had ordered me a beautiful brown wool coat. It was perfectly sized. Well, maybe it was a little tight, but better than being big.

About a week ago one morning I put on the coat and shoes and took off for my commute. At a crosswalk I was listening to Adventuring by 8bit bEtty. It’s not like the song is significant to me or my relationship to my mom. The lyrics are cute, the melody danceable. But as I stood adorned in the last gifts my mom would give me and listening to the electronic voice talking about enjoying life’s simple pleasures, I felt it. Watching the walk sign flash and surrounded by fellow pedestrians the wave washed over me yet again. I had to shove it all back down and continue on my day.

Another day I was in bed watching a preview for this new game Unravel I was considering purchasing. At one point the character, which is nothing more than a doll made of yarn, saves a bird and rubs his beak in a simple act of caring. Later he picks up half a heart. It’s adorable and cute.

In the privacy of my bedroom, I finally sobbed so hard. I couldn’t deal. Like a giant leaking idiot I gave in because I witnessed the kindness of a digital character. It was hideous ugly crying that ended with the feeling of relief and release that I had been searching for. I hated how good it felt when I was done. I’m still embarrassed about it though I’m quite aware plenty of people would tell me I have nothing to be ashamed of.


I am not experienced with grief. I don’t know how normal this all is. I talked to my sister a bit about it. She suggested that maybe when people are nice I finally feel like I have permission to grieve. I think she’s sort of right. I do know my mother would read something like this and roll her eyes because, I mean, come on. And the saddest part is, I would have really liked to see her do that.

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