In case you ever wondered what grief is like, it’s like this. Last night I went to Trader Joe’s. It was packed which is why I try to go during the day, but there was also a nice holiday vibe. When I came out with my cart full of groceries there was a woman standing there by the wreaths and I waited to see if she wanted to cross in front of me. She was around the age my mother would be if she was still here. Cut from the same cloth – put together, very attractive. She gave me a big smile with her twinkling eyes and said, “Oh, that’s okay, I’m just waiting for my daughter.” And that was it, I was gutted. I managed to smile back at her, though.
I went to my car, loaded in my groceries, put the cart back. I thought about going to find her to tell her how lucky her daughter is to have her and to maybe share that I do not have my mother here on this planet anymore, but I knew I would fall apart. So I got in my car and pulled out of the parking lot, drove to the light and put on my blinker to turn left on Pico. I ran through the moment in my mind and wondered why I was so deeply affected, and then I realized my mother will never say that to anyone again. She will never casually say she is waiting for her daughter, she will never say anything. I had a seriously hard cry all the way home. The kind where it’s hard to see and the streetlights get blurry and there’s nothing you can do. Tears everywhere, wrenching sobs coming from your gut. It’s coming up on a year since my mom exhaled for the last time. I was there with her for that and I’m grateful, but it’s painful to remember. It’s easier than it was the first five months or so when I would wake up in the morning and have to re-remember that she was gone. Or the first seven or eight months when I would reach for my phone to call her. Around month ten I stopped forgetting that I can’t call her.
But it’s still hard. Grief can knock you sideways out of nowhere. You can be going about your day and someone can say something as innocent as “Oh that’s okay, I’m just waiting for my daughter,” or you might come around the corner of an aisle at the grocery store and see the brand of napkins your gorgeous mother had to use to wipe her mouth when her jaw got slack the last year of her life, because ALS takes everything, slowly. Or you might remember the way your mother’s face looked when they turned off the bipap machine that had been breathing for her. Weirdly enough, you might hear someone sneeze on a subway platform in New York City and realize their sneeze sounds exactly like your mother’s. There are a million ways you can be okay and then not okay at all.
There will be people who will tell you your mother is always with you. They’re not wrong, but it is not the same and hearing that won’t help very much if you are really hurting. The loss of an entire person is incomprehensible. And there is no timeline. If anyone tells you how you should be feeling by such and such a time, that is someone who doesn’t understand grief. They’ll understand eventually, but right now they don’t and that’s okay. There are people who do understand, they’re the same people who have had the breath knocked out of them in an instant because of someone’s perfume, a Facebook memory, a dream lingering on the edge of their consciousness in the morning.
Grief is an expression of the depth of your love. If you loved with your whole heart there’s a good chance you’re going to suffer the loss with your whole heart as well, whatever that might look like for you. There’s no formula for this, no “right” way to grieve, there’s just an ocean of feeling. So if you are suffering at least know you loved your heart out. That’s a huge thing, not everyone can do that. And the love that you extended is something that can never be taken away, and the love that you still feel is alive and well and continuous. And that’s a lot, too. But for all of you who have had or may be having the raw, deep cry on the way home from Trader Joe’s, I see you, I understand and you are not alone.
Sending love to all this holiday season and always,
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