Surprising Things about Grief

Surprising Things about Grief

I am a half-orphan, having lost my mom just over five years ago when I was 26.

I’m a member of a club no one wants to join, and most don’t join until much later on in their lives. So it’s a weird comfort to hear the stories of other people who have lost a parent at a youngish age.

Last week in the New York Times, Kelli Auerbach penned an affecting piece about the freakishness of losing both her parents in young adulthood. She writes:

While losing a parent at any age, especially as a young child, is enormous and profound, your 20s are a particularly odd time to become an orphan. You’re too old to receive the structural support a child receives — no one finds you alternate parents or makes sure you have a roof over your head, food to eat. You don’t garner the same sympathy. But in some ways, you’re more like a child than an adult. Our teen brains don’t fully become adult ones until we’re 25.

The entire piece is worth a read. It touches on many of the weird things that you learn after losing someone, and as a person with a dark sense of humor, I really identified with her descriptions of laughing over the absurdity of death.

There isn’t a day that I don’t think about my mom. Like Kelli, when friends complain about their annoying parents, in the back of my head there’s always an “At least you HAVE a mom to complain about.” But I understand this perspective isn’t one you get to have until its forced upon you.

In the time thats passed since my mom’s death, my grief has become less visceral and more… I don’t know, ethereal. Less a knife in my heart, more a gossamer veil that has settled over my eyes and colors everything I touch. I’ve come to learn:

  1. Grief is a wound; with care it can heal. The immediate sting eventually subsides, but the cut leaves a scar. Maybe when it looks like rain your bones will ache in a way they didn’t before.

  2. Grief is a weight; when you lift it at first, it’s heavy and exhausts you. But your body adjusts, like a muscle that you’ve worked out. Over time, the weights you lift don’t get lighter; it’s you that is stronger. The grief doesn’t shrink but becomes easier to carry.

  3. As I’ve learned to hold my grief, I’ve become less sad about my mom day to day. But being less sad makes me more sad in a different way, because it means time has passed, things have moved on; I am further from my mom every day.

It’s the dissonance of less sad = more sad that has surprised me the most about my grief. The wailing and sobbing that hallmarked the beginning of my grief has given way to a quiet sorrow. The change signals a distance that leaves me bereft.

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