Grief, when it comes, is nothing we expect it to be. It was not what I felt when my parents died: my father died a few days short of his 85th birthday and my mother a month short of her 91st, both after some years of increasing debility. What I felt in each instance was sadness, loneliness (the loneliness of the abandoned child of whatever age), regret for time gone by, for things unsaid, for my inability to share or even in any real way to acknowledge, at the end, the pain and helplessness and physical humiliation they each endured. I understood the inevitability of each of their deaths. I had been expecting (fearing, dreading, anticipating) those deaths all my life. They remained, when they did occur, distanced, at a remove from the ongoing dailiness of my life. After my mother died I received a letter from a friend in Chicago, a former Maryknoll priest, who precisely intuited what I felt. The death of a parent, he wrote, "despite our preparation, indeed, despite our age, dislodges things deep in us, sets off reactions that surprise us and that may cut free memories and feelings that we had thought gone to ground long ago. We might, in that indeterminate period they call mourning, be in a submarine, silent on the ocean's bed, aware of the depth charges, now near and now far, buffeting us with recollections."
My father was dead, my mother was dead, I would need for a while to watch for mines, but I would still get up in the morning and send out the laundry.
I would still plan a menu for Easter lunch.
I would still remember to renew my passport.
Grief is different. Grief has no distance. Grief comes in waves, paroxysms, sudden apprehensions that weaken the knees and blind the eyes and obliterate the dailiness of life.
-- Joan Didion, The Year of Magical Thinking
After my mother died, all my sentences began with “After my mother died.” After my mother died, all I wanted to do was fuck.
-- Holly Hughes, World Without End