Thought Catalog
May 4, 2012

What They Don’t Tell You About Grief

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There are certain things people never tell you about grief. About the way you’ll feel and act and think and live after you lose someone (someone, for me, was my mother).

They don’t tell you that the “Grief” section at your local Barnes & Noble is only half a shelf long, and located in the “Self-Help” section. This location will you make you angry, but you won’t know why.

They don’t tell you that one day you will break down and cry, not just cry, but really and truly red-face runny-nose sob in the middle of the Nordstrom shoe department because you saw someone her height, with her hair color, wearing her Hermes perfume and when you realized it wasn’t her, after having that flash of “oh there she is!,” it was just too much. Try to be nice and thank the salesman when he guides you into the storeroom and gives you a box of tissues.

They don’t tell you that no matter how many sheets of tissue paper and plastic baggies and boxes you use to wrap her clothes so you can keep her scent on them, so you can, at especially hard times, pull them out and cover your face and scream and cry and laugh into them, no matter how much wrapping you use and how carefully you try not to over-indulge, not to open the baggies and boxes and peel back the tissue too often for fear of her scent dispersing and leeching out into your room, no matter what you do, one day you will pull out her favorite sweater and all you will smell is your own scent, faintly, and stale plastic. (Later you will try to recreate her scent; that blend of fresh laundry and eye cream and makeup and perfume, and you will fail. That will be a hard day for you.)

They don’t tell you that you will sometimes think of her and just be so happy, just so incredibly, overwhelmingly happy that you, oddly enough, want to call her to tell her you feel so well, and things are getting better, and when you can’t you instead sit on your bed and imagine what you would tell her and end the conversation either laughing, or crying, or worrying that this behavior maybe does mean you should still be seeing that Hospice grief counselor.

They don’t tell you how to respond to the saleswoman at the dress shop when she asks you “What occasion is this dress for?” and glances down at the black clothes you have draped over your arm. Respond with a garbled ‘yes’ when she follows-up by asking if this dress is for a cocktail party or date. Decide not to explain why you turn around when she starts to lead you to dresses with, as she calls it, ‘a bit more color.’

They don’t tell you that you will experience a moment of sheer terror when your cat gets sick, and that you will only be able to think: ‘This is the last pet I’ll have that she met.’

They don’t tell you how to react when your father creates profiles on OkCupid and Match.com. More than just that, they don’t tell you how you should feel when the women he starts seeing are so different, so completely dissimilar to your mother-is this a good thing, a sign he’s not trying to replace her? Or does this mean there was always something ‘missing’ from your mother that he wanted? Don’t talk to your high-strung sister about this, it will only make her wildly anxious and nervous and you will spend twenty minutes using your ‘calming the skittish horse’ voice to try and talk her down.

They don’t tell you that when you go to the funeral parlor to see her, one last time, before she’s cremated, that upon first looking down at her you will immediately and fully understand the description of skin as ‘waxen.’

They don’t tell you that you will feel an urge to laugh when you see that her hair has been set on rollers and finished with a light application of hairspray. This look, on a woman who once told her stylist she wanted ‘David Bowie’s haircut from when he was on his Reality tour’, will seem so wrong and dated on her that you can’t help but want to laugh. This desire to laugh will quickly turn into a fierce, overwhelming anger and hatred that these people, these people who never knew her until now, had the gall to touch her body, to style her hair, to think that they had the right to see her so intimately. They don’t tell you that her mouth will be glued shut, and you will see a small dab of this glue near the left corner of her lips. (Later, you will learn that what they used isn’t superglue like you thought it was, but instead is something called ‘stay cream’.)

Go home and cry to your boyfriend and hate that the only way you could think to describe her appearance is mummy-like, like those rubbery pirate Halloween decorations that you see on people’s lawns. Know that this description is morbid, but accurate.

And all of these things, these experiences of grief, they don’t tell you about them. They don’t tell you that, at the end of the day, all you can think is that grief isn’t a wall that comes crashing down on you all at once like you expected. Instead, it’s a wall whose bricks fall (bit by bit, piece by piece) and bruise you and break you and beat you down, slowly. TC mark

image – Background Land