To Grieve or Not to Grieve

My parents would go to our local Barnes and Noble book store almost every Thursday to pick out a new book to read and then they’d go have lunch together.  It was no surprise to me to find a good hundred plus books all tucked away in the nooks and crannies of her sewing room after she died.  I came upon a stack of Anne Lamott books there and, having read “Traveling Mercies” years ago, I snagged the other Lamott books and threw them in my quickly-growing “take-home” pile of knick-knacks, quilts, and jewelry.

It’s been five weeks since mom passed –and four days after that was my birthday – one that I decided against celebrating.  Instead, I spent most of the day doing what Oprah used to refer to as “the ugly cry.”  Basically, this is when you can’t hold back your emotions no matter how hard you try.  Tears spontaneously bursts out of you while your face contorts and twists in unimaginably ugly ways, all the while your breath hitches and sputters like a backfiring old pickup truck.

In other words, I totally lost my shit that day.

But then the oddest thing happened.  After that day passed, I felt a huge load lift off me.  All the months of seeing mom deteriorate one day at a time right down to the last moments of her life – the stress surrounding all of that vaporized.  With them went the tension that was tightly woven into my being my mother’s daughter – that pull of never living up to her expectations or her dreams for what my life would be like.  I was supposed to be feeling overwhelming grief but, instead, I was feeling deep and abiding peace.

The more the peace settled in around me the more I began to wonder about it – was this denial (for which I’d pay dearly down the road)?  Was it my mind giving me a break after a solid year of grieving the loss of my brother?  Or, was this something else entirely?  Guilt began to push its way in – taunting me with its patronizing backlashes.  I wondered: should I feel this good this close to my mother’s death?  Am I the worst daughter ever?  What would people think if they knew I wasn’t devastated by all we’d just been through with her?  Something inside told me to keep going and to enjoy the peace while it lasted – and so I did.

I returned to work the following week and began reading “Grace, Eventually” during my lunch breaks.  I immediately remembered why I love Anne’s writing style so much: she’s truthful about the life she’s led (warts and all) and she uses the occasional word that even I have to go look up.  (I love an author that increases my vocabulary!)  Most of all, though, she writes in short snippets that I can easily digest but her words stay with me.  I think about what she writes long after I read it – and that’s my gauge for a good read.

I was most of the way through the book this week when I came upon a chapter titled, “Mom, Interrupted” and one paragraph into it I realized that this is one of those God moments where the entire universe lines up so you can know in your heart and mind that this whole “God thing” is not some giant fairy tale that is meant to appease those of us who find life too difficult to live at times.

Anne writes, “For a long time after her death I didn’t feel much of anything – except relief…”  She goes on to write, “I felt much more spaciousness in my life after my mother died, partly because my phone did not ring every several seconds….”  She goes on describing her mother – how she was a handful and how she was both imperious and had no self-esteem at the same time.  Her mother was “controlling, judgmental, withholding, needy, and desperate to be loved.”


A few pages later she writes, “It wasn’t until her death that my mother stopped exhausting me…Now, here it is three years later, and I am beginning to miss her.”

And there was my answer: the guilt about not feeling deep and ongoing grief over her death got up and skulked out of the room, and that peace I’d been experiencing in my heart slammed the door shut behind it. I was not the world’s worst daughter after all.  Anne Lamott said so. 

I threw the book in my lunch bag that evening and was driving home when it suddenly dawned on me that it was my mother who had purchased that book.  She bought that book and left it on the shelf in her sewing room where it would be easily seen.  Then I, being the only one of her three remaining children interested in such things, picked it up and threw it in my sack of stuff to bring home, and then I read it.

In other words, because of something my mother did before her death, I was comforted by her one last time after her death.  Just thinking about that makes my face contort, my breath catch, and the tears start to flow.

Here I go again…



6 thoughts on “To Grieve or Not to Grieve

  1. Julie; You are an amazing woman! You captured my journey as well. When Mama died, I experienced much of the same feelings, and she was sooo much like your mother. You described her perfectly. Thank you for making sense of my confusion. Tears & peace are flowing…love you


    1. They were a lot alike – that’s very true. I miss your mom deeply some days. There is a woman at work that looks a lot like her when she was in her late 30’s/early 40’s and there are times when I am talking to her that I wish I could give her a hug. Now I guess we’ll miss them both.


  2. This is really lovely. Thank you for sharing it. Grief is such a crazy journey and yes, the people we love keep giving gifts to us long after they are gone. Right now, I sit by a space heater my dad gave me the year before he died. When he gave it to me, I lived in Texas and wondered what in the world would I ever do with this silly gift, although there were a few chilly mornings I was glad to have it. Now, I live back in Minnesota and use this space heater all the time – and I always think of my dad. He just wanted me to be warm, and he’s still keeping me warm.


  3. Your writing is as finely crafted as your photography. I could read you all day. I love this piece beyond words and I too have tears pouring. My journey into grief was about my dad and this made so much sense to me. Thank you for sharing your journey, your growth, and this perspective. May peace continue to rule in your heart and mind.


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