Posted by: Ingrid | June 28, 2017

The labyrinth of grief

Since the early hours of June 28th, a decade ago, when I got the phone call telling me my mom had died, I have had a radar for quotations about grief. I think there is something about losing someone you love – you are always trying to find words that express what you feel but are too clumsy to say or to feel like someone else understands the experience and you aren’t crazy or alone.

Some words are better than others. While I absolutely love C.S. Lewis and his writings, there is a reason why I understand, A Grief Observed, the short book that came out of his journal entries after his wife died, and may never again pick up his Problem with Pain. Grief can’t be neatly labeled and categorized. It moves around unpredictably, is messy, and crops up again and again, when you least expect it. It leads you to think thoughts that you’ve never entertained and leaves you crying for no reason in the middle of the night.

When I was binge reading random library books during finals week I picked up a librarian recommended book (this method of book selection works for me about 70% of the time when I’m in a hurry). Entitled, A Boy made of Blocks, by Keith Stuart, it chronicles the story of a father with an autistic eight-year-old son and a failing marriage. As he works to understand himself, his wife, and his son better, he finds a surprising connection to his son through video games. I didn’t think I would like it but I loved the book. In a paragraph I liked enough to copy down in a notebook, the father says this about grief:

Here is a secret about grief. It’s kind of an open secret, because everyone who has ever experienced it knows it to be true, but here it is anyway. Grief never really goes away. Time doesn’t heal. Not fully. After a while – a few months, a few years maybe – grief retreats into the darkest corners of your mind, but it will lurk there indefinitely. It will leak into everything else you do or feel; it will lurch forward when you don’t expect it to. It will haunt you when you sleep.

Another thing people don’t tell you is that grief isn’t two-dimensional. It grows and changes with you, which I think is wildly unfair. Instead of being able to look back ten years and think, Ah, how sad to not actually be able to establish a solid adult relationship with my mom in my late twenties, it instead becomes a new form of grief in each new stage of life. I don’t know that any of those stages is worse than the young children stage, particularly when only one functional grandparent is left in the picture. There is something about the quintessential idea of a grandma to me. When my kids feel exhausting or hard to love, it seems that a grandma could perhaps see past some of the daily difficulties and could believe in and love my kids better than I can in those tough moments. That she could be someone who encourages my children, when sometimes it seems to me that no one is there to build them up and be on their side and in their corner.

The grief at this stage is the weight of knowing that I am it. As a mom without family around or a grandma in the picture I provide all the continuity with the past and the future. Any traditions, stories, and family information is all on me. Most days I feel like I can’t even carry the emotions and disappointments of a seven-year-old, so bridging the gap of a missing generation seems like far too much to shoulder. I have to raise these kids… surely someone else can regale them with stories about crazy uncle-so-and-so and show them pictures of where their great-great-great-great grandparents came from.

My kids know that they had a grandma who they never met. With side-ways glances they make comments about a friend’s grandma who was at school pick-up or kids who go off to grandma’s house with the unspoken understanding that such things will never be for them. Lily has solved problem this by creating her own imaginary grandma named Cee-Fee (Cifi rhymes with Fifi?) with whom she leaves her dolls when she jets off to work or school. She has recently taken to telling me, often, that when she is a mom then I will be a Grammy, which shows touching faith on her part that somehow life will be fair when often it is not.

I guess I thought that things would have been tucked neatly away at this point. I thought I would be sad for what happened then and instead if feels as if I’ve been followed for a decade by constant reminders of what I no longer have. It still remains surprising to me how much you can miss someone you haven’t seen in ten years.




  1. I totally understand and miss my mom daily. How I wish I could pick up the phone and call her to tell her about my day or the kids. Dad is gone to, longer than mom, and that makes it hard to when something goes wrong, dad always knew how to fix it or who to call. You have my number, call or text if you need an ear to listen or long distance shoulder to cry on. I love and my a surrogate grandkids.

    • Thanks, Jody…that means a lot. I thought of you the other day when Isaac, out of the blue, said: “Do you remember Grandma Jody in Michigan? She loved us a lot.” You really made an impact on them!

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