Ten Things I Now Know About Mourning

An empty bench off-centre in a verdant park.
Photo by Ann on Unsplash

One. You need to laugh. People will say incongruously offensive things in their effort to be nice and you don’t have the emotional bandwidth to hold a grudge and you sure don’t have the energy for a zinger so just save it up, tell it to your people, and laugh. Everything you are experiencing is surreal and it’s not going to stop being surreal. Laughing is better than trying to make it make sense.

Two. The worst part is telling people and the only worse worst thing is finding out too late that the person you’re talking to doesn’t already know. You will suddenly understand why everyone used to care about the obituary pages so much and you will wish you had a QR code on your forehead that people could scan for the necessary information.

Three. Being alone with your thoughts is overrated at the best of times but it really sucks when you’re grieving. Consider having one AirPod playing a fatuous podcast at a barely-perceptible volume at almost all times that you are alone. That way, you can learn about the history of birth certificates or the role of the gold standard or something instead of thinking about how the worst thing that ever happened to you has now happened and you will be forever changed. Because that is a real bummer.

Four. This is for those on the periphery of grief: when you deliver food to a grieving person (and you should), consider three things: portion, timing, and vessel. First, the portion should be proportionate to the size of the grieving family. Second, everyone will deliver food in the first two-three days and then never again, so consider waiting until week two or three for a visit (but maybe don’t plan for a visit-visit — a drop and run is an underappreciated gift on its own). The first and second point are interrelated (I have spent more time in a tetris game with our tiny freezer and/or intercepting deliveries than doing anything else). And finally, package your thoughtful and generous gift up in something disposable. I am sorry Mother Earth, but this is one thing you need just take on the chin. The washing and returning of vessels is a lot, my people. A lot.

Five. Also for my periphery peeps: don’t compare your grief. Even if you think the situation is so utterly similar to your own. Even if it is literally the exact same series of facts on paper. Death is simultaneously the great equalizer and a totally unique experience for each of us. When you tell someone in mourning that you know exactly how they feel, you risk making them feel erased in their most vulnerable moment. So just don’t do it. Save that for your group chat.

A corollary to five that is very important: this is not just like a thing that happened that wasn’t the death of a beloved person. It just isn’t. I know how much you loved that vase. I do. I beg you to stop talking.

Six. Whatever relationship you had to eating and caring for yourself before, it’s fucked up now. Sorry.

Seven. You will maybe be surprised to know that the dog is as sad as he is. The dog is so, so sad. The dog is incomprehensibly sad and the whole family is engaged in a project of distracting the dog. When the dog is distracted, he is himself. When he is not distracted, he is sad. Distracting the dog distracts us, too. This might be his MO.

Eight. You, unfortunately, are not a dog, and thus distraction can only work so well for so long. Eventually, you’ll need to do the work of processing this immeasurable loss. You can feel that need the way you feel something in your peripheral vision before you know for sure it’s there. Present and not-present. Schroedinger’s emotional labour. It’s not clear what this process will look like or when it will come. It feels like there might need to be guacamole? Or gin? The details are hazy. It’s coming, though — both a promise and a threat. But not, like, now. Now is still the time for distraction.

Nine. You can’t predict when you will dissolve. A song lyric. A line in a news story. A bird you don’t know the name of but he would. Other people being kind is the worst, and the least predictable. And then over and over and over again: that feeling that you should text him about this moment, send this picture, remember this for the next FaceTime. That recipe he would have loved to try. That person who would have made him roll his eyes. That overriding sense that there will be so many things — big and small and significant and foolish — that you want to share and a missing person to share them with.

Ten. You’re in this for the long haul.


  • All so very true and well expressed. I’m sure you will not be surprised to know that I have actually thought of Kushie and am not at all surprised he is sad. Of course, he is. Please give him a pat or throw a ball for us. Take care. Losing a parent sucks. It truly does. Not comparing, just agreeing.

  • You can never go wrong sitting down on the floor and giving that dog a scratch behind the ears. I just did that.

    Ten living truths heard. And number ten, the haul is long but you are on it.

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