Grief: Whose Business is it?

“So Your Mom Died 2 Years Ago? It’s Time To Move On.”

In October of 1986, when I was 11 – my mother’s father died. My grandfather. I remember my mom telling me to wash my hair well because there would be many people at the Irish Catholic wake that would kiss me on my head and that I should smell clean.

I remember walking into the funeral home and the stench of flowers knocking the wind out of me. I remember seeing my grandfather at the far end of the room lying in an open casket. I froze. My mother did not tell me I would see a dead body. Not to mention the dead body of my grandfather. My grandmother sat far away at the other end of the room. And my mother greeted everyone who walked in. The family spoke of funerals passed, and I remember them talking about my Aunt Betty, who died at age 27 in a car accident. They had a conversation about how pretty she looked. And about how she was buried in the dress she wore to my Uncle Sonny’s wedding. They remembered all the deaths mourned in this funeral home. They were going through the dead like pictures in an album. By day 3 of that wake, my cousin Bryan got in trouble for playing with G.I Joe action figures on the kneeler in front of the casket. My cousins and I had gotten comfortable there and when my Papa was buried and we all went home to our houses – that’s when it got really dark and quiet and sad.

In March of 1987, when I was 12 – my mother’s mother died. My grandmother. I remember visiting her in the hospital and giving her a plant of clovers because it was St. Patrick’s Day. I remember her nails were painted nicely. She wished me a happy birthday and said, “You’re almost a teenager!” She died two days later, and we did the whole shebang again. Same funeral home, same people same conversations about how the dead looked “good.” My grandmother’s nails remained the same in the casket as they had in the hospital. Painted nicely. They discussed how my grandmother was wearing the dress she wore to my Uncle Sonny’s wedding. We buried her. We went home, and my mother went to sleep. No, she went to sleep – like she stayed in her bed for the next six months with a white noise machine blowing reality out of her mind, and silencing the world around her. We ate a lot of Chinese takeout, and we all wondered if my mother would ever be the same. If she would ever come out of the room and if she would ever “not be sad.” I remember some women from the neighborhood talking on the bench in the park, and they were discussing how my mother lost her parents very close together. One woman said, “Yeah but it’s the summer. The kids wanna have fun. What’s it been? 6 Months? She’s gotta snap out of this. It’s time to move on.” My mother eventually re-entered the real world, but I’m not quite sure she has ever moved on. They were her parents, and she has told me that once both of your parents are gone – life takes on a whole new meaning, and you are NEVER the same. She told me that the sadness is unexplainable.

After that … it was just death after death for me. They say death comes in 3’s. Yes, they do. And they kept coming. My 14-year-old cousin Timmy died. My friend Tony from school got shot in a pool hall and died. My friends 36-year-old mom died suddenly – leaving him alone at 16. And there were so many more. Suicides, accidents, murders, I remember them all. And I remember everyone involved. The mothers who lost children. The sons and daughters that lost mothers and fathers. The sisters that lost brothers and the brothers that lost sisters. I remember thinking about them all the time and having immense sympathy for their loss. I sent cards and notes remembering the ones we lost to the families but never did I EVER wonder when they would “Move on?”

I think it is incredibly insensitive and detached to make that comment in a discussion about the families who have suffered a loss. I think it’s disrespectful and hurtful to make that comment to a grieving family member directly. I think it’s intrusive and belligerent. I think the people who say these sorts of things are callous and not to be trusted. I know, it sounds harsh but I’ve seen a mother hover over the casket of her 20-year-old son who shot himself, howl and scream for her baby. I watched her place her head on his chest and heave because she could not hear his heart beat. I watched his two little sisters witness their mother in this kind of pain, and I’m not sure I’ve “moved on” from that and he wasn’t my family member. I was there when the funeral home was again packed with all of us 20-year-olds and my friends – the boys – who were NY tough guys – cried like babies for our friend who passed of a heroine overdose. I watched them tremble and rock back and forth in pain. And our friend who passed, HIS mother addressed the crowd and talked to us about what drugs do. And she pleaded with us to not take drugs while wearing a t-shirt that read “LUCID AGONY.” Bob Marley’s “No Woman No Cry” played. I don’t think I’ve “moved on” from that.

Here’s my advice. No one needs your two cents. No one cares about whether or not YOU think it’s time to “snap out of it.” If the man who lost his young and beautiful wife suddenly, two years ago, hasn’t gone on a date yet – please keep your mouth shut, unless HE inquires with you about dating. Maybe consider that he’s raising two little girls by himself and not only did he lose his wife, but they lost their “Mommy” suddenly. Their stay-at-home, involved in the PTA and Home Owners Association – Mom … one morning because quite frankly, she just never woke up. Concentrate on your breath and thank your higher power for granting you another day and look up the word “empathy.” Use it in a sentence and then apply it to your index of emotions. Unfortunately, empathy is not innate. It’s learned. So if your mommy and daddy never taught you how to put yourself in another’s shoes – then you get yourself to the nearest therapy office and start to work on your own issues and then maybe – when you begin to heal you, yourself can “move on.”

Originally published on November 20, 2014
Photo Credit: © Elizabeth Regen All Rights Reserved

  1. Thank You. I am sorry about the loss of your mom. My father lost his father when he was 2 and still mourns the loss of his dad. My dad is 73 yrs. old. He has mourned his whole life. It’s ok – there is no right – there is no wrong. We feel what we feel and no one NO ONE has the right to judge. God bless your journey and know your mom is with you.

  2. Amy – I just revisited this article and see that I didn’t respond directly to your comment. I want you to know that I have watched you grieve openly and I even remember where I was when I opened facebook and saw that you had posted that your mom had passed. I am grateful when you post about missing your mom and dad – because I know one day I will be you and I am humbled and I informed by your experience. You shared a special bond with your mom and dad and I really believe they have just transitioned to a more advanced realm – to a place that goes beyond the body and is more about the spirit and I do believe they are with us always – UNTIL WE MEET AGAIN and I believe we will meet again! Thank you for being you!

  3. Kristen –
    I do know it ‘s you and did not see your response until now. I can’t believe both you and my aunt who have been best friends forever both lost your children at different stages of life yet both of you lost your babies. I remember Kristen and I remember Timmy and I wish so much that they hadn’t had to go. I wish so much that you guys, their parents, did not have to miss them so much- and that their siblings could get one more day with them. I WISH MORE THAN ANYTHING that I could do something to bring them back. Isn’t there something we can do? But this is one thing in life that there is no question about – no. They are not coming back. Ever. And that is the most difficult concept of r me to wrap my mind around. That – never again – in this life time will I see them again. And I do believe in physical heaven – I do believe our souls will be reunited but there is no proof. It’s just what I believe. There are no stages of grief – sure we can break it down by what the human brain does when we get the news that we have lost a loved one. But – what about the rest of our lives? What do we do for the rest of our lives – for ourselves…and for our friends who have suffered such serious and personal loss. I say we let them do whatever they need to do, however they need to do it, for as long as they need to do it and we offer our loving hearts forever. xoxox

  4. I’ve read several of your articles, and I love the honesty in your writing. I am thrilled that you are writing for Feminine Collective. It appears that your writing has the same effect on others as it does on me. Honesty is truly infectious. I completely agree with this article. It’s no one’s place to tell someone when they should move on or get over it. I’ve been fortunate to have never lost a loved one that is truly close to me, so I have no idea how long it would take me to “move on.” But, it’s personal, and not up to anyone else, when or how a person moves on. Live and let live. Accept and others will accept you. We are all inclined to judge but anyone with an ounce of empathy should never tell a person it’s time to move on. Grieving is a different process for every individual and it’s up to them, not you, how long it takes them to move on.

  5. Tracy: I am so sorry to hear about your mom. I didn’t know she passed so quickly. I did know about your baby girl and I am so sorry about that too. My father lost his first child, a still born baby boy. He has talked to me about that loss and how it affected him. He said it makes him sad that no one knew of his son. I’m not uncomfortable touching the subject of death. I know those who have just lost a loved are in great pain trying to get through every day and I think about how hard it must be to have to jump back into the stream of every day life where everyone else is living normally. I have been told that it brings great relief when someone mentions the loss – it’s a relief when someone, any one wants to remember with you. My aunt said that once she was having lunch with 2 neighbors after my cousin died and one of the neighbors broached the subject. The other neighbor whispered, “No. Don’t bring it up. Don’t remind her.” – My aunt responded by saying, “Do you think there is one second that goes by that I forget. Trust me, you’ll never “remind me.” I admire how positive you have stayed even though some have made insensitive comments. I don’t know where those people are coming from – I just know that for me – I can easily put myself in another’s shoes and I am not a person who thinks “that will never happen to me.” I know I could be you one day and so I try to be as empathetic as possible. Thank you for your thoughts Tracy.

  6. So very beautifully written. I read the first line and was immediately drawn to your article. You see, my mom died two years ago from stage IV colon cancer. We were told we had approximately two years. She died four months after the diagnosis. As they tried to do everything they could to save her and keep her body alive, she called me to her side and told me that my sister and I had power of attorney. At that moment, we made the decision to just make her comfortable. She died within a half an hour. I watched my mom take her last breath and climbed onto her and sobbed. I said goodbye to the woman who did everything for me, who believed me when I was a child when no one else would. Because of her, Iam the woman I am today. I will never ‘ get over it’. The loss is still unbearable – two years later.

    I also delivered my third daughter stillborn almost 6 years ago. This is one most people have no understanding of how to deal with. Many think it gets easier – but those footprints left on my heart are not ones you get over. For a longtime, people’s words or comments were painful and sometimes they still take me aback. However, when it comes to Jamie, I usually go with the mantra that ‘they meant well’ when they say something, even if it is insensitive . I believe it is hard to know what to say to someone who has lost a baby, many will just avoid the topic at all so if someone says something (especially negative), I try to remember that at least they said something. In Jamie’s case, I choose happiness….

    Again, thanks for your very beautifully written words. Grief is not a straight lined path with a finish line….

  7. Her room is still the same I haven’t had the strength to go in her room. I am selling my house now. I can’t bare living here anymore. I just dreed the day when I have to pack up her room..

  8. This article is beautifully written words of truth. Two and a half years ago I lost my mother to a short horrific battle against lung cancer. My Dad died 3 months later when a blood clot went into his lung. I’m not ever going to “get over ” thier deaths. I’m forever changed. There is lonliness that can never be filled. Not that I no longer feel happiness, because I do. The loss of them is just like another layer skin that I’m always wearing, even when I’m happy. I might forget I have it one sometimes, but it’s always there. In a way, feeling the pain comforts me. It reminds me of how deeply I loved them.

  9. John – I am so sorry about the loss of your 10 yr. old daughter. I wrote a paper in college titled “To Bare the Unbearable.” It was for a class I took called “Death and Dying.” The paper was about losing a child. I have not lost a child, however, my aunt and uncle did. And I have watched them through out these years since the passing of my cousin and I can only conclude that losing a child is to bare the unbearable. It’s unnatural. When we bring children into the world we do not expect to bury them. Their unconditional love is such a blessing. Our children are so amazing in every way and to lose them – I can only imagine must be a torment like no other. I remember after my cousin passed at 14 – when my aunt and uncle returned home to their house – without him – they said his sneakers were kicked off in the corner. His school bag was hung by the door. To know he would never be back to live his life was sorrowful in a way that is unexplainable. I think the void will never go away. The finality of death is overwhelming and when it concerns a child – there are no words. For those who suggest moving on – they should visit my cousins bedroom which is still there exactly the way he left it in 1991. Yes. It is still there just like it was on April 31, 1991. My aunt and uncle have progressed in life – they have lived one day till the next – they have not moved on from missing their son. Take your time and know their is no “normal” when it comes to grieving.

  10. i enjoyed reading your article, my daughter passed away October 27, 2014. She was only 10. I cry everyday to many times a day to count. My dad had past away last year and the pain doesn’t compare to losing a child. The pain at times is so unbearable. I have changed and will never be the same. I feel as I have no purpose in life anymore, material items are meaningless to me. Words do not comfort me, all I know is I no longer have a fear of dying. The last thing I need to hear is time to move on.

    Thank you for the read

  11. Yes Michelle you are correct. There are different kinds of death. Some die after a long painful bout with a horrible disease. And sometimes it’s a relief to the family when the suffering ends. My favorite Aunt passed after many years of serious mental illness – she had a very rough life. But when she died at only 62 🙁 I was terribly sad and still am. I am sad that I will never see her again. I am sad that so many of her dreams did not come true. I think I will mourn her forever. Maybe I will mourn for the life I wish she would have lived… maybe that is what I mourn. But I sure do not want to be told to “move on” by anyone. Ever.

  12. A moving and beautifully written piece, and a stark reminder that we all grieve differently. This article is a welcome reminder that even our best intended advice can inflict lasting damage on those we love when we are too self involved to see the world through their eyes.

  13. this is a perfect expression of collective feelings that are present during the grieving process. More importantly, this is a GREAT guide for those at a loss as to what their roles may be in that process. Grief is insanely personal, and does not comply with any set standard. Grief is fluid. It is constantly changing, and truly never ending. It cannot ever be truly understood or explained. This is probably the hardest part for most people who try to console those who are experiencing it. There are no words to “help it along”, and there is no answer. We, as a human race believe everything should be able to be explained and understood. We’ve put it into “stages” of grief, like a pretty package. I can honestly say that isn’t really an explaination. It’s just another attempt to define the undefinable. Grief. It sucks. Death. It sucks. And sometimes the only thing I can do is cry. The end.

  14. This is very moving and very true. Having lost my mother when I was 7, (I am now 22) I’m familiar with people saying that kind of things and I don’t think there’s an average mourning amount of time. I’m still mourning and It’s been 15 years now.

    And when people say that kind of things It’s like I don’t have the right to be sad anymore because It’s been 15 years.
    There are deaths that you just can’t accept, you just live with it because you have no other choice. You can’t be over it.
    People shouldn’t decide the way I should feel.

  15. We all experience different kinds of loss (death, mental illness, extended sickness/disease) and it’s a good reminder that we need to be sensitive to the pain that others may be feeling. Life is hard, but even in the sadness of this piece, it reminds us to always be there for others and be far more empathic creatures. Too much empathy never hurt anyone 🙂

  16. This is a very poignant piece. The specific visuals of loss broke my heart and I am grateful that those suffering have your strong voice to protect and defend their personal space.
    Beautifully written.

Write a Comment

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *