Vicissitudes of Grief

I expected to feel normal after a week. When my mother died on January 15th, 2016, I thought I was ready for it. She and I had often discussed death during our phone conversations, which occurred mostly every other day during the past decade. Then at some point this winter, I realized grief is a tricky thing.

Those telephone conversations added up – she never liked it when I had to go before an hour had passed. With the exception of my wife, I don’t talk that much with anyone. I didn’t think I’d miss our talks (they seemed mostly inconsequential at the time) but throughout January and into February, I found myself thinking, “I should tell Mom about this.”

What did we talk about? Work, family, movies, music, theater, books, the past and the future. Everything and nothing. Out for a walk in January, I slipped on a patch of ice and landed flat on my back. Staring up into the falling snow, I heard an imaginary and entirely real conversation fleet through my head – her concern that I’d hurt myself, followed by mockery at my clumsiness, closing with an admonition that I wasn’t as young as I once was, so be more careful.

Today would have been her 70th birthday. Last year I sent her Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young’s Déjà Vu. We talked about the song Teach Your Children, with the line, “Their father’s hell did slowly go by…” My father had died in 2014, at 68. He was a liar and a thief, which cast a long shadow on our lives. My favorite song from the album is Neil Young’s Helpless:

There is a town in north Ontario
With dream comfort memory to spare
And in my mind
I still need a place to go
All my changes were there

So many days this winter, I’d stare at my computer monitor without any motivation to be productive. I stopped running, writing, reading. Gradually, life returned. It took longer than a week. I kept wondering, “Do I feel normal yet?” and eventually realized this was the new normal.

Today, I might have sent her CSN’s Daylight Again, which I’d given my parents as a Christmas gift in 1982. She loved Wasted on the Way and Southern Cross, but I’m partial to this song:

There are windows on the water
Lighting up the silver strand
Shining on the sea
Shining on the sea


And the ocean’s just a player
On an old piano
Who repeats one melody
Repeats one melody


I belong on the shore
Hustlin’ nickels and dimes
‘Cause it ain’t long before it’s gone
You might as well have a good time

Happy Birthday, Mom.