It’s Simple. Ask.

Sunday morning I woke up in a motel room with Natalie in Wildwood, NJ. Phil was in the room next door. We were there to watch Natalie compete in the annual NJ State Competition for gymnastics. Natalie’s been a gymnast since she was five, been competing since she was ten. This was the first year Phil came to States. It was the first time my in-laws came, too; Phil’s brother with his wife and two kids; his sister and her husband.

They all showed up because this was Natalie’s last meet. She’s outgrown her time at the gym. The last of the kids she’s close to is graduating, leaving for college. For Natalie, the sport includes the friendships that come with it, friendships that will hopefully last a lifetime. But it’s time to move on. We left Sunday knowing we wouldn’t be coming back. And I was feeling the loss particularly because it was Mother’s Day, and not because she’s never coming back to me,  but because another phase in her life  – in our life – is over.  “I’m trying to think – did I ever miss a meet?” I asked her; “There must’ve been one I didn’t come to.” She shook her head. “None,” she said. “You always came.”

She’ll practice, for fun, for the next month. Then July 1st she’s off to France for five weeks. The longest time she’s ever been away from me, a tiny taste of what’s to come. And I suppose I shouldn’t be upset because losing her to a life she loves living is far better than losing her to the alternative.

Yes, I know. I’m not “losing” her. But fuck all if that isn’t what it feels like. Today I’m angry, I’m mournful – I’m hungover from the crazy that was Mother’s Day. What’s any of it for? Life is loss and in my better moments I know there’s also what’s between the loss. Thing is the loss hurts more than the joy that having brings. Philip’s death has marked me. I’m branded and apart and I want something for it. What? Some recognition? Acknowledgment of how hard it is, as if I don’t get that anyway?

It was hard being around my in-laws. Leaving a marriage breaks up a family, each in its own way. I’m not sorry for my choices but that doesn’t make it easy. Sitting there Sunday, hearing bits and pieces of conversations that no longer have anything to do with me, added to a lonely I love to get lost in. And I was angry that none of them mentioned Philip, no one acknowledged I have two children, that the child who first made me a Mother died; that all anyone said was, “Happy Mother’s Day!” like it didn’t mean something it wasn’t ever supposed to mean.

But what do I know what anyone was thinking? It’s hard for people; no one’s sure what to do, what to say. It’s easier to say nothing. Grief throws people – certainly no one more than the person who’s suffering it, but also those on the edges of it. Would I have known what to do with someone’s grief before Philip died? And it’s not that I “know” what to do as much as I’m not afraid to ask. I understand the need to be asked. What more caring thing could someone say to me than, “How are you? How has it been for you?” And why is something as simple as that so hard to say?

Sunday night, after Natalie and I got home, I went out with the dogs, found a bench in a field and sat and cried for a good long time, cried like I haven’t in a while. I wanted some stranger to come by, ask me what was wrong. I might’ve had more luck with that on the busy corner of Broad and Watchung than in a dark and deserted field. But I think I was digging myself in deeper, drunk on grief and pity. And I paid for it these last few, terrified of losing Natalie’s love because how could she care for a thing as low and pitiful as me?

Last year, on Mother’s Day, I wrote a post called, “Still the best day…” Who is that, I thought; who is that calm and thoughtful woman because I feel too crazy to think it could have been me. But it was me. Grief is not linear. It’s not a march forward – it’s not even a “one step forward, two steps back” thing. Its nature is cyclical, but truth is it’s a spiral, deepening even as it goes round and round. Crazy’s part of it, is all. How could it not be?

© 2014 Denise Smyth


7 Comments (+add yours?)

  1. behindthemask
    May 14, 2014 @ 16:24:53

    Forgive if this is not a good question to ask but do they offer any grief support groups where you live, so you don’t feel so alone? Sending hugs xo


    • Denise
      May 16, 2014 @ 14:50:13

      Of course it’s okay to ask – I’ll tell you, Zoe. I have a hard time picking myself up and going out. It’s one thing if a friend asks, another when I’m on my own. I went to a group for a while, but it wasn’t helping. That was when Philip first died, though. I don’t know. I feel so alone because it just gets clearer that he’s never coming home and no one can make that better for me.

      Thanks, Zoe, for caring.


      • behindthemask
        May 16, 2014 @ 20:14:36

        I totally understand what you mean. Keep reaching out though don’t let yourself go through this alone. Although very sadly Philip is not coming back fight for your life for him. Big hugs xo

  2. Lucia Maya
    May 14, 2014 @ 17:20:25

    Thank you. You’ve again written so eloquently and movingly what and how I feel. Grief is not linear, it seems like waves to me. It seems to get more intense as it goes, yet it’s also more diffuse, always changing, unpredictable, and a spiral feels frightening, like it’s just going to get harder, which I can’t/won’t believe.

    I too, know the grief “hangover”, and I hear Elizabeth telling me it’s time to move on, get going with my life, but I also know I can’t skip over the emotions. I can simply watch the stories and notice them, be aware of them, question the beliefs (on a good day!)…Getting in touch with the rage lately, and hard to write about still, but that’s coming!

    I know that sometimes it just takes someone asking me kindly “how are you?”, really wanting to know, that will start me sobbing, and I don’t always want to do that. So perhaps that’s part of why people don’t always ask, or try to go beneath the surface – afraid of their own emotions, afraid of yours…?
    I am grateful that you use this forum to let me/us know how you are. I do care and send you much love.


  3. Denise
    May 16, 2014 @ 14:54:28

    And I’m grateful that you’re reading what I write. I agree – people are afraid of their emotions, as well as mine. How come we don’t know how to sit and let someone cry? It’s not that I don’t know how hard that can be – I don’t like, for instance, when Natalie’s crying and I can’t help but to sit with her and let her be. But then, that’s exactly the help, isn’t it? And certainly there are people who do that for me. Sunday was just one of those “perfect storms.”

    Love you, Lucia.


  4. Becki Duckworth
    Aug 29, 2014 @ 09:37:21

    Crying is ok. I am catching up on your blog and sending you comfort.


  5. Denise
    Aug 29, 2014 @ 10:25:08

    Thank you Becki – there is never enough of that around, for sure.


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