Grief is a musty, ashy-knuckled nuisance that shows up to your door without calling first. What do you do when it runs up on you, swinging? I’m still figuring that out after losing my mom and grandma, so I asked people across Janet Jackson’s Internet how they handle moments of longing and sadness.
by Alexander Hardy
What do you do when you reach for the phone to share a victory, ask about an ingredient or step in a recipe, or laugh about something ridiculous that happened to you with someone you love and deflate when you remember that, oh, they died?
I had one of those, “Damn, I wish I could call my mom” moments the day after I used her glorious greens recipe for one of the Sunday dinners I’ve been hosting at my apartment. A friend raved about them and I wanted to tell her how much my friends loved her recipe.
That still happens a lot.
Edilma Hardy left us on July 12, 2022 and I think about her all the time. I often called to ask for her expert opinion while kitchening or hyping myself up to attempt a dish. I loved making her proud, brightening her days with calls to share good news and evidence of recovery and impending okayness. I listen to saved voicemails to remember how she sounds.
So what do you do with that excitement, need for advice or assurance, that concern or love that made you reach for the phone?
Do you let the balloon float away? Bust out your journal or turn to your altar? Breeze past the moment and forget about it? Phone a friend?
In GetSomeJoy’s Literary Therapy Writing Workshops on using food, music, and storytelling to navigate grief and other raggedy times, we encourage participants to tap into joyful memories, traditions, and lessons to keep deceased (or estranged) loved ones with us and maintain a rich connection to them. We remind people that, while there are suggestions or models for moving through grief that resonate with some folks, mourning has no timeline or standard operating procedures. Everybody’s grief—each occasionally overlapping instance of it—has a different flavor, texture, depth, and impact.
What helps you cope, process, and stop hyperventilating might make my spirit itch or feel inaccessible or insufficient to me. And that’s okay.
Now, you could always mosey on down to see a medium like Rita Mae Brown for support and clarity when memories of and questions about your dearly departed have you verklempt and rolling in the deep.
But since grief will run up on you outside of Rita Mae’s business hours, at thee wackest of times, chances are, you might need something a little more sustainable, something portable, budget-friendly, and customizable in your emotional support toolkit for when The Feels kick in the door. And there’s no correct way to use that tool (as long as it doesn’t harm anyone).
We also lost my grandmother, my mom’s mom, nine months after her daughter told us she was tired of fighting and ready to rest. I’m still figuring out new ways to channel that love and untangle complex emotions. Shoutout to therapy! And journals!
Now, instead of calling Mom or Grandma for culinary advice, I call people who knew them to ask what they might have done or said. It helps sometimes.
I asked people on Facebook and Twitter what they do in similar moments and how they keep that overwhelming love alive. Their thoughtful replies showed me that each of us finds our own way to dance with grief.
Here is some of what people shared.
I started making videos of me speaking to my mom. I just needed to get it out. I would tell her about what's going on in my life like I was on the phone talking to her. I usually delete them afterwards, but it made me feel good to just release.
My aunt writes on her son’s Facebook timeline REGULARLY as if she’s talking to him. Next month will mark a year since his death. As for my grandfather, who I just lost last month, still figuring that out. It’s a very hollow feeling. In my mind, I just say “hey granddaddy” and keep it moving.
I sometimes listened to recordings I had of my Mom. Also it helped sometimes to just stay in the moment and let it out. I read this book and bawled my eyes out. But it helped to feel less alone since others were going through the same thing in the book. Sending hugs.
I would cook…my mother and I had a cooking connection, or drink tea and speak to her. I had to say the words I wanted to say…aloud, until I was able to have those conversations with my heart.
I just talk, especially when out in nature or gardening - something my Mama loved! And she will reach out to me when I see a monarch or a beautiful tree or sunrise. And always at just the right time! It is very comforting and puts a smile on my face. I still miss seeing & talking to her, but very grateful to still feel her spirit Very sorry for your loss
I speak aloud. I ask them to come rest by me. Then, if I can, I’ll play or hum a song they liked or watch something they enjoyed on tv.
Over the last 23 years, I lost four family members, the most recent was last year. Each person reminds me when they're present, not just in my thoughts, but especially when I'm cooking - we have a saying, that when you're cooking and food falls to the floor, that one of your ancestors who may have liked that particular food, wants some, and is the reason when we open a new bottle of liquor (rum), we throw a cap full over our shoulders, toward the door or in the corner of a room; but, when I remember each of my family members, especially my mother, I cry...usually, when I'm feeling overwhelmed, my mother would come into my thoughts, I'd feel calmer and am better able to focus.
I talk out loud all the time....I ask my mom what she wants me to do and if I'm doing the right thing. I'm a little weird but in the spirit realm my grandma likes to travel with me so when I travel, I make sure to leave a chair with nothing on it so she can watch over me in my sleep. My brother I will text on his Facebook page and I connect with his friends.
I have an altar and speak to them there.
I still have my dad's and granddad's numbers saved in my phone "favorites." I can't bring myself to delete them.
But it stings sometimes when I see them. But sometimes it's comforting?
When I feel the overwhelming urge to talk to my dad, sometimes I call his wife, or his sister, or my sisters, and tell them what I would have told him, then what I think he'd say, and laugh together. And share memories and stories.
Sometimes I just say "hi Daddy!" when I see something that reminds me of him (e.g. his name was Basil so every time I see a basil plant), or if I "feel" him around, or my toddler says something creepy about a ghost.
In the early throes of grief, when I had such anger and RAGE at him, I wrote an angry letter to him...after all, I TOLD him so...I begged him to get the Covid shot, which I believe would have prevented his death.
I also wrote a forgiveness letter.
And another "nice" letter I could read aloud at his memorial.
The writing has helped the most. Even writing this now, about what has helped me, helps.
(more responses below)
I talk to them out loud and imagine their response (I hear their voices in my head). We have whole conversations. I just talked to my Aunt last night about the birth of her first granddaughter.
I journal, light a candle, and talk to her like she is still here in the physical.
My best friend passed in January. I talk to her everyday. I have her cell phone and carry it with me every day. I don't call it, but look at the picture of us that is the screensaver. The most difficult [thing] was to stop automatically picking up the phone to call her work desk phone. But it has faded over time.
I have written letters, listen to old voice notes, have a meal that is one of their faves and speak aloud.
We kept my Mother's phone on for a year so we could hear her voice on the voice mail greeting.
When I had something to say or tell her I would speak out loud. I tried journaling but it made me sad so I didn't finish.
I talk to friends about them.
I say a prayer to them. I meditate and have a conversation with them in the spirit realm. I wrote letters (journal entries) to them. Sometimes I daydream and envision being with them again.
I listen to her favorite songs and talk to her!
I have a voicemail from my dad that I listen to when I’m missing his voice. He was asking me to bring him a plate from a cookout, which was very fitting, so I listen and it makes me laugh.
I speak aloud. I go to my kitchen and I cry. I go touch something of theirs. Pictures. I go to my shower and weep. I also have started trying to sit in gratitude for the love and gift of having someone to grieve. (Thanks to the shaman I saw in Bali).
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