Grief is hard. It is overwhelming and seemingly unending. It seems like we can generally identify and describe grief but we really don’t ever seem to talk about it. We know it exists. We know everyone experiences it. You might even already know that everyone’s experience with it is different. One thing we don’t seem to acknowledge is the awkwardness of grief.
Please allow me to describe my own awkwardness and experiences.
In February 2020, my mother passed away from cancer. I remember sitting in the funeral home with my family picking out the casket. As if this wasn’t uncomfortable and awkward enough, the funeral director turns to us and asks, “what will she wear?” Of course none of us have ever thought about this but somehow I volunteered myself to go shopping for her. My mom never really had a style so shopping for her wasn’t an easy task. Nothing came to mind as something we had to have for her except a head scarf, as she really didn’t want anyone to see her now bald head. Discussing fashion trends in a funeral home was rather awkward. Thinking of what my mom would want to wear in a coffin was awkward.
Off to the local department store I went. Alone. Walking around, still numb and in disbelief that she was gone. Fighting tears. I picked up and put down at least 20 things. Nothing seemed appropriate. My mom was a medical assistant. I usually saw her in scrubs or pajamas. A tear rolled down my face in the middle of the store. I was too exhausted from not sleeping and days of crying to even fight back and try to hold it in. Getting frustrated, I closed my eyes and tilted my head toward the ceiling and said aloud, “What do you want?” At that very moment, I received a text from my mom’s sister … “don’t forget a head scarf” Ok, this is a sign. So I scurry over to the scarves, still crying. Passing strangers that move away from me as if I have cooties, but this is before Covid so apparently a crying person is scary.
I start thumbing through the silk scarves. They are all ugly. Nothing suits my mom’s simple personality. But a pink floral one falls to the ground. Perfect, another sign. “Thank you Mom! Keep helping me! Please?!” I scoop it up and head back to the sweaters. I almost instantly find a matching pink sweater. And a gray one. I text my sister. “Which one” as I hold up both with the pink scarf and snap a picture. No answer. I pick the pink one. A funeral is already gray enough. More tears, but now with the broken hyperventilating grunt that comes with it. The grunt I try to hold back but allow the tears. Off to the pants and I quickly find something that will work. But wait … does she need panties? Still no answer from my sister about pink or gray. I can’t think of anyone else to ask about panties. So in the middle of the department store, I Google “do dead people need panties?” That was really no help and now I don’t know if I should laugh at myself or cry harder. So I just buy them anyway. They were probably the fanciest silky white panties my mom ever had. Expensive too. It is extremely awkward to think about your mom’s panties at any time but now especially. But even if just once, she deserves to have expensive panties.
I go to the register to pay and the cashier says, “someone is very lucky to have such a beautiful new outfit!”. My mouth said “thanks” but my brain said “it’s for my mom to get buried in tomorrow.” I saved that cashier (and me) from a very awkward moment by not saying that aloud. By now, the tears had finally stopped but as soon as she handed me the receipt, they flowed freely again. I turned away quickly and scurried to the exit. Once to my car, I let out a hysterical, hyperventilating cry in the dark, wiped my face, and drove to my brother’s to drop this off for him to take to the funeral home in the morning.
Fast forward a year and half later. The awkwardness hasn’t stopped. I went to the tire shop the other day and the manager grew up with my mom and dad. He asked how they were and I just started crying. I tell him, “she passed away about a year ago” and his response is, “I’m sorry.” Mine was, “me too.” There is no unawkward way to respond to “I’m sorry your mom died.” None. What do you normally say when someone says “sorry”? “Thanks”? “It’s ok”? “Apology accepted”? None of that works. What do you say when you cry randomly? When you are at work? When you are driving? When the song on the radio takes you to your childhood when you were laughing with your mom and you know that can never happen again? Or when you are cooking and a tear falls into your spouse’s dinner? And then, do you serve that dinner anyway?
Over and over again. These awkward moments pop up over and over again. I still don’t know how to respond. So I just let the tears flow with no explanation to those around me. I sit in that awkward silence and lean into the grief and awkwardness. It isn’t going anywhere so I might as well get comfortable. It’s hard. But holding it in is harder.