A Wintering Wasp Nest of Grief

In grief, every date on the calendar is the same: empty and cold

Jenny Harrington
Human Parts
Published in
3 min readNov 10, 2023

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Photo by Jenny Harrington

Wet, amber leaves litter the ground. The damp, wooded petrichor odors and chromatic hues filtering through dead branches remind me to pull out linen tablecloths and light candles. If it weren’t for the rotting forest catching up and tapping me on the shoulders, mirroring my insides, I’d forget to rummage through the garage for holiday decorations. In grief, every date on the calendar is the same: empty and cold.

But come November, when Bigleaf maple leaves, larger than my cracked, splayed-out hands, crunch underfoot, I am alerted to a particular change. The fallen leaves, drained of chlorophyll and growing spotty and diseased, and the daily barrage of Instagram inspirational quotes declare this to be the season to practice gratitude and praise yuletides. No, thank you. I am all filled up on fuck-yous for Thanksgiving. Holidays are tricky in grief.

Nearing winter, my grief becomes an active wasp nest. Frantic and aggressive emotions swarm in and out of the single entrance to my pulp hive mind. Instead of chewed-up wood mixed with saliva, my nest is made of my own flesh and tears. My exterior is crusty-hard, and yet paper-fragile and thin-layered. I am desperate to stay attached to my child. Memories of him are my home. Gratitude threatens to destroy my paper mâché house of grief.

Presented as a cure to exterminate my melancholy, people remind me to be grateful for the life I had or for the things that still remain. They ask, “Do you have other children?” I want to say: “Would you like to hear about their suffering?”

Or, “Thanks for reminding me — yes, and I suppose they could die any day, too.”

Why does it matter if I have other children? Isn’t a mother only as happy as her least happy child? Ewan’s death does not sting any less because they exist. Gratitude for my other children, the things that remain, does not undo my loss.

Photo by Jenny Harrington

As for the life I had, it is dead. Five years decayed. The color has drained. I will never be grateful Ewan’s bright life…

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Jenny Harrington
Human Parts

Author, researcher, mother living on an island near Seattle. Now, notably, an international bunny smuggler. Find her struggles and snuggles at www.teamewan.com