Since my mom died about a year and a half ago, neither friends nor family have seemed to know how to support my grief. Even people who have lost loved ones before seem uncomfortable around a person grieving.
After the first few days, people stopped even mentioning it; they stopped offering to “do anything,” and they stopped telling me how sorry they were. I watched my generally wonderful partner struggle with how to console me in the weeks after my mom died. He would visibly squirm when I brought up my mom, her death, or the aftermath; his most peculiar inclination was to flat out ignore my comments, then to quickly change the subject. But I couldn’t blame him, because that used to be me; from the time my best friend’s mom died when we were in the sixth grade to my own mother’s death, I had been a terrible source of support and compassion to just about everyone around me who grieved.
When my best friend, Jessie, lost her mom, sixth-grade me had never known anyone who died before. Jessie hadn’t even told me that her mom was sick. In hindsight, though, something was not right: Jessie was suddenly being indulged by her parents in confusingly lavish and unprecedented ways. I was jealous of her new computer, new clothes, and the slumber parties she threw with no expense spared. Her mom was often there, and she did not look well, but I was too young to realize that her eyes had turned a jaundiced yellow because of advanced liver cancer. I didn’t know that Jessie was being spoiled for reasons I couldn’t even fathom at the time (and, having lost my own mom at 34, I still can’t imagine how hard this must have been for her).
Everything about Jessie’s grieving process confused me.
On a day that I had planned to spend at Jessie’s house, my mom answered the phone. It was Jessie’s dad, informing us that I couldn’t come over because Jessie’s mom had died the night before. I was confused; what the hell happened? Just the day before my dad had taken Jessie and me to a historic part of town, and there’s an old-timey photo of us from that day, dressed in Old West garb, looking happy and carefree and 12. I did not…