Best-Of Advice

On grief

Dear Coquette,

Eight months ago today, my husband killed himself. Last weekend, I finally held his memorial. I’d been planning it since the day he died. It was a big party, with food and drink and fireworks and friends and so many memories. Lots of family, too–including my in-laws, whom I met for the first time (he’d been estranged from his family). It was both very good and very painful, which I expected. I didn’t expect the emotional aftermath. I’m spacey, exhausted, irritable, fragile, unstable. Can’t eat. Can’t sleep. Can’t read. Can’t listen to music. I feel like I did in the first weeks and months after he died. Before the party, I was feeling ok. Not great, but better than I had in a long while. Now, the grief is raw and fresh again. I’ve learned that grieving isn’t a tidy, linear process, but I’m desperate to make some sense of it. If I could parse it, I think I wouldn’t feel so overwhelmed, but I can’t. It just seems chaotic and terrifying.

Can you explain grief?

Thanks for everything you do, always.


It’s never going to make any sense. That’s not part of the deal. We don’t get answers to those kinds of questions. Never have. Never will. There’s no point in trying to parse it. You’ll spin yourself dizzy and just wind up confused (or worse, religious.)

Instead, sit down next to it and just be. Feel all of that shit. Let it wash over you and through you. Do it again and again, as many times as necessary. Don’t be afraid of it.

In a few days, you’ll be back to relative normal, but four months from now on the anniversary, be prepared for this to happen again. It won’t be quite as intense, but it will still be significant. Let that be okay. (And when the day comes that you finally move on, let that be okay too.)

Your grief is real, and nothing real is tidy or linear. You’re doing it right, though. You’re supposed to be exhausted, irritable, fragile, and unstable — but you’re also resilient. One day food will bring flavor again. Sleep will bring rest. Books and music will bring joy.

That’s how this works. It’s not the same thing as any of it making sense, but it’s all we’ve ever had, and on most days, it’s enough.


13 thoughts on “On grief

    • Tillzilla says:

      That was brilliant. I swear, Coke has explained more difficult shit, and provided more comfort, in answers like this than have years of therapy or words from friends.

  1. Hanbanjo says:

    I want to say that I’m sorry for your loss, but I’ve always felt like there’s a certain triteness that comes with that phrase whenever I’m about to say it. And you didn’t really lose him either because he’ll always be with you, but he’s just not here anymore.

    I wish I could be with you through your grieving process. He must have been an incredible individual to have such an amazing person care for him so deeply.

    In my line of work, I feel as though I am never finished grieving. I can only hope you find peace and some semblance of closure. If there’s anything I am sorry for, it’s that you might feel like you’re going through this alone.

    You’re not alone. It’s lonely. But you’re not alone.

  2. We had the memorial for our daughter 2 months after she died, and for about 6 hours I thought I was going to die while it was going on (before and after.) Then a few years of decreasing overwhelming waves of grief. Now, days past what would have been her 27th birthday, I am relatively stable. There are still times, like now while I’m writing this, that the grief and loss are just as raw as they did on April 29, 2010. But it passes, and I (we) move forward with it.
    Like Hanbanjo says, you’re not alone. Reach out if you can.

    • Anna says:

      Thank you for your words. This is truly comforting and hopeful, even for those of us not going through bereavement.

  3. Carmen says:

    Wow this is great, this reminds me about this statement a professor made in a death and dying class I took. She told us about some paradoxical truths on grief. One was “time heals; yet time makes no difference.” This paradoxical statement about grief holds true “time heals, yet it can also make no difference,” because no matter how much time goes by we will always remember our loved ones and some days it comes back to you and hits you hard where your wounds are reopened again within seconds. Remembering may bring us joy and tears in our lives. After so much time has passed you eventually feel “better” and you know life goes on and our loved ones live on through our memories of them. We all realize life goes on after a loved ones death but it does not make living life any easier. Your life is changed because someone you held dear is now gone. So time helps us heal yet at the same time, it makes no damn difference. Sometimes out of nowhere, or on the anniversary of a loved ones death our wounds are fresh again and you feel the same way you did when our loved one first passed away. I learned that it’s okay though. All our feelings are valid and becoming upset around a certain time is okay. Wallowing in your sadness is okay, as long as you do not stay there and are able to move out of that place.

  4. Leila says:

    This line though “It’s not the same thing as any of it making sense, but it’s all we’ve ever had, and on most days, it’s enough.”
    So real, so on point, regarding everything in life really. Coke, your writing is good (and you know that), but sometimes you put things in such a simple but brilliant way, it puts a smile on my face and makes me feel all sorts of things. Just thanks.

  5. Michele says:

    The problem with grieving someone is the many facets that take time to reveal themselves. Six months down the road, it occurs to you for the first time that you will never smell them again when they are fresh out of the shower or you realize they will never have the pleasure of eating an all-beef hot dog again – shit like that. I’ve been haunted by “death” my entire life, starting with my mother dying when I was six. I ended up being an orphan (my father also died of cancer 7 years after my mom) but in addition to that, I’ve lost 2 husbands, 2 children, a best friend of 35 years and, most recently, a 20-year old nephew. And that’s not counting all the good friends I’ve lost to suicide, cancer, murder and car accidents. You’d think I’d be used to it but the older I get, the harder I grieve for some reason. My nephew’s death made my world cave in. Our family is so small to begin with – just me and my two sisters, and our children – so losing someone like Artie was beyond devastating. I will never forget driving away from his viewing, crying hysterically because they were going to be cremating his body at 4:30pm and all physical evidence of his existence would be destroyed forever. I have never really recovered from that and I’m crying now as I write this and remember that day. Bottom line – death fucking sucks.

  6. Steven says:

    I found this a few years ago while I while grieving yet another life stolen by opiate addiction.

    I originally found it on Reddit of all places.
    Here’s the original post:

    You can also find it if you search for “reddit grief waves gsnow.”

    “Alright, here goes. I’m old. What that means is that I’ve survived (so far) and a lot of people I’ve known and loved did not. I’ve lost friends, best friends, acquaintances, co-workers, grandparents, mom, relatives, teachers, mentors, students, neighbors, and a host of other folks. I have no children, and I can’t imagine the pain it must be to lose a child. But here’s my two cents.
    I wish I could say you get used to people dying. I never did. I don’t want to. It tears a hole through me whenever somebody I love dies, no matter the circumstances. But I don’t want it to “not matter”. I don’t want it to be something that just passes. My scars are a testament to the love and the relationship that I had for and with that person. And if the scar is deep, so was the love. So be it. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are a testament that I can love deeply and live deeply and be cut, or even gouged, and that I can heal and continue to live and continue to love. And the scar tissue is stronger than the original flesh ever was. Scars are a testament to life. Scars are only ugly to people who can’t see.
    As for grief, you’ll find it comes in waves. When the ship is first wrecked, you’re drowning, with wreckage all around you. Everything floating around you reminds you of the beauty and the magnificence of the ship that was, and is no more. And all you can do is float. You find some piece of the wreckage and you hang on for a while. Maybe it’s some physical thing. Maybe it’s a happy memory or a photograph. Maybe it’s a person who is also floating. For a while, all you can do is float. Stay alive.
    In the beginning, the waves are 100 feet tall and crash over you without mercy. They come 10 seconds apart and don’t even give you time to catch your breath. All you can do is hang on and float. After a while, maybe weeks, maybe months, you’ll find the waves are still 100 feet tall, but they come further apart. When they come, they still crash all over you and wipe you out. But in between, you can breathe, you can function. You never know what’s going to trigger the grief. It might be a song, a picture, a street intersection, the smell of a cup of coffee. It can be just about anything…and the wave comes crashing. But in between waves, there is life.
    Somewhere down the line, and it’s different for everybody, you find that the waves are only 80 feet tall. Or 50 feet tall. And while they still come, they come further apart. You can see them coming. An anniversary, a birthday, or Christmas, or landing at O’Hare. You can see it coming, for the most part, and prepare yourself. And when it washes over you, you know that somehow you will, again, come out the other side. Soaking wet, sputtering, still hanging on to some tiny piece of the wreckage, but you’ll come out.
    Take it from an old guy. The waves never stop coming, and somehow you don’t really want them to. But you learn that you’ll survive them. And other waves will come. And you’ll survive them too. If you’re lucky, you’ll have lots of scars from lots of loves. And lots of shipwrecks.”

    Share it far and wide.

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