Tricounty News

Riding the grief train



By Jill Pertler

It's a year this week since my mom died. Most people will tell you the initial year is the hardest because of all the firsts. First Christmas. First birthday. First Mother's Day without your mother.

I'll admit those firsts were difficult, but I persevered. Might even be that I'm stronger for it. To be honest, I'm not sure.

The surprising thing, for me, about the first year didn't involve any of the important firsts. It had more to do with what you'd call everyday moments that caught me off guard.

Like, I might be brushing my teeth, or thinking about whether we should have chicken or pork chops for dinner andÐBang! Something would hit me and a memory would rush in before I could think to stop it.

There were times when I thought about picking up the phone to call her. Or days when I sensed her presence, even though I don't suppose I really did. I think I wanted to, you know, believe she was close by.

Sometimes, for a moment, I'd forget she was gone. Then I'd remember and it didn't seem like the memory could be real, and I'd have to pause and decide what to believe and a millisecond later when I figured it out, I'd cringe at the realization.

I guess the truth sometimes is stranger than fiction.

One thing I've learned during the past year is grief is an intimate experience. It is yours alone. Another tenet of grief is not many people are comfortable with it, whether it's theirs, or someone else's. I know I'm not and I've had a whole year of practice. Then again, I'm not sure I'd ever want to be comfortable, with grief.

While grief is intimate, it is universal, an inevitable part of life. As the days unfold, one after the other, we do what we can to cope. We find what works for us.

Words are a source of comfort to me, so when I miss my mom, I write about her. It's my catharsis, releasing emotions through written words to provide a respite from the sadness (sort of, in theory).

Not everyone identifies with catharsis. Rehashing a loss may seem more painful than helpful. Death and illness are unpleasant experiences best left in the past when it is time to focus on the future.

Thing is, you can't move on at anything but your own pace. That's the intimacy of grief. This is hard to grasp: how one person can be at the end of the marathon and another still taking baby steps, like in a dream when you are trying to run but your legs won't work. The difference is exponential; and I never was good at math. Go figure.

So the grief train moves forward. Day 365 and counting. I think I can. I think I can.

At this time last year, I spent the bulk of my moments staring backward as the train left the station. Now I am able to turn my seat and look ahead a majority of the time. I'm finding a balance. Some would advise me to keep my eyes focused on the road in front of me, to ignore the grief and get on with the fun stuff.

Life and death aren't always pretty. Denying this fact only serves to deny the moments that truly are beautiful. And they do exist. I know this for certain because I remember. I've come to believe the road ahead is only part of it and, pain or no, I'm bound and determined to experience it all.

Jill Pertler, award-winning syndicated columnist and author of "The Do-It-Yourselfer's Guide to Self-Syndication." is collecting fans on Facebook on her Slices of Life page. E-mail her at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. ; or visit her website at http://marketing-by-design.home.mchsi.com/.