Weeks after the death of my mother, I fled the country. I laughed, I smiled. I enjoyed Innsbruck, Austria. I drank, enjoyed time with friends, studied and improved myself.
Weeks later, I would have an emotional breakdown in an Italian cemetery while draped over the bust of a long dead Italian general. I was grieving during the entire thing but I may not have looked like I was grieving. I never said much about missing my mom, rarely complained about my sadness or depression and to the untrained eye, I was just a young woman out enjoying her college years.
I watch a lot of true crime, like…too much true crime; and one common thread I keep noticing is that there is a lot of attention paid to how someone grieves. Especially in shows focused on female murderers like Deadly Women. Cases where women are involved are particularly rife with commentary about women moving on with their lives too quickly, or remarrying too quickly or trying for another baby too quickly or even just appearing to be normal too quickly.
Not to defend women who have murdered their families but…what that even means puzzles me to this day. Even when my father died 20 years ago I went back to school as soon as possible, continued in extracurricular activities as soon as possible, sought routine as soon as possible. Hell, the day of, my aunts took me to the zoo as no one was quite sure how to break the news to me yet that my father had passed on. I remember that morning being one of the happiest of my life coated in fun safari animals, sweets and laughter until I came home to see my mother crying and surrounded by all of her friends. After that I don’t think I truly processed any of his passing until months later as I was literally 11 years old. What was my grief meant to look like?
Was I supposed to throw myself into the grave with my father? Was I supposed to weep? Was I supposed to skip months of school and put my young life on hold? Better yet, let’s compare to my mother because at least by then I was a 20 year old college student. I was told frequently that I was brave for going back to school and possibly even a little reckless for studying abroad. I was told that I should take more time but I never understood what I should be doing with that time. I apparently wasn’t meant to be spending that time out or with friends, I shouldn’t have gone to school, I wasn’t supposed to like going shopping or enjoy pancake soup in Innsbruck.
I was supposed to sit and grieve I suppose in the most dramatic sense of the word. I should have been ripping my hair out and sobbing and building semi-pagan altars to my dead mother and wearing a locket with a piece of her shorn hair in it.
Not to say I didn’t cry, sure I did. I cried a lot. I was catatonic one day in college because I just hadn’t processed anything but one thing that I kept thinking of day to day as I missed my mom, arranged funeral plans, called family and kept friends in the loop was that I missed my routine and was desperate to return to it. Sometimes grieving was laughing at jokes that only my family understood or eating peach cobbler in the kitchen and demanding that it was to only be served with Bluebell ice cream. Sometimes grieving was telling my friend that he couldn’t cry during the service knowing that I’d lose it if he did. Sometimes grieving was picking the song list for my mother’s service with my grandfather’s in mind and choosing to bury her catholic despite what would likely be her wishes. Grieving was deciding to donate her organs moments after her death knowing that it would be the one decent thing my mother could do after having died in the most dramatic way possible.
My grief didn’t look normal because normal for grief doesn’t exist. Everyone processes things differently and everyone moves on differently. Some never truly move on at all.