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The Right Question

The Right Question

Five months into grieving the loss of my mother, it’s become clear I’ve been asking myself the wrong question about the process.

The question I’ve been asking is “When will it stop hurting?”

The answer, I see now, is never. Losing Mom, not being able to talk with her or send her a picture or give her a hug ever again, will always hurt. And that’s as it should be. Losing her is too big for it to be otherwise.

It’s not that it will stop hurting. It’s that, with time and effort, it will hurt less, and hurt differently.

If each of us is a ball of clay, grief is the knuckle that pushes firmly, inexorably in toward our center. Over time the clay may return to its original shape and appear identical, a sphere once again. But it has been reshaped all the same, molecules that formerly resided on the surface now pushed inward, while molecules long hidden under the surface are suddenly exposed.

Grief is like love that way—resilient, evolving. You don’t overcome grief, I understand now, so much as you absorb it. It becomes part of you, a fresh element of your identity. At times, it can alter your perceptions and reactions, making things raw and clear and more deeply felt. Grief amplifies. And grief abides.

One of the things I was able to tell Mom during the final weeks of her life was that she was going to be a great-grandmother again. This, along with another pregnancy in our family tree, was to make an even dozen great-grandchildren to go with the 10 grandchildren she admired with pride and no little wonder. “All of these?” she said in amazement, looking at the double spread of images of her family tree in the photo book we made for her 90th birthday. “All of these came from me?”


Mom’s 12th great-grandchild, our second grandchild, is due this week, and it’s a girl. Whatever path this new little one follows in life, she will carry a hint of her great-grandmother with her, a sequence of DNA here, a slight curve to her eyes there, a deep and subtle connection that none of us may ever fully understand.

All of this came from Mom, yes. And along with the sadness that she won’t be here to share in it, there is also enduring satisfaction. The right question, I see now, isn’t “When will it stop hurting?” but rather “When will joy appear next?”

Comment (1)

  • Viola Weinberg Spencer

    A wonderful and lucid comment on life and its grand circular triumph. And how fitting that the new “grand” is a girl. All the best!

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