Side effects of membership to the club

Side effects of membership to the club
"Welcome to the club," a friend says to me after he learned of my mother's passing. "You can't really know what it's like to lose a parent until it happens to you," he quips. "Now, you know."

Yes, now I know. Funny the amount of time I fretted about that day, about how unbearable it would be. It was. It is.

I didn't think much beyond the moment I got the news; the hours, the days, the weeks, the months to follow. Never knew there would be side effects to losing her.

Once I settled on the grim reality, I immediately wanted her back. Like a stubborn child, I insisted on her return. Bouts of being overwhelmed took a seat, as the realization set in that I could not go anywhere, neither here nor there, to find her.

Now, one year, five months, and five days since my mother died, the side effects of her absence continue.

There are times when I stay up way past my bedtime to finish chores that I'd rather not face in the morning, and I feel Mom hovering.

Other times, when my children return for family gatherings, I scurry through my kitchen and I am halted by the sweet perfume of her kitchen: simmering pasta sauce co-mingles with freshly brewed coffee, crushed garlic cloves toasting in virgin olive oil, baking bread. As I pass through to the front door, her place stays with me.

Almost every day, I make a reference to my mother. I talk to my children about her. I talk to my friends about her. I talk to strangers about her. While they pretend to listen, I tell my mother's stories for the first time or for the fiftieth time: about her life as a child growing up in the first generation of our family in America; about her life as a young bride, a new mother, a high school instructor, a catechism teacher, a middle-aged professional, a healer, evangelist, mentor, and finally a dying laborer.

I see the names people lovingly called her in lights, on signs, in books. I hear her names on the radio and television. I overhear her names in conversations: Lila, Lillian, Lil, Lily.

Grief attacks are the most unwelcome side effects of being in the club. I resist these impending sieges. But it never fails: resistance is the enemy of grief.

One perfectly good example happens while watching the recent release of Charlotte's Webb with my husband and 9-year-old granddaughter.

My undoing occurs during the scene where Charlotte begins the hard work of dying. "You can't leave," Wilbur begs her.

It is time to go, Charlotte surrenders, "I've done all I can do."

Inundated, I sop my face with shreds of tissue from my coat pocket. I try to be discrete, but the floodgate of uninvited longing – familiar to club members – opens wide. My husband doesn't notice. My granddaughter does.

Until this moment, my granddaughter's full attention is paid to the drama of keeping Wilbur, the runt pig, from the smokehouse. Even while snacking on buttered popcorn, she does not look away from the big screen, until now. Her head cautiously turns toward mine. She witnesses the attack.

Later that evening, while seated next to me at the dinner table, my granddaughter looks away and whispers, "I miss Old Grandma."

"I miss her, too," I say, adding, "That's why I cried in the movie."

"I knew that was why," she assures me.

"I know you knew," I reply.

A resident of Southeast South Dakota for more than 30 years, Paula Damon is a popular columnist, keynote speaker, and freelance writer. Her column writing has won first-place national and state awards in The Federation of Press Women competitions. For more information, e-mail

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