the briar patch of your heart takes too long to traverse

There are people to whom you know there is more. Whether they’re just bad at hiding this fact, or you know others who know it to be true, doesn’t matter. You know it’s in there. You can see it sometimes, in a word or a gesture, running under the surface like live fish under ice. But between you and that living, tender person you might actually like to get to know, there is a brash, brazen exterior that is just…too much trouble to hack through. When you already have people to whom you are close, whose more troubled waters you’ve already waded through, doing it again, even for the coveted crown of friendship, is just…too goddamn much to ask.

I hate that this is the case. And I hate that in each of the examples that spring so easily to mind of this character type, it’s men putting up these idiotic exteriors, and it is, as far as I can tell, specifically the fact that I’m not a man that sends these exteriors up like hasty scaffolding. It’s infuriating.

Like come on man, who are you? Mike Pence? You see a book I’m reading that you recognize, and I know you know it, your eyes bounce to it and open your mouth, and then you say something dumb about being mistaken, about the book probably being lame, and snort and walk off. Who does that? In their thirties no less? I hear you talking with other men. Whether you’re my husband’s friend or chatting with your brother when you’ve thus far failed to notice me. And what Sooper Sekrit Guy Things are you discussing? Just the state of the world. Or the book you are reading. Or, you know, the things everyone else talks about, and which your whackjob code of gender conduct forbids you from discussing with me.

And I know that popular and sensible logic says to discard such people as lost causes, and move on. And I do that, it’s true. But not happily. Because it’s…it’s such a waste, you know? How many people are there out there who give a shit about the same things you do? Who read the same goddamn book series or devotedly followed the same persalities you did, since you were eleven?

Not many! The answer is not many! For the number of things we can be passionate about in this world are infinite! And to find people whose interests so closely align with our own is a thing to be treasured! But the minute your eyes light up — the minute the sharedness of this information is made clear to the both of you — poof, it’s gone. Wrapped up and stored away on a shelf out of reach. Behind a briar patch of foolishness. These are people who say “the wife,” as though she were a chair or a gas tank, and not someone they sought out and loved and continue to love. These are people who describe lives they do not live as their own — work, kid, sports team, bed — subtracting all the concern and care and quiet moments of observation that you know are in there. These are evident in the way they approach the world, and allow themselves to be seen approaching the world, when they do not know you are there.

God, I hate it. Our best man was one of these types. I know he cares about more than football. I know he has stood at the edge of the ocean with my husband when they were kids and said what they wished they could tell kids of their own. I know he defended my husband from people who bullied him about his stutter, the same as my husband defended the other boy against people who bullied him about his seizures.

And yet, I’m never going to meet that guy. Not ever.

I don’t know why. Is it that you think there’s not enough of you to go around, so you must parcel it out only to a select few? Is it that you worry if you show yourself too starkly, without enough gauzy curtains to duck behind, you won’t be able to retreat again?

How do you end up coming to a point where that is necessary? And once you’ve found someone who loves you, as he has (as they all have) — why in hell do you keep it up?

See, I ask things like that, but…I know it’s selfish to want to dig up the real people behind those damn briars. If they’re happy back there, it’s not my business. But again it’s just…frustrating, and sad. And a waste of what could have been friendship. If I were a guy I’d be their goddamn bro. But I’m not, so instead all I get are “but YOU know how catty women can be, amirite?” jokes. Which, come on. I know you don’t think your wife is some harpy, so stop acting like I’m supposed to chummily agree that why yes, we ARE all bitches, thanks for asking. Are you not allowed to be in love, in this worldview? Does everything precious to you have to be treated, outwardly, as some annoying obligation, lest anyone see you care about anything?

How is that an acceptable way to live out your life?

And yet I know even being frustrated by this withholding is something to point to and say “that’s why, moron.” The idea that I feel myself entitled to someone’s true feelings just because I carelessly fling mine around like grass seed. And if I were to stop and explain why, it would be no better. If I were to catch you in the middle of our D&D game, at the bar at a family gathering, in the middle of a song playing on the speakers in a checkout line and say yeah, this does matter; I’m not sassing my way into sarcastic dismissal here, because I don’t have…time…to pretend about this song, this story, this collapse of a public figure, a hero to some and now a sorrow to many, doesn’t matter. I’ve seen what I get to become. Everything that matters — the ability even to recognize that — gets taken away. And not within the privacy of a coffin but in the grossly public spectacle of clinics and management facilities, years spent dragging everyone I love through the shit with me.

Do you think, with this lurking in my future, this rug waiting to rip out from under me and dump me on a sea of spikes, I have time to bullshit around? To pretend everything is a joke, or that everything I hold dear is just an obligation? A weight? When, if I could, I’d clutch that weight — if weight it is — to my chest, like everyone else gets to, until it pushes me down and down into the depths of somewhere dark and peaceful, trailing only bubbles and not destruction?

I worry, sometimes, that loss has made me dour, and that this more than anything is why people withhold themselves from me.

And it would be fair.

But that’s why I’ve been careful here, on what feels like the other side of the world. No one knows how sad I am. No one knows what I write or even that I do; every sad sack paen to my dead mother, to my depressed father, to places that I love and people that are gone, they’re all hidden! I’ve been so tidy and conscientious with people! Cleaning up after every lonely mess; making sure no one steps in anything unsightly. And yet still they won’t let me in.

Only once, in a boisterous chat room of internet idiots, did one of these types unbar the door. And only because I asked about his kids. He mugged around for a bit, regaling us with tales of temper tantrums and diaper fiascos, until I finally type-growled what I’d never say in person, that he drop the bullshit and tell me, with his mom dead and his family crammed into too-expensive, too-small a space, was it worth it? And he retreated from the disinterested jeers of our sort-of friends, into a PM, and said yeah, it was, and his heart was never wrung with more joy than when watching his two girls tug each other down a path in a forest, and he never regretted it, not ever.

And that was it, bam. Back up went the drawbridge. Only carefully-plotted rejoinders from there on out. And I know it’s greedy to want more. To expect — to demand — that people lower their defenses enough to be honest with some fool on the internet. More than the once that I got. But I wasn’t a stranger. I knew him for a decade. And I wish…I wish that felt as long to everyone else as it does to me. With my limited shelf life. I wish they understood that. Wish they’d be willing to see my impatience for the lonely sort of panic that it is.

I’m not trying to run off with a part of you, you jerks. I’m trying to fill myself up to the brim with as much that matters as I possibly can, before all of it is drained from me like a marsh, unwillingly giving way to muck, until that too dries up and it’s just flat and featureless; no better than a freeway.

And I know my problems aren’t yours — it’s not my flat blank future you’re staring into — and that you won’t have to say goodbye as soon as I do. But I wish you’d say hello beforehand.

As yourself.

And if it’s vain (and it totally is) of me to think I’m the only one with some messy damning medical future ahead of me — if you’re looking at that same thing looming — doesn’t it make that much more sense not to live behind these briars? How are you ever going to take in enough to feel full, surrounded by all your thorns?

 

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the other dumb reason i watch outlander

creditsvalley

Firstly: you’d be a fool not to take in the scenery, be it encompassing the bony spines of Glencoe or the great things done, most recently, for tiny round spectacles perched upon noses. Oh, those spectacles. That nose.

Secondly, though…

Look, I sometimes wonder how long I am allowed to talk about my mother. It only took two months for people at work to forget — to resume complaining about old people “who probably have Alzheimer’s or something, the way they go on” and making baldly awkward comments like “you should call me Mom, then,” when I insist on anything other than the use of my full name, please, because only my mother ever used it, and then only when angry. Not a one of these people have lost anyone, and they’re all 10+ years older than me. Hell, they even have all their grandparents still alive. I understand that they don’t understand. I do. But that then leaves me in the awkward position of being an unwilling ambassador, of sorts, of sorrow. And I have no idea how long my term lasts, or if there has been a vote of no confidence held without my knowledge even, and if everyone then winces when I allude to an unlooked-for position they’d prefer to forget ever existed.

Because, um, my mother is the other reason I continue to watch, and to read, the Outlander series. She used to describe it to me as her guilty pleasure, when I sheepishly slipped the latest Animorphs book into our pile at the the bookstore, long after I thought I should have been beyond such things. “It’s okay, it’s like me with these,” she said, thumping the cover of Drums of Autumn. “As long as you keep up with other things, these are fine.” “But what’s wrong with that? It’s huge,” I said later, outside the store. Whereupon she tried to explain something of the plot, and of time travel and 20th century values adrift in the 18th century, and something of the romantic angle — which I quickly shut down. As in so many other foolish moments I remember now being too young to act upon; skeins of truths offered which I was too busy or disinterested to pursue unravelling at the time, and which I will now never get to recover — my mother’s attachment to the series is something I can no longer ask her about. That information is lost to me.

But I can try and reconstruct it as the show’s success breathes new life into an ever-wider audience, and that’s what I do. Claire’s practicality, her medical reflections at what are sometimes the oddest moments, are very much my mother. She liked Claire, I remember, defending the character staunchly when I, in a ten-year-old’s puritanical streak, lambasted her for taking up with Jamie when she still had her first husband floating around some 200 years later. I can’t remember what my mother said verbatim, but it was something having to do with women not having any power back then, and here was one man willing to respect her as though they did [“-ish,” I might add, as an adult watching a certain episode, but I digress], and what did I expect her to do, just scoff and refuse and end up in a worse situation and anyway as far as she knew she could never go back, etc. etc. Mom was, indeed, a fan of Claire.

And in Season 3, episode 5, I was utterly unprepared for Claire’s farewell to Brianna, her daughter. (Yes, I’ve read Dragonfly in Amber, but I careened through it to get to the reunion, and everything prior to that is something of a blur.) How glad I am that no one watches this show with me. It is so much easier to just let yourself be a snot-covered mess than to try and keep up appearances. Because let me tell, you, there was snot.

kiss

I don’t just mean looks. Bree is frosty; I’ve never liked her. But when her mother lists all the experiences they won’t be able to share when she leaves, all the memories they won’t be able to create…oh, goddammit, I lost it. Bree is, I believe, 20 when Claire leaves. That’s two years younger than me when my mother received her Alzheimer’s diagnosis. You want to feel old? Lose your mother in your fucking 20s, when everyone around you is still stupid enough to roll their eyes and hit Ignore when their mother’s face appears on their ringing phone. Also, be sure to have a conversation with her before she disappears, like the one Bree has here with Claire. Like the one I had with my mother, in a near-empty Panera by a highway, from which my eventual husband drove me home crying, though thankfully I managed to hold it together until after we said goodbye. A goodbye prefaced by her announcement, gentle and only a little sad, that she was happy with the time that she had had, and that she was lucky not to have had regrets, and to be able to see me happy too, before she left. Before she faded away.

You see why that scene with Claire and Brianna was such a clusterfuck for me.

But even after that, in a callback to the lines Claire uses to attempt to describe the horrific feel of the time travel itself, she touches on a bubble of childhood anxiety that I’d forgotten she had. Its source crops up there, a puddle, and she acknowledges — she, self-possessed surgeon and capable woman of the 20th century, acknowledges — that this never really left her, the childhood fear of there not really being anything underneath that gleaming flat surface. That feeling that she might yet fall forever, if she stepped in the puddle. But, the narration and the scene itself continues, she hurries on anyway, leaving her brain behind to deal with that hiccup of fear while her body does what it has to. I don’t recall that from the books, but then I don’t recall my mother as an anxious person at all either — when in fact she was, to the point where they tried to medicate her for it, before the more pressing mental deconstruction demanded their attention. When she told me that, again when I was 22, I was stunned. My mother didn’t dry-wash her hands or call repeatedly or fret vocally or pace or self-medicate or anything that suggested anything might be bothering her. She was always the island of sensible, grounded wit in a sea of garish too-chummy moms, or pinch-mouthed helicopter moms, or whatever they called them back then. That she was anxious — that she was constantly worrying about something, any number of things, at any given time — was a concept utterly foreign to me. I would never have known. And it certainly never rubbed off on me; I think I am the last millennial on the planet without anxiety. I’ve got regrets in spades, man, but I know the oven is off when I leave, and when I close my eyes for the night my sleep is instant and heavy as bricks. I’m good on the anxiety front.

Claire doesn’t share the puddle thing with Bree. She has already left Bree by the time it comes up, and we have no indication that they ever talked about it. But given the way Bree rallies to back Claire up in her really quite moving stab of self-doubt, when she wonders if Jamie will even be interested in her anymore, I like to think that had Claire mentioned the puddle thing Bree would have rallied in the same way. Maybe she wouldn’t have understood, as I didn’t understand when my mother confessed (I guess confessed? she was almost protective, almost embarrassed of this fact?) to a lifetime of stomach-churning worry, but Bree would have wielded the bravado of the very young and the very loving, and tried to make it okay.

I tried. It didn’t work. It doesn’t, generally. But it is important, maybe — I hope — for your effort to have been noted. As far as Claire knows, she’ll never see her daughter again. It should help — I hope it helps — knowing that the last time you did see her, she believed in you, and believed that whatever came your way, you could handle it.

I hope I gave that impression, in that shitty Panera. I hope I looked like I believed in her. Like I thought she could take it. Because the minute she turned away, I was an absolute mess. Maybe she could take it, but I couldn’t.

Can’t. Sometimes. Clearly.

birds and water

When my mom died I went to work the next day because I had just started a new job and didn’t know their policies or what people normally do or anything. I put on headphones so people wouldn’t talk to me but I couldn’t handle any emotional triggers brought on even by seemingly benign songs, so I listened to this instead. All day:

I share it with you now in case it helps.

you were there, but you weren’t

hello

Throughout my childhood, when seeing a place in a movie or hearing mention of it in a newspaper or news clip, there was a constant litany: you were there. It wouldn’t matter if I had been ten years old or three or a newborn; the reminder would come. Always from my father, and always with the implied expectation, sometimes joking but mostly not, that some place memory, some shred of the experience, would remain. Somehow.

I’m sure most parents attempt to do this once or twice at least. I can’t imagine how it feels to hear that so much of your shared life together — moments you congratulated yourself on being able to achieve, for your child, whether that was a first sight of the ocean or a first trip to an amusement park — is, in fact, forgotten.

Actually, well, I can imagine it, too well, but that’s not where I wish to go today.

But I bring it up because, above and beyond parental reminders, there is another far more benign source of chronological insistence we encounter every so often: the age at which whatever alcohol you are drinking was bottled, casked or distilled. For much of my alcohol-drinking life (I know, I know, I am a late bloomer in all things: I never snuck a drop of anything, and reviled what I was given to try at holidays, until well past most people had had their first headsplitting hangover) the years meant little to me. Namely because, if a date even appeared on the bottle or the menu, it was at most maybe two or three years ago, a time which blurred into the stress or college or post-college Trying To Make Ends Meet which, in large part, lacked definition.

This whisky, though, pictured above in my incredibly classy Daiso mug? This whisky was bottled in 1998. 1998. That is a year I remember. A year when I was an actual child, versus the child people say they were when they were teenagers or in college — old enough, in so many ways, to know better, even if not about the things on which their adult selves will judge them. No, in 1998 I was:

  • Two years into well and truly disliking school, having loved it up until the fifth grade when we moved to a prestigious and self-righteously competitive school district that sucked most of the joy out of being a kid among other kids,
  • Two years into having a dog, and realizing that yes, they can tell when you care about too many other things besides them, and thus that our dog was in fact my father’s dog more than anyone else’s, and that was okay because I loved her anyway,
  • Tasked, for the first time, with not crying in the face of a parent’s undoing, as my father broke down trying to read, at his mother’s funeral, from the Northwest Passage, which she’d read to him as he lay abed with scarlet fever as a child,
  • Three years out, still, from being shadowed in some form, and from organizing everything (lampooned though the practice is and probably will be, now, until something worse happens) into a pre- and post- attack landscape, geopolitically but also internally,
  • Terrible at choosing friends, since my latest attempt had resulted in a girl writing my name on an orange and throwing it into her fireplace, to see if I would die a slow and horrid death as per the curse in a book she’d found prescribed,
  • Entranced at the swift advance from the MUDs I’d played for the previous few years to their visual successor, EverQuest,
  • Reading every Steinbeck book but Tortilla Flats, because, like how I next to never finish a TV series, I prefer there always being some scrap remaining, waiting.
  • Just beginning to learn Japanese, having no idea how out of place a foreign woman would be. Imagining I could disappear there. Oh you foolish, hopeful child.
  • Just beginning, it seems, to want to disappear. Not realizing yet that there was a rim of sunlight beyond the dank discomfort of looming adolescence.

You were there, you were there. The litany always made me feel guilty if I couldn’t actually remember being there, wherever there was. I like to tell myself I wouldn’t then do that to a child, but of course I would — like everyone else, with only the best intentions in mind. You want to know that you built a solid foundation of good and lasting memories, I assume, for your progeny. So you try to make sure they hang onto those. But the result of trying to conjure those memories up, time after time, and of being so easy to read, and so clearly disheartened, when your child can’t recall “being there,” is that you encourage them to horde memories like Reese’s peanut butter cups, long past the point where tiny pinholes made by tiny worms pockmark their surfaces. Long past the point at which anyone can savor them anymore — their value has been reduced to a simple pile of shiny foil-wrapped worm nests. But, as the child, you hang onto them anyway, in case someone wants to see your horde. You want to make sure you know how much you have, so you can brag reassuringly about their worth to interested parties.

1998. I was there. But I also wasn’t. Not the me of now, who can look back and cluck her tongue at the naiveté of the twelve year old Japanophile, or wince at that child’s determination not to cry at her grandmother’s funeral — as if anyone thought her better or stronger for it; as if it staved anything off. Not that grandparent’s death, or the next or the next, or the long slow march into dementia-laced oblivion of her own mother. Why not cry, little one? You’re twelve.  You’ve got a long life of crying ahead of you. Get in some practice before you’re the one delivering the eulogy.

(I have, in fact, attempted to write my mother’s eulogy several times in recent years, when her body was with us but her mind wasn’t. But I dissolved into tears each time, and never produced anything worthy of her.)

These are themes I know Proust touches on, in the book I was warned to wait to read until my forties but which I (gee, 12-year-old self, you don’t change much!) stubbornly insisted that my advanced, unsought degrees in loss and longing deemed me capable of appreciating early. But I put Proust down. Not for the meandering sentences or the long ruminations upon the fall of light in a room or the shadows on a street, but because stories that revolve around memory as their focus are…still too sharp, for me. Like fumbling in a junk draw only to come up with bleeding fingers, I’ll stumble into stories with memory at their center and back away, reeling.

Just a few episodes ago in Critical Role — I am behind, as always — the illustrious Darin De Paul (of Reinhardt fame, if you pay Overwatch, or any of the 9,000 other characters he has voiced, if you do not) portrayed a memory-challenged gnome whose lightning-quick seesaws between tearful sincerity and forgetful cantankerousness gouged out my heart and left it in pieces on the carpet. I had to press pause and flee to the grim sanctity of a bathroom stall — again, like 12 year old me, I have no great desire to be seen crying in public, let alone at my desk on a workday. But Sprigg, his character.

Oh, Sprigg.

It is the sort of thing that happens to you, I am given to understand. My peers are too young and too lucky, by and large, to have dealt with this yet, but I do read — and this happens, as you grow older. You set out wanting to hear all the stories, sing all the songs, do all the things. And then one by one as people are taken from you, gently or not, willingly or not, the number of stories you can hear, or songs you can sing, without being hurt…shrinks. I gather that at some point you become okay with this (or not). But I am not there yet. And sudden veerings off into the territory of memory — whether those doing the veering are real or imagined; aging spouses of once-lauded public figures or gnarled gnomes in an internet Dungeons and Dragons show — these things eviscerate me. In MUDs, it would look like:

eviscerated

And it would be correct. I have no saving throw. No luck or inspiration. It’s just a one-shot to the heart, and I am down.

So that’s why I haven’t returned to Remembrance of Things Past, among other things. If you were wondering.

version control

It’s exhausting, having to turn the “around people I know and love” me off and the “alone me” on. I’m familiar with it, because I keep finding myself on jobs that pull me far away from everyone, and they come visit me because for me to return home it would be too hard to tear myself away and go back to whatever task brought me afar. But this kind of version control is neither easy nor without pain.

It’s like cutting whole chapters out of a book. It’ll read okay if you pick the right ones, but if you don’t, the plotlines will get jumbled and nothing will make sense. I have to snip out my need for human contact or conversation and replace it with the next chapter over — exercise, or writing. It works but you always mess it up for the first few weeks, and by then you may have to put your full, unabridged self back together again anyway, when you get to see someone you love again.

It’s hard.

And lonely.

I think that it’s better to do it than not — easier to be someone with holes than no one at all — but I think I am inching past the age when I want to keep doing this.

But then I think of people like my dad, who have no choice. Who will never get to return to the person who knew them best because they’re dead — and before that, years before that, she was already gone, even when alive. And my temporary loneliness seems terrible and selfish. “You have your mother’s eyes,” my mom’s best friend from college said, before starting to cry. My dad followed suit. And what do I do with their sorrow? What I can I do? I’m not her, I can’t bring her back, and the same shaped hole that is in them is in me, too. But I have someone to return to, and they don’t. So all the chapters I cut out of me ought to be less deserving of attention. Of regret.

Because I, at least, get to put them back.

random music fridays : seve

This song samples from “O Sifuni Mungu,” by African Children’s Choir. It’s upbeat, and it’s in Swahili, which my mom knew. She learned it as part of her job, rehabilitating people’s hands in Kenya after they were shredded or crushed, usually by construction or farming equipment.

I’m an upbeat person. I don’t walk around staring at my feet. I wish strangers good days and good weekends and mean it. For months after Mom died, though, I wasn’t. And now I am again.

It’s hard to recognize the clouds that hang over your head when you’re under them.

reapplying breakup songs as songs of loss

This is not a new thing. Remember Stepmom?

Stepmom

Spoilers, Ain’t No Mountain High Enough isn’t about losing your mom. I’m looking at you, Guardians of the Galaxy.

This should be a creepier transposition than it is, though. Especially in an age where the most powerful people in the world obsess over their daughters’ fuckability, I would expect us to balk at so many songs of romantic loss repurposed for…I guess it’s, what, platonic loss? Familial loss? You have to retreat from the word “love,” even, it seems like, if you want to discuss loss of a family member. We’ve reserved that word for a narrower and narrower space, as you grow older and don’t say “I love you” as much or as freely anymore; or write it in red crayon on lopsided heart cards. I think of the studied disdain of Kevin Kline’s Cole Porter, reflecting on the insipidity of the latest chart-topping hit: “an actual song called ‘I Love You.'” His distaste is that of the artist, sure, but also of the cultural critic. People, for wanting such things, are kind of dumb, is the implication. We should, I guess, want more. Or want it more colorfully.

Obviously the right lyrics — or at least the absence of the wrong ones — helps enable the transposition from romantic loss to non-. But maybe we also lend ourselves to this lyrical reapplication through a desire, both to see loss we could have fixed as inevitable, and of loss we couldn’t fix as something we could have fought, staved off, or avoided through calling back, or being more patient, or picking up.

Take Said and Done, by Nervous but Excited, which cropped up on an old playlist I’d retreated to at work and which, instead, had me desperately undoing my ponytail to hide my crying:

Bases covered:

1.) Come back home (not going to happen)

2.) We can get back to the way we were (we can’t)

3.) Try to forgive the rights that I made wrong (I’m sure everyone has lists of such things…continuing to Skype my mom regularly when I returned from abroad, as she apparently expected when she’d stay logged in all morning hoping for a call, is kind of at the top of my list)

4.) Still close my eyes to the sight of you laughing in sunlight (this verges on too decidedly romantic to be comfortable listening to but again, like with Ain’t No Mountain High Enough, the idea that memories held or promises made are concepts relegated entirely to romantic situations is a little short-sighted — and anyway, you obviously want to remember the person who knew you, laughing maybe, rather than the glassy-eyed husk with concave cheeks who didn’t know you anymore)

Again, I’ve written about people dealing with death a lot, and everything I say is salted with the knowledge that it’s very much the wrong thing, for someone. It’s either too crass (I keep saying she died, rather than that she “passed away,” because I hate the fakery of that phrase, the gentleness it implies, when there was nothing gentle or graceful or noble about this), or too narrow-minded (the President is imploding and taking the country down with him; there are bigger problems than one mother who is no longer here), or simply too much (most of the people caught in the bullet-spray of my sorrow don’t really know me that well, and certainly don’t know what to do other than take cover and wait for me to stop posting sad shit).

I am, though, among the people I do know my age, the first to have to do this. Everyone else has the luxury of parents they can still argue with, or of celebrating Mother’s Days their mothers haven’t died on. They can pose in stupid family photos still, and puzzle over bizarre combinations of emojis texted to them at 10PM, and scream and cry and clutch their mom’s hand as they give birth to their first child.

Let me help you then, all you millennials who will get to have your mothers for decades longer than I did. Let me help you do this years from now. Here is a list of do’s and don’ts for losing your mother, in no particular order:

DO Tell your boss. Even if you aren’t really that close or you were just hired like a month ago. There is probably some company provision that allows you to stay home and cry all day. This is important. It is better to do this at home than on your keyboard. Especially if your work has nice keyboards.

DO listen to sad songs, or songs that are sad to you in the context of your loss. That’s how this post came to be, after all. More importantly, even if you possess a steely reserve necessarily built up over almost a decade’s worth of dementia-driven misery, you should probably cry at some point. Music may be necessary to crack your adamantium shell. Grab those headphones.

DO eat. I mean, duh. I’ve never been moved not to eat by feelings, but I hear it’s a thing that can happen. Nutrients are kind of a big deal, guys. Get them.

DON’T become annoyed by people stepping gingerly around you. They literally don’t know what the fuck to do. This is not their fault.

DON’T snap at other people who text you happy pictures, from better days, of the person you’re both mourning. If you can’t deal with it, just ignore the texts. Your phone isn’t going to fill up, and you don’t know what psychology is driving the other person to fling these images of the lost person out there. You can’t yell (or…text-yell?) at someone loud enough to bring your mom back, so please don’t try.

DON’T expect people to say the right thing. They won’t. They can’t. There is no right thing. The right thing would be for your mom to still be alive, and she’s not. So whether you find yourself surrounded by people who pretend everything is fine, or by people who ooze religious platitudes, or who go on about karma or childhood or funeral prices or lame internet jokes, don’t expect a magic bullet. Not from a mentor, not from a friend, not from the old guy who walks his dog at 6AM every day. Literally no one will get it right. Not because they suck but because your mom is dead. It’s not their fault.

Oh, but if it is? Punch them. Just, you know. Because it would probably feel good.