Did you know grief has a smell? To me, it smells like furniture stain and a fresh can of paint. My momma was the queen of making something out of nothing and making old things new again. She saw potential in broken, cast-aside things. She saw the same in people.
Some days, grief smells like Estee Lauder’s Pleasures perfume. Growing up this was a complete splurge my daddy would buy once a year for her. She would ration it all year to make it last. After she died, I brought home her almost full bottle for myself. I spray it on myself on the days I need to believe she is still here. My daughter does the same. It’s as if we both need to catch a whiff of her in a room, like she just left for a moment and is coming back.
Grief also smells like hot homemade biscuits in a cast iron skillet. This smell brings regret. She tried to show me how to make them a few times, but I wasn’t overly interested—she would always be around to make them after all. But she did teach my daughter. So on the nights we have breakfast for dinner, which is our go-to on busy sports nights, my girl makes them. I have tried, and they turn out like a dry, overdone rock. But my girl can make them, and that makes me smile.
Grief has a sound. Some days it sounds like the screen door slamming as I walk outside to listen to the birds chirp, whispering a quiet prayer that one of them is a red bird, so I can believe she is near.
Some days it sounds like a sassy word and a huff from my 12- (almost 13 but acting 14)-year-old daughter. It leaves me wishing I could call my momma one more time to hear her laugh a little and assure me, “This too shall pass, honey. Your girl will love you again.”
Other days it sounds like having tough conversations with those you love so much because you care too much about them not to. And because you realize since your momma is gone, the tough love and the words of wisdom she spoke to you now have to be spoken by you to keep them alive for those left behind.
And when I heard my momma softly breathe her last breath on Earth, I heard a new sound quietly enter the room—quiet. The absence of her heart beating. The absence of her words. The absence of her soul filled the room. And that quiet is also the sound of grief.
I see grief etched on the faces of those who share my loss—in their eyes, in their smiles, and even in their movements. The weight of loss sits heavy on my daddy. He says an old football injury is flaring up, but I think he carries the weight of grief and the loss of my momma in every fiber of his being.
I saw grief sitting at my table for Christmas dinner in place of my momma. Both in the way my kid’s eyes danced nervously, wondering is Mom doing okay today? and in how instead of a traditional fancy Christmas dinner, we opted for tacos. I needed to pretend it was just another day.
I see grief etched on my face as new wrinkles that line my forehead and surround my eyes—the ones that look just like hers did. Each one earned in the 109 days my mom lived after a diagnosis of terminal brain cancer.
I feel grief in my smile, which is only surface level, when someone asks me how I am. Or when someone says “I am so sorry.” I am sorry too. I am sorry my momma suffered and that cancer ravaged her body and took her from us and her grandbabies. And sorry that I only have this grief-riddled smile for you in return.
I feel grief in my bones each day I wake up. It’s like my soft, worn-out old robe. I put it on first thing in the morning as I stumble downstairs in the dark to let the dogs out and start my coffee. And say good morning to Momma in the sunrise. One day I may replace this robe. And one day I may not pick up this grief each morning. But I am not ready for that day yet.
I feel grief in the strong, broad shoulders of my 10-year-old son as I hug him and feel it as I snuggle the warm body of my 5-year-old son and smile thinking, “My momma would be so proud of both of you.”
I taste grief in every sip of sweet tea that my momma drank by the gallon and in a bite of caramel cake or a caramel sundae. She loved her sweets. When they came to visit us in Missouri, she would ride the 14 hours from Alabama with a caramel cake in her lap so she could spoil her grandbabies.
I taste grief in the bitter tang of regret. The regret of words left unsaid. The regret of questions not asked. The regret of trips not taken and calls not made and texts not sent. The regret of living as though there would always be more time.
To personify grief in my life means acknowledging that it lives in all the ways and places and days that I do. Instead of my momma, I have grief. The absence of her in my life must be filled with something, and it is . . . by grief. And so most days, I invite grief in to walk that day with me. Some days he brings tears and sadness and some days a memory and a smile. As weird as this may sound, I am thankful for grief. I am thankful that our bodies and souls have a place and a space to yearn for those we lose.
So tell me. Where do you see your grief today? Or taste it or catch its smell?