Remembering My Mother: Day-to-Day Ways to Cope After Facing Tragedy

by Adam Durnham

My mother died more than three years ago. I’m almost embarrassed to say that most days, I don’t even think about it.

It’s not even that I don’t think about her death. I just don’t think about her at all. I go on with my own life, carving out my career path, going out with my friends. And when I’m out with a woman, assessing if she’s the one I would start my family with, you would think thoughts of how my mother would judge this potential mother of her grandchildren would bombard my mind. But the fact is, the thought of my mother doesn’t invade my consciousness for even a second.

In all those millions, billions of moments, I’d be okay.

And then just like that, it hits me. I hear a woman laughing in a bar and it sounds very much like my mother. I turn around and see her vividly. She’s sitting on the tan couch in the living room, laughing at one of my silly anecdotes from school, drops of vodka from her glass spilling onto the carpet. And then just as I’m about to get up to say hello, I realize we aren’t in the living room and she’s dead, so she couldn’t be at the bar.

And then it hits me. It’s like somebody throws a bucket of cold water at me. And then the grief and sadness completely engulf me. And I literally freeze.

It feels like that sign on the factory floor. Blank days without an accident. I remember her and then the sign goes down. Suddenly I’m not okay anymore. It lasts for days at a time, even weeks.

Sometimes I think that I should be more embarrassed that this still happens three years after she died. I mean, I’m supposed to have ‘recovered’ from this grief, right? But the fact is, I haven’t.

So how do I do it, you ask? How do I return to that pleasant state of not thinking about her? How do I cope?

Unfortunately, I don’t have an answer to that. If there’s anything that I’ve learned in the last three years it’s that there is no one formula that will erase the pain and the sadness. We deal with pain and sadness in different ways but even for yourself, you use different coping mechanisms for any given moment.

Try Something New

Travel is exciting and distracting. When you go somewhere new, try to look at the places with your eyes before you take out your phone for a selfie.

After my mother died, I was swamped at the office and couldn’t in good conscience to leave in the middle of a big project. This actually proved to be a good thing because I was exhausted when I got home. In a way, it was a distraction too. Towards the end of the project when my load got lighter, I bought several bonsai trees.

If you think I was being profound in this move, I’m sorry to disappoint you. I got plants rather than books so that I would be forced to focus because life depended on it. I mean, they would die if I got too depressed and couldn’t water them.

Immerse Yourself in Their Memory

When I could finally travel, I went to Napa Valley. This was a sort of tribute to my mother, although in a quite irreverent way.

You see, my mom was an alcoholic. A big one. As far as I can remember she’d gone to rehab three times. I don’t think the trips were all for show, though. I think she was actually wishing she could stop herself from drinking.

Even as a child, I would always picture her holding a glass. In fact, I drew her holding a glass in Kindergarten and my principal asked her to come in for a chat. But my mother arrived shielded in her expensive fur and boundless charm. I don’t know what she said to them but they ate it all up. The subject was never brought up again.


Even though a woman raised me on her own, I still imbibed the societal pressure that boys don’t cry. I don’t really remember if I was told not to cry. I do remember my classmates crying and being unfamiliar with it.

My mother wasn’t the weepy type either. In fact, I can’t remember her crying at all either.

I think I would have liked to try crying. Sometimes, this pressure builds up in my chest and I think it may be that I need to cry but it never happens.

If I may, I would advise mothers to teach their sons to cry. Don’t shush them. Or — this is the worst — say that only girls cry. It will come handy when they’re older and need an outlet for their grief.

A Deadline for Grieving

I was very strict with myself. I said I should only feel sad inside of a month. In retrospect, that was trampling my mother’s memory. She deserved better than a month of being remembered.

And yet, I do think it’s better to make deadlines for concrete things. Like, give yourself a month to pack her clothes and bring them to the local salvation army.

Get Help

It’s a shame how professional help is available for those dealing with intense emotions. And yet our society puts a stigma against those who seek help. This stigma prevented me from seeking help until a few months after my mother had died. I wish I did it sooner.

My therapist helped me process pent up, unrecognized feelings. He made me see that I was kind of mad with my mother for being an alcoholic, that it embarrassed me. It made me mad that she didn’t try to find a really good non 12 step rehab. But he also helped me see that my mother’s alcoholism didn’t prevent her from being a loving mother to me.

And if you really can’t bring yourself to see a therapist, find a grief group that meets regularly. If you don’t want to say anything, just listen. Or join a forum on the internet. Hearing that other people can feel the same way might help you with your own sadness.

In the end, as I’ve said, there’s no singular way in dealing with grief. Everything that you’ve read about how to cope, they all work. But at the same time, they all don’t. Find your own way and at your own pace. But do find it.

The opinions of Grief Beyond Belief guest bloggers are their own and do not necessarily reflect the position of the Grief Beyond Belief Community. One of the tenets of the community is that everyone grieves differently.

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