There have been so many griefs this past year, public and private, almost no one I know has not been touched by it in some way, yet we don’t talk about, even work hard to repress this very universal and crucial process.

I woke yesterday to step out of bed into what felt like a wall of water, as if I might simply fall through the floor and drown, my chest crushing in against my lungs and heart. What was happening to me and why now? And I recalled this was the day last year my mother first told me she’d been coughing up blood for months.

The echoes of that conversation rippled through my body from my subconscious heralding the end of performing for the holidays and a return to grieving. Not a choice, but my body and soul gripping the back of my head and saying, you will begin the next part of this process, the walk forward through last year’s whirlwind days of hospitals and acute care, of holding your mother’s hand, of reading to her, of wishing this were not so, of running down halls for doctors, of taking notes feverishly until you snapped the pen in your ferocious grip, of the fear in all of your loved ones’ eyes as they tried to reckon with the unreckonable: What else can we do? How can we save her? How, how, how is this possible? The anger, the terror, the final moments when we had to let her go, and she sat in her bed saying, Why are you all leaving me in this hotel?, and closed her eyes, and never opened them again, though we sat with her another day until her body stopped because we loved her, we loved her, we loved her.

Today is a new year, but one without a woman we loved, and I walk into this year a woman without a mother, and I am not ashamed to say this: I am afraid. I miss her.

And I still rage against this, and it makes me fragile, and I know in this, I will find more humanity, more tenderness toward others, more patience because somewhere in their eyes every person harbors a grief as horrible as mine, whether they have experienced it or are yet to experience it.

All of us are siblings in grief.

Happy New Year? Today, I am breathing and grateful I could get out of bed without feeling the floor would dissolve beneath me, but if you see me, my heart, that beating muscle beneath my ribs, it is working hard right now, harder than it ever has, so please let me know how hard yours is working, too, and hopefully, the rhythm of these broken beating drums in our chests can sing together, everywhere, for the thrumming of this great going-on.

Written by Laura McCullough
Laura McCullough's most recent books are Rigger Death & Hoist Another, poems (Black Lawrence Press, 2013) and her edited anthology, The Room & the World: Essays on the Poetry of Stephen Dunn (Syracuse University Press, 2013). Her other books are Panic (winner of the Kinereth Gensler Award, Alice James Books, and a BOTYA finalist), Speech Acts (Black Lawrence Press), and What Men Want (XOXOX Press). Her first book of poetry was The Dancing Bear. Her second edited anthology, A Sense of Regard: Essays on Poetry and Race is forthcoming in late 2014 from University of Georgia Press. She teaches full time at Brookdale Community College where she founded the Creative Writing Program, in the Sierra Nevada Low-residency MFA program, and in the Winter Poetry & Prose Getaway Conference at Seaview, and has taught at the Richard Stockton College of NJ and at Ramapo College. She has been a finalist for the Brittingham and Felix Poetry Prize, the Isabella Gardner Award, and the Frost Place residency and has been awarded scholarships or fellowships from Sewanee Writers Conference, Bread Loaf Writers Conference, the Vermont Studio Center, the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, The Nebraska Summer Writers Conference, and others. Her essays, criticism, poems, creative non-fiction, and short fiction have appeared in Diode, Plume, Drunken Boat, The Georgia Review, New South, Guernica, The American Poetry Review, Green Mountains Review, Pank, The Good Men Project, The Writer's Chronicle, Gulf Coast, Pedestal, Painted Bride Quarterly, and others. She was the founding editor of Mead: the Magazine of Literature and Libations and currently acts as an editor-at-large.

Related Articles

‘I Want My Fucking Pearls Back!’

‘I Want My Fucking Pearls Back!’

That bracelet and the days surrounding his giving it to me were the one bright beam of joy in an otherwise very dark time. My mother’s longterm...



When Carolita Johnson became a live-in caretaker for her 87-year-old mother, reimagining this new life as a multi-year writing residency helped her...

Popular categories

After Caregiving
Finding Meaning
Finding Support

Don't see what you're looking for? Search the library

Share your thoughts


  1. I lost my husband to Alzheimer’s a few days after Thanksgiving. Still adjusting to the reality that he’s not with me.

  2. Thank you so much for sharing. This is me but it’s my grandma who raised me and she just passed on Thanksgiving. These holidays have been horrendous and as crazy as it sounds I didn’t want 2016 to end because she was alive in 2016. This is my first day in a year without her in it and I feel so lost. Your story helped me. Thank you!

  3. Lost my mother two months ago. Still seems unreal. Muddling thru the days.

  4. So sorry for your loss.
    My mom is almost 82. Each day she struggles physically.

  5. I love how well you put words to some of my feelings. My level of grief seems to vary in intensity. Lately, the tide is in. Mom was always the one I talked to but it is so different now. Everyone wants to believe the “I’m fine” facade.

  6. Laura-
    Wow, my heart goes out to you–what a crushing loss. It’s difficult to appreciate the weight you’re carrying right now although you express it with such visceral realness, thank you. Your empathy is something I can appreciate, we can all make better strides to step up and appreciate we’re not the only ones experiencing grief, sadness and profound loss.

  7. Yes, we are sisters…today I have searched for someone to help, some way to make a difference…because she is gone and I am lost. Great writing!


Share your thoughts and experiences

This site uses Akismet to reduce spam. Learn how your comment data is processed.

Join our communities

Whenever you want to talk, there’s always someone up in one of our Facebook communities.

These private Facebook groups are a space for support and encouragement — or getting it off your chest.

Join our newsletter

Thoughts on care work from Cori, our director, that hit your inbox each Monday morning (more-or-less).

There are no grand solutions, but there are countless little ways to make our lives better.

Share your insights

Caregivers have wisdom and experience to share. Researchers, product developers, and members of the media are eager to understand the nature of care work and make a difference.

We have a group specifically to connect you so we can bring about change.