Aleen Mean

Mourning by a Thousand Paper Cuts

I’m laying in bed, trying to work up the force of will to get up and prepare for the day. Yesterday, Justin’s mom was transported from the hospital bed she’d been occupying for a week to her bed in a hospice facility. She’s not drinking much or eating at all, so I doubt she’ll be there long. This is the end of three years of chemotherapy and immunotherapy and radiation and paracenteses and nutrient infusions and blood transfusions.

I’m not ready to talk about her as she was or to unpack my complicated feelings about the last few years. We’ll be in a world where she was soon enough, and I’m happy to live in a world where she still is for a while longer.

Over the last week, as it’s become more and more apparent that modern medicine has no more help to offer my mother-in-law, I’ve been thinking a lot about grief and grieving.

I always block out, in the days and weeks and months after a friend or family member dies, that mourning is not one big event. Rather, it’s a million million series of little grievances; it’s mourning by a thousand paper cuts.

Some of these cuts we knew we’d acquire. Last night, we said goodbye to her dogs when we gave them to their new owner. We’re searching for good homes for her cats. We’re thinking about what to do with the things in her house—all the mementoes of her 70 years on the planet.

Some of these cuts are acquired only in retrospect, a series of small finalities we didn’t know would hurt so much. We’ve already banded together to pick on Justin for the last time. Commented on the choices people made on home improvement shows. Compared Wordle results. Laughed at her pets. Shared a meal. Had a conversation.

Eventually, I’ll stop noticing the tiny things that mark the world without her in it. And then I’ll notice that I’m noticing less, which is a cut of its own. Life will move on, but it will never be the same.