Helpless: A Moment in Grief.

Via Lynn Shattuck
on Jan 22, 2014
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grief girl sad



I sit in the TGIFriday’s by the mall. I am flanked by my parents, my Aunt Molly and Aunt Suzanne. We are here because it was close to the hotel, and because it’s familiar: the small comfort from knowing we could get the same meal whether we’re here in South Portland, Maine, or in Washington State or Honolulu, Hawaii.

But tonight, we are not hungry.

“Hi! I’m Greg and I’ll be taking care of you tonight! How’s everybody doing?” Greg bellows. For a long moment, no one answers. Finally, Aunt Molly, a prominent theater director, takes charge. “Fine, Greg,” she says. Her strong voice is polite, but somehow conveys that our party is not in the mood for small talk this evening.

My eyes land on the banners of buttons lining Greg’s red suspenders. “What can I get you to drink this evening?” Greg asks, slightly subdued.

“Water, I guess,” I say. Pop music blares.

I look at my parents’ faces. My dad’s eyes are pink-rimmed with lilac shadows underneath from sleeplessness. My mom’s dark eyes stare at an empty space on the table. Her face looks blank, and I wonder if mine does too.

“Chicken Chimichanga! Chicken Chimichanga!” A small parade of servers dance by.

“Why did we come here?” I ask. I laugh, though it’s a hollow, brittle laugh.

“You guys need to eat,” Aunt Suzanne says.

Greg presents a basket of bread. My hand reaches for a piece automatically, but when my fingers touch the soft, spongy slice, I just pick at little pieces of it as if I am preparing to feed ducks. I know I should eat; it’s been almost a day. But I can’t. I can barely breathe.

I look around the restaurant. People in the bar laugh, their voices rising. Waitresses with brightly dyed hair and big hats. A bicycle hangs from the ceiling, as do random traffic signs. I think of how I used to lie on the floor and imagine an upside down world. One where I could walk on the scratchy popcorn ceilings, stepping over the tops—no, the bottoms—of doorways.

The words start flashing through my head again, as they’ve done for the last 24 hours, over and over: “My brother is dead. My brother is dead.”

“I need some air,” I say, getting up.

“Do you want me to come?” my mom asks, already starting to stand.

“No, I’ll be back,” I say. I dart for the door, escaping the colors and sounds and lights.

I find a bench outside and dig for my cigarettes. It isn’t completely quiet out here; music escapes from a big black speaker. But it is dark, and there are no perky servers, no broken parents out here.

I light my cigarette and pull my knees up to my chest. Finally, a slow song pours through the speaker. The lyrics, like most words right now, slip away, but I am grateful for the slow tempo. On the road outside, cars stop and go, stop and go. Traffic lights hum from red to green to yellow, over and over. I exhale for maybe the first time in days, and I watch the smoke twist up into the sky.

And then, the chorus hits. Helpless, helpless, helpless, helpless. The words barrel through my body, settling just below my sternum. They expand inside me, like one of those capsules that you toss into a bowl of water and watch as it becomes a large sponge dinosaur. Then the words stop and there is just the sound of the strings, whining and winding, carrying on the tone of Neil Young’s voice. And there is something about the words and then the absence of them, and the sad, sad strings, and the way I’m holding my own knees like a baby.

And I can finally cry.

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Editor: Cat Beekmans

Photo:  x1klima/Flickr


About Lynn Shattuck

Lynn Shattuck lives in Portland, Maine with her husband and two young children. She blogs about parenting, imperfection, spirit and truth telling—you can connect with her through her website or find her on Facebook.


7 Responses to “Helpless: A Moment in Grief.”

  1. Erin says:

    This is beautifully written and so true…I am 32 yrs old and lost my 24 yr old brother in a car accident 20 months ago and this really hit home <3 Thank you xoxoxoxo

  2. lynnola says:

    Erin, I'm so sorry for your loss. My thoughts are with you. <3

  3. 4simpleliving says:

    You captured personal devastation in words, so hard to do. It speaks to those who have known that grief. {{hugs}}

  4. patricia says:

    Erin sorry for your loss….i lost my brother when i was only 8 years old and my brother was only 23. this moment you are experiencing it did not come to me until i was about 21 years old…and then i finally cry…and excepted his death.
    thanks for such revealing passing in your life.

  5. lynnola says:

    Thank you so much for the kind compliment.

  6. lynnola says:

    Patricia, thank you for your comment. I am sorry for your loss as well~ I can't imagine losing a sibling as a child. So much pain. Take good care.

  7. Kristine says:

    What a time to find this story, it will be 2 years tomorrow since I lost my brother.