After my mother died two years ago, I was at a loss for how to deal with the emotions I was flooded with.
I turned to my old, faithful comforter, which has tirelessly supported and guided me through every struggle I’ve faced: words.
I spoke to friends, family, acquaintances, and myself. I wrote poems, emails, letters to my mother, and in my journal. And I read: escapism fantasy novels, messages and emails, online articles. Everything.
Yet even through all this, I felt deeply alone. Though my siblings were going through almost exactly the same experience, it was too painful for any of us to talk about together.
Though countless people shared their own stories of loss and grief with me, they seemed vastly removed from my own. Though everyone I knew offered platitudes and consolations, and though, of course, I appreciated them, many quickly became repetitive, saturated, and fake.
And though I did process many of my emotions through writing, I often found it difficult or impossible to put words to the way I was thinking and feeling. When I did, I terrified myself.
Some days I questioned whether my mother had ever even existed.
Other days I barely thought about her being gone, and was afterward racked by guilt for being happy. Was I crazy? Was I feeling the wrong things? Was I feeling too deeply, not deeply enough?
Quotes saved me.
I’ve always loved quotes. The right quote can inspire us, remind us of what really matters, open our eyes to new perspectives, express that which we ourselves have been struggling to express, or make us feel understood.
For me, they became like small beacons in the darkness, voices that said, “We know, we’ve been there, you’re not crazy, you’re going to be okay.”
There is something liberating in knowing that others have felt what you feel—something that helps you to move through those feelings.
I found quotes everywhere: in breakup songs, in poetry, in novels, in conversations, in movies, in interviews, and TED talks.
They didn’t even have to be on loss and grieving—a line or two, here or there, they could be interpreted to fit what I was feeling. One, from Andy Warhol, goes:
“Since I was shot, everything seems like such a dream to me. Like I don’t know whether I’m alive or whether I died.”
Though Warhol was speaking of literally being shot, I took it to be a metaphor for the shattering pain of loss, and saw my own phases of disassociation and wonder at life in it.
Best of all, I found in them the things I’d been feeling and thinking but which had been too painful or terrifying to say aloud.
They connected me to famous artists and poets across the centuries, to strangers I followed on Instagram, to friends of friends of friends, to obscure singer-songwriters.
I’ve come to realise that grieving is both the most lonely and the most companionable process any of us go through.
Though in many ways it isolates us, in so many other ways, it connects us to more people than we could ever have reached otherwise.
Two years down the line, I’m still collecting, re-reading, and connecting with these quotes. I have no doubt that, through making me feel less alone, they’ve been a key part of my healing process.
I’ve gathered below 16 of my favorites, that best express how I personally experienced loss.
If you have lost a loved one, I hope that they connect with you and your experience as well, and that you may find some companionship within them.
I’m not going to close this article with a hopeful message about how it gets easier, or how we grow from it, or what we learn from loss.
We hear these messages too often, and whether or not they are true, they can make us feel guilty for hurting; for not being grateful for how much we’ve grown and how much we’ve learned; for not appreciating the “silver linings” of loss; for wanting, above all else, our loved ones back.
Sometimes, pain simply needs to be acknowledged and honored. Sometimes, we need understanding more than we need hope.
1. “My longing for you is such that it presses on my breast like tears that cannot be wept.” ~ Franz Kafka
2. “The night I lost you, I lost something inside me. Or perhaps several things. Something central to my existence, the very support for who I am as a person.” ~ Haruki Murakami
3. “Since I was shot, everything seems like such a dream to me. Like I don’t know whether I’m alive or whether I died.” ~ Andy Warhol
4. “This is how I am without you, now. I stand in my kitchen, leaning against the sink, for an hour, my eyes seeing memories. But you are gone.” ~ Waylon Lewis
5. “I don’t understand how the sun keeps rising every morning, or how the moon and stars still glow every night. Sometimes I wish they wouldn’t, sometimes I wish the universe would just stop and mourn your loss till nothing but dust is left.” ~ Kaila Cunha
6. “I want her back. I want everything back, the way it was. But there’s no point to it, this wanting.” ~ Margret Atwood
7. “And my heart aches, in hopeless pain / Exhausted with repinings vain / That I shall greet her ne’er again!” ~ Emily Bronte
8. “You think the grief will make you smaller and sad, like your heart will collapse in on itself—but it doesn’t. I feel spaces opening up inside of me, like a building with rooms I’ve never explored.” ~ Lisa Joy
9. “Should I tear my eyes out now? Everything I see returns to you somehow. Should I tear my heart out now? Everything I feel returns to you somehow.” ~ Sufjan Stevens
10. “I long for you like a ship for the harbour. Every thought of you sinks my heart.” ~ Unknown
11. “The pain of loss is insurmountable and everlasting, fading and heightening to the tumultuous waves of time. In the moment it fades, we continue living, caught up in the regular motions of life. And in the moment it hits us strong, we’re enraged at life because it doesn’t stop; it just goes on no matter the pain, no matter the loss.” ~ Jihad Mahmoud
12. “The day you lose someone isn’t the worst—it’s all the days they stay dead.” ~ Steven Moffat
13. “The times that were the most fun always seemed to be followed by sadness now, because it was when life started to feel like it did when she was with us that we realised how utterly, totally gone she was.” ~ John Green
14. “I miss you like the cloudless night sky would miss the stars if they were stolen.” ~ C.T. O’Connel
15. “One minute I want to remember. The next minute I want to live in the land of forgetting. One minute I want to feel. The next minute I never want to feel again.” ~ Benjamin Saenz
and, lastly, these timeless verses from a poem by Edward Hirsch:
16. “I did not know that the work of mourning
Is like carrying a bag of cement
Up a mountain at night…
…Look closely and you will see
Almost everyone carrying bags
Of cement on their shoulders.”
Author: Aimee-Claire Smith
Image: Annie Spratt/Unsplash
Editor: Sara Kärpänen
Copy Editor: Travis May