Grief is strange.
When we’re in it, we do weird things—we cry to the sappiest of songs, we laugh at seemingly inappropriate times, we sniff the belongings of our dead loved ones, searching for some remnant of them that remains.
My friend Lisa Sinicki’s comic about wearing her dead mom’s underwear captures the bizarre stew of grief perfectly.
I talked to Sinicki, a writer and artist in the Atlanta area, to learn more about the inspiration behind her comic. The origins of the project, she shares, began last summer when her mom was facing late-stage cancer.
“I always have these dialogues in my head, and they started to intensify when my mother started getting sicker,” Sinicki says. “I’d have these dialogues every day when I’d visit her, and I’d take out my phone and do voice-to-text and try to capture them.”
Like many artists, Sinicki turned to her creative outlets to cope with the stress of her mom’s illness. In addition to capturing the thoughts that ran through her head, she also painted. “I started painting every day and my paintings got better quickly. I created some of the most simple, calm pieces that I’ve ever created—usually my pieces are not simple and not calm. Somehow in the grief process—pre-grieving, knowing this horrible thing is coming—there’s some part of you that can create these amazing things,” she says.
The heart of the comics revolves around Sinicki’s confession that since her mom died, Sinicki’s been wearing her underwear. During her mom’s illness, Sinicki’s dad asked her to sort through some of her mom’s belongings. “I was going through the drawers…and I noticed she’d still had the pairs of underwear we’d bought together.” Sinicki found her mom’s underpants, which they’d purchased together during a shopping trip several years earlier, to be in pristine condition. “Mine are beat to crap,” she says.
Sinicki explores the mystery of the immaculate condition of her mom’s underwear, compared to the state of her own. “She kept clothes well, and kept them forever,” she says.
“I’m wearing her socks too. I’m wearing her night cream,” Sinicki says. “I know it’s funny and bizarre—I’m laughing at myself every day and yet at the same time, there’s so much pain and loss. And I’ve talked to so many other people who’ve lost people who were close to them—their spouse or mother…it’s so universal that we all have some really weird thing we kept or we won’t throw away.”
I told Sinicki how disarming I found her comic to be, how she captures everything from the humor of wearing our dead loved one’s underwear to the unbearable finality of death and all the unanswered questions it leaves us with, which is how the comic ends.
Sinicki points out that it’s the face of the cartoon version of her that allows her to express a wide range of emotions in a way that prose doesn’t always have space for. “The face lets you know it’s wistful with a big dollop of sadness and a little regret. The face is what makes it very, very clear. I find when I just write, sometimes people don’t understand the emotion I’m trying to attach. That’s the way we discussed things in my family—the emotion was always implied and not always articulated.”
“She loved to dance,” Sinicki says of her mom. “She was in an elderly ladies’ tap dancing troupe. She was so busy. And she loved attention. I think she’d be very happy that I was wearing her underwear.”