Design

What Grief Feels Like

Alessandra Olanow

Alessandra Olanow‘s new book of drawings, I Used to Have a Plan: But Life Had Other Ideas, chronicles a difficult time in her life. “When I set out to draw the book, I was coping with the breakup of my marriage,” she says. “Shortly afterward, my mom was diagnosed with terminal cancer and given a few months to live.” Ultimately, Alessandra’s book tackles grief, shock, empathy and hope. Here’s a peek inside…


Alessandra Olanow book

On shocking news: I had a one-year-old daughter and I was going through a divorce that knocked me off my feet. (I had not seen it coming.) Then, in late May 2018, my mom wasn’t feeling well and went to get a checkup. They said, you won’t make it through the summer. We thought, that’s impossible, she’s completely fine — vibrant, fun, happy. But she died shortly after the fourth of July.

On final days: She lived an hour away, and I started visiting her every day. My mom was my best friend — we spoke a million times a day — and we also had a complicated relationship. It was incredibly intense. In those final weeks, she just wanted to hold my hand. I’m a terrible ukulele player, but she loved when I would play and sing country and Beatles songs for her.

On connecting internally: After my mom died, I started to draw again. It felt very clunky and cumbersome. But drawing my emotions was my therapy.

On a meaningful poem: Mary Oliver has a poem called Heavy, and I read it over and over and over. A couple lines kept running through my mind: ‘That time / I thought I could not / go any closer to grief / without dying.’ Well, I went closer and I did not die. I realized, there is no other way I would want to feel about losing my mother than tremendous sadness. I learned how to carry my grief; I learned how to respect it.

On time passing: Now it’s been a year and a half since my mom died. But when something happy happens, I still want to pick up the phone and tell her. There are days you wake up and feel great, and days you wake up and don’t feel great, and they’re both okay. When you go through something traumatic or painful — a breakup, a death, a move, anything — it takes time. You can’t rush through it.

On navigating different hard times: I Used to Have a Plan was supposed to be about losing this picture of a marriage, and then I lost my mom — but you can apply these drawings to so many things. Therapists have reached out to me — they say, these drawings are palatable when someone’s going through something very emotional; people might not have the attention span for digesting a lot more. Therapists have told me the book was also helpful for people trying hard to have babies — which I completely identify with because I struggled with infertility — and also newly sober people.

On being vulnerable: Publishing this book is the most exposed I’ve ever felt in my life. It was the most complicated time in my life, and the book captured what I was going through. I hope it helps others.

Alessandra Olanow

Alessandra Olanow

Alessandra Olanow

Alessandra Olanow


Thank you so much, Alessandra! Find her book here, if you’d like, and sending a big hug to anyone missing someone today. xoxo

P.S. How to write a condolence note, and what to say to a grieving friend. Plus, Alessandra and her daughter’s apartment tour.

  1. Kathy R says...

    I have waited to read this – I was afraid. Mom died in March 2019, nine weeks after her cancer diagnosis. A week later, dad was in the hospital, had surgery and spent 100 days in rehab. One of us was there with him every day. He came home with an aide, and January 2020 he moved into assisted living. This was going to be a fresh start for him. And March 2020 – Covid hit. We did window visits and outside visits, but it wasn’t the same. His mind started going. He ended up back in the hospital exactly one year after getting out of rehab – on mom’s birthday. We found out his cancer was back. Went back to assisted living on hospice – but we were able to go inside and be with him, hug him, kiss him, hold his hand. He died almost exactly 18 months after mom. We are all so happy that they are back together – he missed her so much. But I miss them both so much. The other day I was having a quiet moment – and thought – let me give mom a call and see what’s going on. It’s so hard.

    • Ellen says...

      Sending love and strength to you. <3

  2. Sara says...

    Since this is such a welcoming and open place…

    My dad died six days ago.

    I’ve been so busy with end-of-life tasks, comforting my siblings (happily), his friends and coworkers (I want to shout “I was his kid!!!”) and work (yup. They suck.) that I’ve had no time to grieve. I keep oscilating between exploding and wondering if this is going to cause me problems later. I hoping to get a break tomorrow. Hoping.

    • Julie says...

      Hi Sara, I just lost my dad, too, a few days ago. The pain is confusing – it doesn’t feel real, and it’s bizarre to think that he’s gone. And I hate how some moments I feel OK and can see life as it was two weeks ago, but then remember that it’s different now because he’s gone and there’s this massive hole. I just want you to know you’re not alone, and I’m so very, very sorry.

  3. E says...

    I’ve been thinking a lot about my relationship with grief over the past few days. I said goodbye to my beloved cat on Friday and just feel utterly empty inside without the girl who was my best friend for 13 years. The one thing that has made this grieving process different than other times is talking about it. When a close friend died of suicide 3 years ago it absolutely rocked me. I didn’t tell many people about it for about 6 months and in that time felt like I couldn’t relate to other people and didn’t know how to talk about ordinary life when that had happened; it definitely affected relationships long term because I shut down and shut in. Similarly, when my grandmother died 7 years ago I didn’t tell anyone (for various weird family reasons) and rather than being able to discuss her memory I carried the guilt of all the things I felt I should have done better as a granddaughter for about 6 months. I still don’t know how I will move through this period, but having wonderful friends and family knowing what happened and checking in on me has been a blessing.

  4. Lisa says...

    My dad died 4 months after my daughter was born at 29 weeks. He was sick for a long time – over ten years- with Parkinson’s and then Dementia. He was diagnosed when I was 21. And he got lost in the disease. In the medication to treat the disease. He was still my dad, but so very different from the man he was when I was a child. And then my daughter was born via c section without anesthesia after a pregnancy where we were told she only had a 20% chance of surviving. It’s been 4 years since that time and I still feel like I haven’t processed my grief. Over my dad (and shortly thereafter our dog died as well), over the easy pregnancy I had always imagined, over being cut open and feeling everything. I just wrote an essay about that time and I am so nervous about sharing it with people.

    • leah says...

      You should share it! Sometimes a pain is lifted when we share and release that grief.

    • Annick says...

      My Dad died last year after several years of Parkinson`s and Dementia, just like yours. I still haven`t caught up. I am sorry for your loss and for the horrifying memories of your daughter´s birth. If you want to, you can send me your essay annickyerem@gmail.com, I would be honoured to read it (I´m a poet and have written numerous poems about my Dad`s illness)

    • Lisa says...

      Annick,
      It ended up being about my pregnancy and birth. It’s pretty graphic and likely a difficult read. Not sure you are up for something like that?

    • Lisa says...

      Also, I’m sorry you lost your dad as well. It sucks. It just really sucks.

  5. M.e.m says...

    The devastation as good piece has me thinking about how I respond to hard things. Recently my best friend of 20 years was diagnosed with a mental illness, after a series of troubling incidents. I’m feeling sad, confused and scared. And I think now ” Of course. Big hard feelings are the fruit of big, meaningful relationships. Do I want smaller relationships? Less feelings? ” for years I thought “good” meant easy, tension free, conflict free. As I approach 40 I’m thinking a good life is and will be full of complexity, grief, joy, friction and overall big feelings.

    • S says...

      I had to write the last bit of your comment down to remember – it really is all about the big feelings. Thank you <3

  6. JML says...

    I love this post and all of the comments, thank you. Complicated, ambiguous grief has been a big part of my life in the past year as I navigated the aftermath of divorce after my 16-year marriage during the pandemic. Then I was mugged and assaulted while walking near my home in broad daylight. It was shocking to me and devastating to my kids. Just as they were regaining their footing, the world shook beneath their feet again.

    Eight months later my physical injuries are still healing, therapy helps with the rest, and I have received love and support in so many forms from the amazing and lovely people in my life. I have learned that: (1) I can endure a lot of terrible shit at the same time; and (2) my people won’t let me drown.

    • Hollye says...

      Oh my goodness, just one of these things on its own sounds hard enough. I’m so sorry, and I’m sending so much love your way!

  7. Alex, you are incredible. Ordering your book as we speak…
    Xoxox
    Ali from yoga 😘😘

  8. pmia says...

    Love.

  9. shannon says...

    whoa. how badass. thanks for sharing.

  10. Karen Boland says...

    Seamus Heaney wrote of grief “I drive by remote control on this bare road”. And I remember that hollow feeling. But the road eventually ends. And it’s a little better.

    After I lost my daughter 8 years ago I developed anxiety which slowly grew to new heights and I have really struggled with that. I catastrophise and visualise worst case scenarios (i.e. imagine my daughter getting run over when walking down the street with her) all the time. And only recently spoke to other bereaved mothers who do the same. We imagine the worst so I know it can’t get that bad…..and it’s tough. Like a strange coping mechanism.
    But I can also see now what a gift it is to truly come out the other side of grief knowing how precious every day with loved ones is. That is a message you can’t digest in the depth of grief though.

    • Anonymous says...

      Oh ! Yes. I lost my young son 8 years ago and definitely do the same, “catastrophizing”. I try not to let it effect how I parent my other children, but I am sure that it does.

      I think grief is so unique to the individual, there is no advise I could give to anyone accept, be kind to yourself and breathe.

  11. Ceridwen says...

    A beautiful post. My mother died three months ago. My grief is like a new part of me. I tend to it carefully. I allow it to make me smile and to alow me to cry, to have a tear roll down onto a page of a book in quiet reflection, to allow my heart to expand when I see a mother with her adult child, to have longconversations with my dad, my family, to find new stillness and movement in daily things, to help me to write poetry and to hear my mum’s voice when I need her. The heartbreak is so strong and so is the growth. The confusion too that she is not a call away.
    I have found yoga very helpful – Adrienne’s 30 days Breath has been like magic and helped me integrate my grief into my life. I curled up in a pose today and the grief poured out in sobs. I needed that. I needed to be with mum in that so I acknowledged it and let it all out. I heard mum’s voice in my mind…it is ok Cerid, I am here right beside you.

    • Tara says...

      I have saved so many of the comments here in screenshots. My lovely mum died suddenly 3 nights ago and I’m drowning under a tidal wave of grief. Reading these comments helped me get my footing back for a moment.

  12. Cynthia says...

    What a touching post! I have learned from the loss of family throughout my life, that you never get over it, but you learn to adjust. Everyone grieves in their in own way. My condolences to all of the commenters who have lost friends and family.

  13. Elise says...

    My dad was killed in a car crash in the middle of my two year long divorce. I didn’t think there was anyone in the world who could possibly understand what it felt like to live through the pain and exhaustion of divorce only to be knocked on your feet by the unimaginable grief of losing a parent unexpectedly. Now I know I’m not the only one, and we really are all in this together. <3

  14. Mouse says...

    My mother died when I was 12. I am now 60. No one helped my sister and I with grief; there was so much going on with trying to keep the family together and care for my mentally handicapped sister. It felt like we shouldn’t talk about it, so we didn’t. Consequently I feel in some ways that my entire life has been a processing of grief. It’s been a challenge to allow the grief of a child to develop into a different kind of grief, as I have been an adult for a long time. I will say that it never goes away, but it absorbs into your body and your person, and in a way that’s a comfort. If grief is love, then love is becoming part of you. Grief is deep down such a part of me now that it feels like a translated kind of normal. Periodically, though, I still miss what my 12 year old self knew her mom to be……

    • liz says...

      Oh Mouse! Some part of me is somehow sending love and strength back through time to the twelve year old you were forty-eight years ago. What a cruel burden to lose your mother at that age, and to have to hold the sky up for everyone else. xx

    • Rachael says...

      I lost my mother at 14 and had a somewhat similar experience in terms of just moving on. I also still grieve her at 35, all the time, but sometimes in much more pronounced ways. It’s truly something you just learn to live with and it’s so hard to lose such an important person in adolescence. Sending you love and empathy.

  15. jane says...

    You know what my grief has been? It gradually dawned on me in the last few years that my mid-life crisis was taking the form of very intense grief. I have been grieving all the errors in judgement I could so easily have corrected, or not even made. The clarity that comes with the distance of time is both uplifting (one’s life is not carved in stone! I am still alive and can still do whatever I want to do to make changes and be happy!) and devastating. It’s been a tremendous journey of learning the art of self-forgiveness. I would love this book. Thank you.

  16. Frédérique Poirier-Patenaude says...

    My older sister died abruptly in her bath five years ago. The day before she was fine and the next day she was not. Even now, I still feel a deep anger and injustice at having lost her. While some days are good, others are extremely painful. Thank you for this publication. Xx

    • Julie says...

      Je suis désolée, Frédérique. C’est peut-être le fait que j’ai déduit qu’on venait du même coin de pays de par ton nom, mais ton commentaire m’a beaucoup touchée. Ça doit être une perte immense.

  17. LCS says...

    Thank you for this post. My 9 month-old daughter died in 2017 less than a month after being diagnosed with a rare form of cancer. The first two years were filled with a kind of wild grief.

    A while ago, on another post on this website, one of the commenters said “my grief has not gotten smaller, but my life has grown bigger,” and that has been a truth that I continue to hold close to my heart. I sometimes imagine my life as a house, and right after she died, her death and my grief were like the only room in the house – inescapable and suffocating. But over time, rooms have been added on – my oldest son’s growth, the birth of another daughter, a strengthening of my marriage after this profound test, new and deepened friendships, a job change, now a fourth pregnancy. I still find myself in the same room as her grief, and it is just as painful as ever, but this happens less often and I find I am able to treasure other parts of my life in ways I couldn’t or didn’t before.

    There are ways that art can capture grief in a way language cannot, and this books looks like an incredible resource. Thank you for this. xo

    • Lydia Chan says...

      LCS, your comment about your life getting bigger as it relates to grief reminded me of this metaphor, where grief is a ball and your life is a room: https://themighty.com/2018/12/ball-box-analogy-grief/

      And I agree with your note about art capturing grief. This room/ball metaphor and your life as a house is really helpful. Thank you.

    • Rachael says...

      This comment made me cry. Sending all the love your way.

  18. AJ says...

    “…there is no other way I would want to feel about losing my mother than tremendous sadness.”

    I love this. A few years ago, a close friend lost her mom who had struggled with mental illness her whole life. She loved her mom but it was complicated, and even in the last days there was deceit and manipulation. In the following weeks, she told me “I wish all I felt was devastated.” This perspective has been a gift of wisdom to me as I care for my own close relationships.

    • Al says...

      AJ – thank you for this. You just put words to something I have been feeling about my own grief dealing with my father for a year plus. He has not passed away, but is in the throes of dementia. My relationship with him is so complicated and has been since I was a teenager (I am 42 now). Dementia is a beast. It’s so sad and so awful. And I wish all I felt was devastated.

    • KG says...

      I lost my mom my senior year of college, wow 15 years ago (seems like yesterday still). She struggled with alcoholism & her mental health most of my life. I wish all I felt losing her was tremendous sadness. Her death is something I think about everyday, and the pain has lessened, but I remember also remember the relief I felt at her passing – that I wouldn’t have to deal with the ups & (mostly) downs of her disease anymore. It was certain she “wasn’t coming” and having that certainty was a weight lifted off my shoulders.

      Only feeling tremendous sadness at such a loss is a true gift <3

  19. Amy says...

    Ohh I just ordered! Thank you for sharing.

  20. Jona says...

    My mother died this past December. I was unable to travel to see her or my family in the Philippines because of this pandemic. She would have turned 70 yo this upcoming Sunday. Thank you for leading me to the Mary Oliver poem and I will pick up the book.

  21. cg says...

    I’ve been following Ms Olanow’s IG account for a while and every single time she hits it right on with her illustrations. I’ve been processing a grief of my own for years, and it amazes me how she is able to capture exactly the feelings that gut punch me, with illustrations. She has a talent and a gift, and now she is generously sharing it with all.

  22. Yasmine says...

    This post gave me permission to feel sad. Thank you, Cup of Jo.

  23. Blythe says...

    I find there is a Mary Oliver poem for almost every emotion/phase/part of life. Upstream is my favorite!

  24. Maria says...

    I have her book, I love it 💙

  25. b. says...

    My dad died in 2014 from a stroke, I was 25. I still miss him and he comes to me in my dreams sometimes. It’s an unspoken thing with my sister, we both miss him during special occasions but we don’t say it out loud because the moment one of us says it out loud, then we both start to cry.

    • A. says...

      B, my dad also died in 2014, I was 29. And he also comes to me in my dreams–at first I would wake from them devastated that he wasn’t really here, and now (they’re fewer and far between) I wake with deep gratitude feeling so thankful that I got to see and be with him again, even for a short sleeping time. Sending you love <3

    • B. says...

      A – I feel the same way! Nowadays when I dream of him it’s a much more calm feeling, like I’ve made peace with the fact that this is how we get to spend time together, and I mostly enjoy the dreams instead of being crushed when I wake up. Grief always feels so individual and yet, here we are, sharing it together. Sending love right back to you, and our dads :).

    • Jacqueline says...

      My dad died in Oct 2019. I was 38. He was my person. Grief hit me in ways I couldn’t have imagined, and still does. I treasure my dreams of him. Thank you for your comments and blessings on all of us living with big grief because we had such big love.🌟

  26. Julia says...

    This was exactly what I needed to see this week, as I have been plunged into enormous grief. Thank you, COJ.

  27. Jill D says...

    My mother died 4 months after her cancer diagnosis in 2008. I carry her in my heart, I miss her with joy and sadness. The smell of Avon hand lotion and wintergreen mints still brings tears to my eyes. It is my eau d’mom.

    Thank you.

  28. Stella says...

    I’d love to have the grow through what you go through as a print. It’s just lovely.

  29. silly lily says...

    I have literally stopped counting the responses here that have brought me to fresh tears. The worst (or best): Elaine — “My son continues to very much exist alongside me as a part of my life.” Such grief. Such love. And the Mary Oliver poem; so finely tuned, so very helpful.

    I will be buying this book. Probably multiples, to gift to friends. Even though I suspect that the sketches, so stunning in their simplicity, pretty much tell the whole story. The Little Prince said: “Words are the source of all misunderstanding”. These drawings are powerful, and simply CAN NOT be misunderstood. Thank you, Alessandra

  30. Sally says...

    Grief is a hard and sucky thing. And no-one knows what it’s like until it sneaks up and slaps you in the face.

    It happened to me when my lovely dad died suddenly in 2017 after a year-long mental health battle. He was mentally improving, but then the physical damage to his body was just suddenly too much.

    And let me tell you, sadness hits at the oddest times. Driving home from the supermarket, choosing an outfit, tying your shoes. Just out of the blue. BOOM.

    For me, it was a solid year at least before I felt like I had my feet back under myself fully. But, on reflection, his death made me a better human. I have more empathy, I am more loving, I am much better at extending grace to others, I quit a job that was making me ill with stress, and I am generally more chill about life. And within 2 years of his passing, I was able to say, with total conviction, I was happier than I’d ever been at any point in my adult life up to then.
    I think dad would be pleased with that outcome for me.

    • Emma says...

      I am so sorry about your dad, I also lost a deeply loved daughter what was gone in a second with no warning…for me I learned that Grief has NO time limits, it creeps up on us in a second and the tears just flow so then I sit quietly and deal with it and pray.

  31. Agnès says...

    I really like Alessandra’s drawings and the way they are linked to words. I hope I can get this book in France, else I will wait, waiting is good too. Grief is so hard; the hardest thing, and we have to go through it constantly. When I lived in mexico, I did a whole course, for a year, to become a doula for people who grieve; I stopped right before the practical part (we had to work at a hospital), I couldn’t bear it. Years after, I realized I had done this course so I could be prepared to accompany my parents in their last days; it has been such a deep and great help, not only to be with the sick, the old or the grieving, but also, to be more alive and value life and its little precious moments more. This book looks like one of those precious moments. I think nothing helps us more for terrible moments than to value the fragility of life, to marvel at nature, words, every thing. Sending hellos to every one!

  32. Angela says...

    Sometimes you just need to cry, to get every little emotion out after you have experienced a similar loss…so you keep reading posts like this one even though you know it will hurt…because it will take you back to your own pain.

  33. Amy says...

    I rarely comment but I religiously read and adore this blog… and I’ve felt less alone with this post and the comments today. Of COURSE I ordered the book straight away. Sending love to everyone who needs it… including me, missing my darling dad so much right now.

  34. TA says...

    The title of this book called to me. I’ve been struggling with “unexplained” infertility for three years. I was the kind of woman who always knew she wanted to be a mother. It took a while into the years of trying for me to realize that I was feeling grief because this kind of grief feels lesser than so many other kinds (like losing a loved one). I also don’t really talk about it because, in my grief, I feel ungrateful for the rest of my life. My amazing husband, my fulfilling career. And yet I feel like I can’t move past it. Every month I think, “this will be the month my grief ends.” It took me more than two years to see the good in this perpetual disappointment – that it means I still have hope even though it feels hopeless. Thanks for sharing this book. Wishing you all comfort in your grief.

    • SR says...

      I just want to say that you are not alone and I am right there with you.

    • Julie says...

      Your grief is not lesser than any other grief, TA. I completely understand what you mean when you say that grief has a way to make you ungrateful for all you have. It does tarnish all the rest of our lives, even what we love the most about it. Lots of light from my heart to yours.

  35. Olivia says...

    Sending love to everyone who lost a close one.
    Time does help, even though it is hard to hear in the first days/weeks/months. It really does.
    I loved Sheryl Sandberg’s book ‘Option B’ about grief & resilience, totally recommend.
    Finally, I found this beautiful quote a few days ago and and hope it will help some of you : ” Grief I have learned, is just all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the lump in your throat, the corner of your eyes and the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go.”

  36. Courtney says...

    I lost my dad suddenly almost three years ago. What she says about realizing that you want to feel that tremendous sadness over loss really resonated with me. I don’t want to feel ok when I think about my dad being gone, I embrace the sadness now when it comes. I’m sorry for all those who’ve lost loved ones, and I’m also so sad for those who’ve never lost someone they’ve loved deeply, because that’s still ahead for them. Grief has made me feel the most deeply human I’ve ever felt.

  37. Nigerian Girl says...

    Sending tons of love and courage to everyone who is grieving. Someone in Lagos is thinking of you.

  38. Hanna says...

    Normalizing grief needs to be part of our cultural fabric, especially now that we’re experiencing more deaths than 9/11 daily in the US due to COVID. My husband and I went through a period of time over the last several years where we lost a close family member, including his own parents, on average every 6 months. I’ve never felt so alone because none of my own friends have known grief quite like that.

    Grief isn’t something you ‘get over’, but instead you carry it with you. It does shape us and hopefully it does helps us grow as humans. These words are full of truth telling and I know our COJ community here can absolutely agree that we need more of that in the world right now. Thank you, COJ. I plan to buy this book this weekend and will cherish it’s truth telling.

  39. Abesha1 says...

    The only thing I’ve learned about grief and loss is to talk about it. Be unafraid to say, I had a sister… she died.
    To anyone. You never know what someone is going through at any moment, and your grief, while it hurts to share it, might make them feel less alone.

  40. Emma says...

    One thing I learned about grief, Grief has no time limits on it, it can take a day or a week or a year and it is still here for those we loved and lost. I lost my darling daughter on Jan 15, 2018 at 5:26am in Ft Worth and I was in Chicago unable to be with her, a wonderful nurse put a phone to her ear and I told her how much I so dearly loved and cherished her and I would love her forever and be with her someday. An blood clot to the brain took her with no warning and to this day I grief for her. Grief is part of life and we must go on and do…….yet hold those we lost deep in our hearts filled with love and memories to always be cherished. I so miss my darling daughter.

    • Julie says...

      Your love for your daughter shines through your words. There is absolutely no doubt that she could feel it all, even through the phone. Thanks for sharing, Emma.

  41. b says...

    Grief is such a shape-shifting thing. In 2016, my family went through a three month period of one loss after another. I am forever thankful for the friends who showed up and held space for us, coming to funerals, meeting us for quick meals when we were in town for what ended being overnights in some cases and so much more. I’m looking forward to Alessandra’s book.

  42. Tracy says...

    I didn’t know I needed to read this post today but I am grateful I had the opportunity and I will take this wisdom with me , unfortunately there is always a need for it .

    This was very powerful and personal and beautiful . Thank you .

  43. Rachel says...

    Thank you for posting this today. My wonderful grandma died on Saturday and I am making the drive to her funeral in another state tomorrow. It’ll be the longest time I’ve spent away from my one-yr-old and I’m anxious about going to a funeral during the pandemic. I also wish I could hug my grandma again. So many emotions…

    • BeckyB says...

      Wishing you safety on your journey tomorrow, and I’m so sorry for your loss. Sending a virtual hug .

    • Holly says...

      I am so sorry. Hugs to you, you got this :)

    • Julie says...

      Big hugs, Rachel. A grandma’s love is unparalleled. I’m wishing you luck on your trip!

  44. Jill says...

    I would like to respond to Isahrai who posted below…………I just LOVE this idea of narrating your day!! I’m going to try it starting tomorrow!
    Thank you, Isahrai, for such a fabulous survival technique!! <3

    • Isahrai says...

      I am glad it connected with you, Jill. I hope it makes some days and some transitions easier for you. — Isahrai

  45. Caitlin says...

    This is so beautiful and I’m grateful to Alessandra for her work and sharing her story.
    I am reading through all these comments and refraining from commenting on every single one. Please know I am reading each comment and sending so much love out to everyone with pain today.

    • Rusty says...

      Exactly what I was going to say.
      Poignant, moving and so very helpful!

  46. Krista says...

    I’ve had a lot of loss the last few years. I lost my mom at the age of 65 to depression and COPD. Since then I’ve had four miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy. It was hard to lay all this weight and grief on friends and my husband, and it was easier just not to talk about it. Mary Oliver has been a great solace to me in times of loss. I also love Elizabeth Bishop’s “One Art”. This book seems lovely, and a great gift to give when you don’t know what to say to someone but want to show your support, and tell them that it is ok to be sad. Those gestures mean so much.

  47. Gretchen says...

    This book looks so beautiful. And it is so needed at a time when there are so many people in our nation experiencing grief.

    In 2019 at 27 years old I lost my youngest brother to suicide. Then two months later my older sister (and only sister) died in a car accident along with her beautiful twin baby girls. I got unexpectedly pregnant with my first baby shortly after.

    I share this because grief has felt so lonely to me. Especially experiencing loss in my 20s. I’ve recently started an Instagram talking about grief @gretchnevans if that’s something that sounds helpful to anyone. Sending so much love to all you grievers out there!!!!

    • Gretchen says...

      Gretchen, from one Gretchen to another, I hear your pain. I’m so, so sorry for the losses of your brother, sister, and nieces. We’re about the same age, and I also experienced major losses in my 20s that I am still grieving. And yes – grief is unbelievably lonely, even when there are people around you who are also grieving. I hope that it lightens the loneliness a bit to know that you are heard and prayed for tonight by someone else who has known loss. <3

    • Emie says...

      Gretchen… I’m so sorry for your losses. Thank you for sharing and I’ve started following your IG account. Yes, grief is lonely but it also helps to know I’m not the only person feeling grief in that way. Up until now I thought I was.

  48. Katie says...

    This is such a beautiful post. Thank you.

  49. Krystal says...

    I look forward to reading this. I’m studying to be a Death Doula so I can provide non-medical end-of-life care and planning for people in my neck of the woods. This book feels like a breath of fresh air after text-heavy readings. Thank you for this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Alessandra’s mom actually had an amazing death doula who sat with her and held space for her. Alessandra is now training to be one. Such an important part of end of life care. Xo

    • Rusty says...

      Wow!
      Didn’t know there was such a thing!
      Just. Wow!

    • Katharine says...

      Oh my gosh thank you for doing this! My grandmother had hospice care for over a year (don’t wait too long – you can get it sooner than you may realize!) and they talked to me and gave me information about the process of dying when I would visit my family. I found it so helpful and comforting. Knowing the process made me less afraid and sort of highlighted the universality of this experience. I’ve shared that information and unfortunately had to reacquaint myself with the process since then but it never fails to bring me comfort and peace.

  50. Sharon says...

    Alessandra…I have gone through unexpected divorce and the loss of my mother (and father) under very different circumstances and at a very different point in my life…but I do sympathize. Your book looks like it would be helpful to anyone who has gone through losses that change our lives, and we all have had those losses, big and small.

    Comments from readers range from such recent losses to those that were long ago…as time passes, the emotions are still there, but not all of the time. They become more manageable…most of the time. For those who are dealing with fresh losses, consider going to a counselor. It helps.

  51. cl says...

    I am feeling and receiving everyone’s sentiments and positive comments. My best friend died in August and my heart is broken. There is such sorrow in the world right, the brightest beacon of love and hope for me now is the new administration, I am challenging my despair into rays of
    joy and success
    to them.

    • J says...

      My best friend also died last year, I am so sorry for your loss. Sending you love.

  52. Elaine says...

    Your blog is such a valuable resource – you have shared so beautifully your own experience with loss. Thank you this post.
    I lost my son suddenly three months ago –he was the joyful, radiant middle child of my four sons. It is an unimaginable grief. A line in a Forrest Gander poem captures its enormity, it is “a loss that every other loss fits inside.”
    There is a lot of grief literature but I found two books about losing a child that I thought were profound and might also be helpful your readers, “When Death Takes Something From You Give It Back,” by Naja Marie Aidt and “Say Something Back & Time Lived, Without Its Flow” by Denise Riley which argues that from the moment a child is born the mother is always aware of herself in connection to her child and in the case of his death the mother becomes that child’s time bearer, she carries him forward with her through time. Grief is not just a feeling that passes but a state of being. My son continues to very much exist alongside me as a part of my life.

    • Anne says...

      Elaine,
      Thank you so much for sharing your story and these two wonderful-sounding books. I am so sorry for such a tremendous loss and I believe you’ve captured the size of the emotion with Gander’s beautiful language. Thank you again. Know that someone in Minneapolis is thinking of you with tears in her eyes.

    • M says...

      Elaine I am so sorry for your loss. And in your grief you are shining a light here by sharing these beautiful thoughts, resources, and of your son. Warm hugs and prayers for you and yours.

    • Lucy says...

      Oh Elaine, I am so very sorry for the loss of your son. No parent should have to go through this. Sending you love.

  53. Claire says...

    What a beautiful book. Also, Joanna, I am LOVING all of these posts about new books on our radars, author profiles, and links to BookShop! I have added so many books to my wishlist in the past few months!

    • Claire says...

      Edited to add: could you add the post category tags onto posts again? (I’m seeing this post is labeled “grief”.) I would love to be able to click on “book” and find all the reading recommendations from over the years!

  54. Emma says...

    Does anyone have any experience or resources on how to handle ambiguous grief?

    • Sonja says...

      I have no expert advice except my own experience, but I resonated with your term ambiguous grief. This past fall one of my closest friends suddenly lost a very dear friend of his (I did not know this person). My grief was confusing because I wasn’t grieving my own loss but grieving for the enormous pain my friend was feeling. It was so heavy and so hard and I couldn’t bear to think of how much his heart was breaking while there was nothing I could do. I don’t know if this qualifies as ambiguous grief but it was atypical and so, so difficult.
      The things that helped me were reaching out – I sent texts like “no need to respond, just wanted you to know I’m thinking of you.” or “just want you to know I’m here for you.” and I also bought a beautiful card and wrote poetry in it and mailed it. Otherwise, just time for my friend to heal and accepting there was nothing I could do except provide space for him no matter how long he needed.

    • Emily says...

      I have been finding IFS therapy incredibly healing, you can work with any difficult emotions and no need to understand them as such. Sending hugs.

    • Angela says...

      I don’t have a great answer but I am dealing with a similar experience. My counselor describes ambiguous grief as “everything there’s not a Hallmark card for.” And then it makes me chuckle when I think about a card for my current situation(although it’s kind of a dark humor, ha!).

    • Willa says...

      I don’t have any resources to share -and maybe this isn’t what you mean by ambiguous grief – but I”ll share that when I lost my mother about three years ago I felt tremendously sad (and still mourn her), but I also felt a sense of calm and relief. Her death was unexpected so once the shock wore off I realized that the stress and chaos she brought into my life was gone and there was a peace and freedom to simply exist without her expectations, guilting, and judgment. So now I miss her and still feel sadness and melancholy for the sweet moments and flawed love we had for each other. But I also have learned (through therapy mostly) that I mourn what will never be – a chance to have a healed and healthy relationship. Having a therapist tell me its ok to feel relieved or even happy to an extent that she’s not in my life anymore, and that doesn’t take away from the genuine love I had for her, or the fact that I truly miss her, and I’m sad to have lost what might have been, has helped me a lot. I will always have had a complicated difficult mother/daughter relationship. So it will always be easier in some ways for her to not be here. And that is sad too. Grief is certainly as multifaceted as those of us moving through it.

    • Rebecca says...

      Willa you captured this perfectly. I had a very similar experience when my dad died suddenly. Incredibly heartbroken but relief when I realized I didn’t have to be disappointed by him anymore and I was free from our mutual judgments and disappointments. The life insurance policy he had for a all of his children also helped.

    • Emie says...

      Willa… the description of your relationship with your mother sounds just like mine. She’s 93 and living in assisted care. I lost my dad several years ago and it’s complicated my relationship with my mother even more… my dad always compensated for her tendency’s. Because our relationship has always been had stressful moments I’m afraid of my emotions when her time comes. Does anyone else worry about what your grief will look like before it comes?

  55. Robin says...

    The title of this book so perfectly describes what grief feels like to me. I also used to have a plan. Now I no longer make plans or expect plans to come to fruition. The last 10 years has included the slow, gruesome illnesses and deaths of my mother-in-law, father-in-law, and sister-in-law, as well as losing my two babies. I don’t know how to carry on living life, visualizing a future and having a plan, while living through so much pain. The title of this book summed up a conversation I had with my friend today – I used to have a plan.

    • Sharon says...

      Robin…I am so sorry.

    • Sadie says...

      Robin, my goodness, what a time. I can’t read your story and not want to reach out to you and offer an internet hug and tell you I have the highest hopes for you and your life. Saying a prayer for you from a tiny corner in North Carolina.

    • Caitlin says...

      Robin,
      I’m holding you and your loved ones in my heart. I am so sorry. I’m glad to hear you a friend to talk to. Know that you’re not alone❤️

    • ARC says...

      I am so sorry. Wishing you a ray of light and that you will have a chance to wander out of the valley and feel a tiny bit of joy. Sending virtual hugs to you.

    • Robin says...

      Thank you… internet hugs are so strange but nice. I appreciate your comments.

    • Jill says...

      Robin. I’m practically speechless.
      I’m so so sorry.
      Right now may be the time to make a new short term plan……… getting emotional support from professionals to help you through a really tough time. No shame in that, only understanding.
      It sounds as though you have a good friend to talk to.
      All my love.

    • Cynthia says...

      I am so very sorry for your losses.

  56. Anonymous says...

    What a fitting day to see this post. Exactly a year ago, my mom’s partner died suddenly, less than two weeks before my dad remarried. My parents had been divorced less than two years.

    My grief around the whole thing has been so complicated. My mom’s partner was a family friend who had a history of saying off-color and sometimes downright racist things. I I already didn’t like him, but that intensified when I found out he was with my mom behind my dad’s back while acting like his best friend. In the year since he has died, I haven’t been able to process my own emotions about it all as I’ve been setting them aside to be there for my mom. I’ve felt very isolated in trying to sort through grief (?) over someone I didn’t like, but it is nice to know I’m not alone in struggling to navigate this process.

    • meli says...

      This sounds really hard. A very different scenario has had me trying to hold multiple feelings at once using ‘and also’ statements. I don’t like X and also, I’m sad for and care about them and also…and also… and also. Thinking of you.

    • Anonymous says...

      I am one week away from the anniversary where I have the exact same situation as what you describe here. Not knowing why I’m grieving – if that’s what it is – feels so strange at times. I think I’m grieving for my mom and how alone she will be. Thankyou for sharing, I only imagined I could be feeling this and it’s difficult to talk about the loss of someone you really didn’t enjoy all that much.

  57. Julie says...

    I read a particularly poignant quote on grief the other day:

    “Grief, I’ve learned, is just all the love you want to give but cannot. All of that unspent love gathers in the lump in your throat, the corner of your eyes and the hollow part of your chest. Grief is just love with no place to go”.

    • Kate says...

      This reminds me of Fleabag, talking about her mother.

    • kate says...

      Wow. Yes – this exactly.

  58. Toni says...

    Thank you for this. It’s beautiful and I can’t wait to read her book!

    COJ was my safe place when my dad died 6 years ago. My mom was beside herself and unavailable to be a soft place to land. My brother was in the throes of addiction. And I’d never felt more alone. When I was in the depths of despair, I would come here. I’d read about moms from around the world, fashion, and lipsticks. I’d read about real women, Toby and Anton, recipes that I’d try to recreate. It was a lovely warm hug of an escape. I even wrote to Joanna years ago to thank her. And she wrote back right away! I save that email in a folder called “Friends” because that’s how I feel about this blog and all the people I communicate with in the comments.

    Sending lots of love and light out to everyone grieving.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Oh my gosh, Toni! What a beautiful comment; I’m so touched. And I’m sorry for the loss of your dad xoxo

    • Annie says...

      <3333

    • Rusty says...

      This is just how I feel about this place, this space, that Joanna creates for us, here.
      Thank you, Joanna. It means more than you know. xx

  59. Kristin says...

    Thank you for this post and book recommendation. My mom, who was my best friend and a doting and loving grandmother to my kids, died unexpectedly a month ago. The grief is overwhelming and so very heavy. I will check out Alessandra’s book.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      I’m so, so sorry, Kristin.

    • Mimi says...

      I am so sorry about your mom, Kristin. My mom was also my best friend and the most wonderful grandmother. She died incredibly suddenly 4 years ago and it was just truly terrible. I found books to be some source of comfort to me, and this one looks really good. Sending virtual hugs your way.

    • MB says...

      I’m so sorry for your loss, Kristin. My mom died unexpectedly 19 months ago and while I’m now managing on a day-to-day basis I still feel completely knocked sideways and the grief still overwhelms me, missing my favorite person in the world. Although I read CoJ religiously I put off reading this post for days until I knew I could set aside time to lose myself in my grief, which as you know isn’t easy with (young) kids around. Just frame things in a way that’s achievable, even if that’s just to make it through the next 5 minutes. And when you’re ready, a bereavement counselor could be an excellent resource. My advice would be to not put any expectations on yourself around your grief, as it’s certainly not linear. Sending you a big hug xoxo

  60. This makes me feel sad because there is so much loss around, especially now. In a way, it feels like a whole nation is now connected by death. Before, one may have felt isolated and alone, I don’t know maybe one still feels that way. I’m not sure if I’m making sense but I feel like no one person is alone in this because we are all feeling a loss on some level. Like birth, death is so inevitable. Yet it can be so painful and complicated, sometimes. And I feel, the older we get, the more exposed we are to it. Sending warm wishes and hugs to anyone grieving. You are not alone.

  61. Katie S. says...

    I wonder if anyone in the comments has advice on working through grief. I have a feeling my 7 year relationship is about to end and when I think about grieving while working in a very stressful role…I can’t imagine doing both. And I can’t take time off (I work at the hospital, surprise). How do I do both?? I am so scared.

    • kate says...

      oh katie, i’ve been there. i just want to be a voice in your corner – you are not alone xo

    • Jill says...

      Katie, i feel you DEEP. I didn’t think I could do both either, when it happened to me.
      Surprise! I did both.
      You’ll discover you can too. You’ll discover it in your own time.
      You can and will. I know you will.
      How can life be shitty and fabulous at the same time? I truly don’t know.
      I just know that it is. And it’s scary.
      Dig deep.
      ((((((((((Hugs))))))))))

    • Isahrai says...

      At the start of the pandemic, I ended a relationship (a good thing but still hard) while starting a new awesome-but-high-stress job and parenting/homeschooling a child with severe dyslexia who had just started a new school and knew none of her classmates, and right when I thought I was starting to sleep 5 hours a night instead of 2, my ex-girlfriend, the one who I thought might just be “the one” again someday died of COVID. In other words… I was living 2020 just like everyone else. This is what worked for me: for those first few weeks, when I really didn’t think I’d make it through another day, when shifting from one space to another – parenting, working, tutoring, grieving, sleeping, I would audibly transition. That is to say, I would name what space I was moving into and say goodbye to the previous space. “Ok, I just cried for 20 minutes about Rachel. It’s time to focus on donor databases for the next 30 minutes.” … “Ok, I just successfully cooked dinner. I am going to watch Taskmaster with my kid and I hope I laugh but it also will be fine if I just sit numbly..” … “Ok, I just reread our last emails and I want to cry but I’m all cried out. I’m going to do an online dance class now.” My daughter has started doing this as well so we’ve made it our family coping mechanism. 6 months later, I don’t HAVE to do it but I do still find myself telling myself what’s next out loud if I feel stuck in a task, in a procrastination mode, or just want to be heard (if only by myself). For some reason, narrating my days helped me realize that I was actually doing something, actively grieving and acknowledging that it had just as much value as anything else I was doing in my day even if it couldn’t be my whole day. I hope this makes a little sense. I am sorry you are scared. It’s scary to lose love.

    • Joanna says...

      I’m sorry to hear this Katie, that sounds incredibly tough, hugs to you

      I started therapy after my mom died and I went back to work, and one thing she said really stuck with me: we don’t really “get over” grief, but it becomes the hub of the wheel of the new life we slowly build around it, until our lives become bigger than the grief itself, and we feel it less often.

      I found work afterwards to be a place I could focus and be relatively normal, which was a relief, but every so often something would floor me (wanting to phone her about a promotion or seeing a calendar reminder etc) and I’d have to go have a cry in the bathroom. But I realised this was okay. Just sit with it, and try not to suppress it, because that doesn’t always help either. It’s human to grieve, and there’s no shame in that.

      And if you have a buddy at work whom you trust, it helps to have one or two people understand what you’re going through and to maybe be there with a cookie at the right time. Good luck and take care of yourself!

    • S says...

      You will manage, but the first few months will be especially hard. I just went through this after a very difficult 5.5 year relationship. There were a few times in the first few months where the pain was so intense I thought surely it would never end. And then… it did! It’s so banal but it’s just one day at a time, and then one day you wake up and go about your day and realise it doesn’t hurt so much and you haven’t thought about it really.

      The relief to be out was a big help, too. xoxoxox I’m freeeee! But it didn’t always feel like that.

    • Kate says...

      Katie, I’m so sorry. It seems like one of the great injustices of the world that emotionally difficult things have to sit alongside logistically difficult things, and grief has to exist alongside work and stress and being busy. I had one of these periods last year, when everything in my life was at peak stress and there were no minutes to breathe, and I was trying to grieve a number of losses at the same time. Sometimes it’s impossible. Therapy helped. You think you can’t make time for that hour once a week, but then it’s that hour that saves you and makes the rest of the week possible. I remember my therapist telling me that you can only do so much on any given day- that it was very ok to not be 100% at my job if I wasn’t coping that day. To just try to make it through intact- that was just fine. That had honestly never occurred to me before- I always thought I just had to suck it up and perform perfectly no matter what.

    • Agnès says...

      katie, that seems like a very hard time… I have been in therapy for many years and when i separated from my 7 year relationship (it is a special number!) -that was years ago, I am now very happy with another man-, my therapist would just tell me: “wait until you feel it deep inside, that it’s finished”. I waited, and waited, and waited. My mind would tell me to go, that is was enough, but something was still alive. So I waited more. And very clearly, one morning, it was over. I packed my stuff, i left, and that was it. It really helped, I am sure, to “close” that story very clearly, there was no anger, nothing to be discused, it was even friendly. It was truly, completely, finished. It is one of the healthiest thing I have done in my life, I am proud of it. I will be thinking of you!

    • Katie S. says...

      Thank you to all for the exact words I needed to hear. Your support means more than you know. Your strength gives me strength.

    • MC says...

      I’m so sorry to hear that, Katie. I know you’ll surprise yourself with your own strength, though.
      I went through my own divorce five years ago and there were times that the emotional pain was so bad that I would actually say ‘ow’ out loud. But I also found more strength and grew in bigger ways than I could have imagined. The big things that made the difference for me was that I started therapy – once a week at first and then petered off, and I decided that my only job for the next year was to take care of myself and that I was allowed to be selfish in service of that. This meant doing the things I truly needed moment to moment – if a friend invited me out but what I really needed was to stay home and read a book, then I stayed home; if I was feeling crummy and some fresh air would make me feel better than watching more Netflix, I would go for the walk. And I really felt my feelings, deeply and intensely, without judgment for what they were. All of these things added up to me being and feeling the most like myself that I ever had. It took months, but I came out the other end far better than I’d started.
      The only way out is through, and you’ll get through it, Katie. Big, big hugs.

  62. Annie says...

    My dad just died a few weeks after cancer diagnosis. Man, I never understood pain until that day.

    Can’t wait to check the book out; the Mary Oliver poem as well

    • Kamaile says...

      Annie, I’m sorry for your loss. My mother had breast cancer that later came back in her liver. It came on so suddenly she died a few weeks later. I felt shock from the cancer diagnosis and trying to process that grief along with her death was completely overwhelming. That was 23 years ago.

      Sending peace to you. 💜

  63. Bekah says...

    Needed this today. I needed it 4 yrs ago as I navigated my divorce.

    I’ve read CoJ 11 yrs and like many others who planned their wedding with inspiration from this blog, we’re divorce now. Often I hope for the community here to touch on it as much as the anniversary or best of weddings posts. My divorce was amicable, yet it still felt like tearing the flesh of my torso with bare hands. Now on the upside and blossoming, I’m looking to pay my lessons forward. I’d love to be a part of a divorce post; open to ideas how we can cover this topic more often.

    Looking forward to reading this beautiful book.

  64. katherine says...

    I lost my mom 20 years ago but to this day when something really great happens my first instinct is to call and tell her. Given all the time that has passed, that instinct now brings me joy rather than sadness. I hope others who have lost someone, especially in this past isolating year, will find that joy some day.

    • Susannah says...

      I lost my mum 2 years ago and twice in the last week spoke about her in the present tense. {{Hugs}}

  65. maria says...

    this resonates with me SO MUCH. as many (most?) people – i’ve suffered through some pretty traumatic events and losses and it’s all so true…”this is the part where you find out who you are” and also the growth.

    the letter to pain hits the mark! thanks for that.

    i’ve lost both my parents, one when i was 23 (4 months before my wedding day) and the other over 3.5 years ago (already?!) when i was 48. i STILL so grapple with the loss and emptiness of having no living parents. my husband is the same. we are such a small circle and i am just so unbelievably thankful to have my husband (and our dog!). i don’t need many, but i do truly feel like i have less and less people i truly love and care about and it is so hard at times.

    • Kamaile says...

      Maria – I understand you as I too too lost both my parents when I was in my late 20’s. They were both 48 when they died unexpectedly. I’m 50 now and the grieve hits me sometimes too. Thinking I missed SO many years without them. I am lucky to have a great husband and two siblings that I’m extremely close to but I miss my parents so very much.

      I find it comforting when I want to “talk” to my Mom or Dad to write them a letter in my journal.

  66. S.K. says...

    I want to frame prints of these!!!

  67. Sisu Garcia says...

    I’ve followed Alessandra for a while now on IG and her illustrations are always so poignant, i love them! will definitely buy the book if my budget allows soon.

    • Gretchen says...

      This book looks so beautiful. And it is so needed at a time when there are so many people in our nation experiencing grief.

      In 2019 at 27 years old I lost my youngest brother to suicide. Then two months later my older sister (and only sister) died in a car accident along with her beautiful twin baby girls. I got unexpectedly pregnant with my first baby shortly after.

      I share this because grief has felt so lonely to me. Especially experiencing loss in my 20s. I’ve recently started an Instagram talking about grief @gretchnevans if that’s something that sounds helpful to anyone. Sending so much love to all you grievers out there!!!!

  68. nadine says...

    I follow Alessandra on instagram and preordered the book when she announced it would come out. I am very happy to have received it. It’s beautiful, sweet and tender. <3

  69. Roxana says...

    Wow. This looks so interesting and relatable! Just the few portions that have been shared have resonated with me. What a beautiful and constructive way to process pain and trials. LOVE the title and the cover art. Thank you!

  70. Sylvia says...

    ‘ I realized, there is no other way I would want to feel about losing my mother than tremendous sadness. I learned how to carry my grief; I learned how to respect it.’
    Thank You!

    • Tracy says...

      That part! It resonates so deeply. I lost my dad three years ago and all I can do is agree, feel glad someone else understands and that they put it into words.

    • Agnès says...

      That quote is every thing. It is so important to allow ourselves to be sad, and publicly sad. It is all about love.