Welcome Shadow Grief


While at a Mary Kay Cosmetics party, I was guided to my seat along the dining room table and prepared myself to be made over by a woman whose acquaintance I had yet to make. I didn’t mind being here, really, although it was tiring listening to her stale sales pitch drone on, feeling a little trapped among fourteen of my family and friends. And yet to my chagrin, I see the long list of items on the form next to me; items that I have enjoyed during my little make-over session. It is a list I intend to purchase.

We are all being walked through step-by-step instructions to the age-old hand treatment that Mary Kay has sold for generations. The hostess walks by behind me and I lift my newly exfoliated open palm to receive my serving of “Satin Hands, Step Four”. She squeezes a generous dollop of the opaque, bright pink goo into my hand. It is heavy and very thick as I press my hands together and attempt to massage it into my skin.

Almost absentmindedly, I bring my hands up to my nose to inspect the aroma of this concoction. I inhale its one-of-a-kind waxy scent of plastic and roses and my heart feels instantly tight in my chest. I can hear the blood in my ears. I feel sad, yet happy at the very same time.

Welcome, shadow grief. Welcome? Oh yes.

What is it about this scent that makes me react in this way? I can assure you it is not some strange aversion to silky smooth hands. Inhaling the smell of that hand cream brought me back in time, almost bodily, to my mother’s bathroom.

For as far back as I can recall, my mother loved to bathe. She would take a bath every single night, using the same bath oil (Skin So Soft) and follow that up with her regular hand regimen. Being in a house full of daughters, my mother would leave the door to her bath unlocked and on any given night I would find myself perched upon the closed commode, talking to her. I am willing to wager that I have spent a sum of days over the years with her in this way.

My mother died the year I turned 27. She was taken from us quickly by a cancer that showed no mercy and simply stole a vibrant and happy person away from us, in ten short months. In the years since she died, there have been moments like this one, where I am catapulted back into my memory by a scent, or a taste, or by flipping through the channels and seeing a glimpse of a movie she loved or that we watched together, a favorite song.

Shadow grief is a bittersweet experience. In an instant I am swept away and can relive a happy moment, but shortly thereafter am left with the longing. I miss my mother. I only learned the term “shadow grief” recently. It seems such an appropriate way to describe the sensation of these deep and heavy reminders.

Shadow grief is a normal facet of the grieving experience. It can be acutely painful as it brings such loneliness with it. It can also bring joyous happiness when you experience such a vivid remembrance of your loved one. Shadow grief can be cruel, too. For me, it is mostly bittersweet. As one of these moments fades away, I am left with the sadness and the wanting, but I am also looking ahead. I look forward in time with wonder, not knowing when or where, or how it will hit me – but looking forward nonetheless to my next meeting with this strange yet welcome, Shadow Grief.