What Grief Can Do

Grief does things to you – to your mind, to your body, to your soul.

Some people talk these things through.  After my mother died, I found it difficult to talk for the first time in my life.

I must have turned the pain inward and the result is a ‘sprained’ or ‘torn’ MCL and hamstring.  There’s really no other explanation except the one we have been reaching for – one overcompensating for the other.  I wasn’t even moving when the hamstring separated.

My sister and I had been working at Mother’s house every Saturday since she passed away.  There were documents to find, bills to pay, accounts to cancel.  We made a list of those things which had to be done during normal weekday hours and met after work when we had short days.

Last Saturday, after finally summoning the courage to take down her Christmas tree, I was standing at the kitchen bar in my mother’s house dividing pictures of my childhood with my sister.

“Here, you are holding her hand in this one.  You should keep it.”

“And this one has Daddy crouched down, smiling at you as if he adored you more than anything in the world.  You take that one.”

“This is Mother in her prom dress; and over there is the one in her cap and gown.”


The inside of my knee had been ‘sore’ for a while.  I simply got a little elasticized knee brace and went on about my life.  I knew it had been swelling from time to time because there were often the waffle-like imprints of the fabric on my knee when I took it off.  Ibuprofen before bed and first thing in the morning seemed to ease it.

But on this day, it was really starting to throb.

“Why are we squinting in every picture?”

“They always made us face the sun!”

“And the old brownie camera…”

“Still intact with the flash…”

“Is in the treasures drawer.”

We were suddenly finishing each other’s sentences.  The things we only had one of were being stored in a place we referred to as the ‘treasures drawer.’

Our plan was to get to that ‘drawer’ by afternoon.  We would each get half of the treasures, which meant we would also be giving up half of them as well.

These aren’t the things you might imagine.  There was nothing inside a thief would want.  But they were bits and pieces of our childhood; family Bible, the clock radio which had belonged to our grandparents, the old Brownie camera, the surgical bowl and sutures removal set the doctor gave our father after his second painful surgery.  You get the picture.

Priceless to us, valueless to others.

I pointed at a picture.  “There’s Daddy and the bear!” 

Daddy and bear

It was faded from all of the years it had hung on the wall.  He must have made it face the sun as well, content to see the reflection of it across his brave face as he reached out to pet the wild bear during one of our many trips to the Smoky Mountains.

Pressure built for a second behind my knee and then it released, as if the entire muscular structure in the crease of the knee turned loose.  It didn’t hurt at first.  It took about a minute – maybe two – before the pain shot through my knee.

“I’ve got to sit down,” I said.

A few minutes later I reached for my purse and yanked out the brace, pulling it on.  I followed it with some Ibuprofen and suggested we sit while we combed through recipe books.

We made piles and I kept forgetting which pile was mine and which needed going through.  My leg throbbed, but we had so much to do.

The next morning my husband drove me to Urgent Care as soon as they opened.  I left with crutches, leg stabilizer, anti-inflammatories, and a recommendation for orthopedic attention.

Medical professionals at every level kept asking how I had injured my knee.  Did I fall?  Did I feel it pop?  Was there a noise when it ruptured?

It just turned loose.  I knew no other way to explain it.  I was standing at the bar, not even moving, and it turned loose, as though the tight muscular band around my knee lost all of its elastic.

Even my orthopedic specialist jokingly laughed, saying I needed a better story.  You’d think I could come up with one wouldn’t you?

But I like this doctor.  He has confidence in my ability to heal without surgery.  He also has a few tricks up his sleeve, he said with a wink, should they become necessary.

On the bright side, my bone structure looks good – no arthritis and it is still stable.  I’ve been prescribed rest.  The old knee needs time to calm down; for the swelling to subside.

The heart needs time to heal as well.  Maybe one will aid the other and I’ll come back on the other side of this as a whole person again.

Fingers crossed – but not ankles.  That hurts my knee.


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  1. I’m so glad to see a post from you, although I’m so sorry about your pain. You crossed my mind yesterday, and I found myself wondering how you were. Glad you have confidence in you doctor; please keep us posted on how you are.
    My mother-in-law is having a difficult time dealing with the death of her husband of 71 years. We all handle grief differently and in our own time. Thinking of you….i

    1. Thank you Dianna. There’s so much to do when you lose a loved one, and then it seems you fall apart. I guess that’s me anyway. I’ll keep you and your mother-in-law in my thoughts as well. Knowing others are behind you helps.

  2. Making your pain manifest, yes grief is very interesting. Sorry for your loss. Glad you and your sister are sharing memories and that you’ve found supportive care for your knee.

  3. This is so well written with your interweaving thoughts. It all makes perfect sense although your injury does not. We’ve missed you but know you are doing what you have to do. And I think you have missed writing as this poured out and flowed seemingly without effort. So good to hear from you.

    1. Thanks you Georgette. It hasn’t been an easy adjustment, and with our father having pre-deceased her, it is just my sister and me left to iron out the estate. Rough business, but often full of blessings.

  4. My dear Renee, I am a great believer in what is called ‘psychosomatic’, a term often misunderstood. The psyche will make itself known via the body. Why else do we get butterflies in our stomach? Or a tension headache? Mind you, I dare say that all that shifting of your mother’s things might have taken a toll on your body, literally and physically.

    I envy you that you and your sister are each other a comfort. When my mother fell ill last September I hoped it would bring me and my two sisters close again. No such luck. Never have I known two women colder and more removed. They will regret it one day. Bitterly. Latest at the grave of my/our mother. Before you ask: My mother (ten years younger than yours) is her old self again. I am so happy to hear her old voice, her old laughter, I could cry. I am willing her to stay alive. And in that I can relate to, and already anticipate, the grief that you are feeling now. My mother’s mother, the woman who raised me first and was the most important person in my life (till the Angel was born), died when I was eight. It’s been decades. I still can’t bear the 18th of February. The day the rug was pulled from underneath my feet. Grief will never leave us. Time does NOT heal all wounds. In the words of Bert Brecht: “You won’t find me where you left me.”

    I am so glad to see you on the page again.


    1. Oh Ursula, I am so sorry to hear your two sisters aren’t close to you, especially now. The thing my mother most wanted in the world, and the thing she constantly told us, was that we would not argue after her death, and that we would share equally in the decisions and the estate. So far, I believe she would be proud of our cooperation. Some decisions we can’t make right now. It is too soon. Others we are handling as best we can.

      Sorrow does bear physical pain. And you are right. Time doesn’t heal a darned thing. We simply have to learn a new way to exist. Perhaps I’ll stop picking up the phone to call her over a simple thing but I’ll forever miss her voice.

  5. Renee, I am so sorry that you lost your mother.l It’s been nearly ten years since my Mom died, but I still feel the need to call her when anyrthing happens that I think she’d want to know about. Having lost both parents when Mom died, it felt very strange to be “nobody’s child”. My heart goes out to you and your family. And, of course, I’m sorry about your knee. It will get better as will the ache in your heart. Love to you and yours. Linda

    1. We’ve become orphans, no parents. I feel a bit like one of those parade balloons that becomes untethered in the wind, no grounding wires left to keep it tied to earth. Your kind words help more than you know. Thanks Linda.

  6. I know I’ve already given my condolences, but it is so hard to lose a parent. Maybe your cartilage broke to keep your heart company…

    1. That is a definite possibility. Maybe something needed to hurt worse to divert my attention. The body is strange Isn’t it. Thank you for your kind thoughts. I do appreciate them.

  7. Renee, there is no time in a person’s life that is easy to lose one’s Mother. It sounds like you have wonderful memories to hang onto and share with your sister and others. That helps, but, in the end we have to let ourselves mourn, weep and heal from the loss. I’d say your knee knows and will heal at your pace. Sending blessings your way,

  8. Bless your heart and your knee and your spirit too. Mourning the loss of a loved plays havoc on most every aspect of our lives. I hope your knee heals smoothly and you’re back up and around soon. Take all the time you need and take care of yourself.
    Sending you positive thoughts and prayers.

    1. I can feel the warm thoughts and prayers being sent out for me, and I appreciate every one of them. It has been difficult and this is just one more thing to have to endure. Surely a rainbow is in the near future.

  9. Renee, I can understand how difficult it must be for you deal with this personal crisis. My prayers are with you to give you strength during this difficult phase. It’s really nice that you and your sisters have so many memories to treasure. yes, sometimes what it seems valueless to others are actually priceless to us. Take care!!

    1. I recall some very sweet posts you have written about your family – your mother in particular. Regardless of nationality, religion, sex, or race, we all hurt in the same ways and bear loss with great pain. I know you must understand. Thank you for your kind words.

  10. I am sorry to hear of your loss, Renee. Try and not overdo it as you close your mother’s estate. Just take one day at a time. BTW, if you scanned those photos, you would not have to share with your sister, you both could have copies of them. Something to think about when you all have more of the work completed.

    1. Thank you Wendy. I appreciate your condolences.

      We have scanned the pictures, but then divvy up the originals. There’s something about holding the actual old photograph that is unlike a copy. But they are too precious not to be shared with all of our family and in the event someone’s house burns down, we’ve got the images forever.

      The recipes are like that too. She was left handed and her writing sometimes is hard to decipher. But those old handwritten recipes are priceless treasures. We’ve scanned them too, but then we lay them out and divide them up. It’s comforting to make a recipe from her actual handwriting. Maybe I’ll share a few of them as the days go by.

      1. Oh good. I’ll have to post two versions though; one in her handwriting and another you can actually read. LOL. She was a fabulous cook – real southern style.

  11. Oh my goodness, look at all you’ve been through! It is no surprise that your knee buckled!

    The suture removal kit & surgical bowl made me laugh – my sister has a recipe for BBQ sauce that my Dad drew on about 35 yrs. ago (thinking it was scrap paper) – a diagram of a chest x-ray showing where my Granddad’s lung tumor was located! It is one of those mementos that should seem SO ODD – not too mention MORBID – but to us it is a treasure – a memory of a long ago summer afternoon conversation on the patio.

    This is such a touching post. I hope your knee heals quickly – and your heartache lessens.

    1. Your family sounds like fun. I can so identify. I recently asked my sister if she had found the recipe for BBQ ham our father used to make on the rotisserie. She commented it was simply a bottle of sauce and a whole ham cooked slowly over coals and the reason we thought it was so good was because we would be starving by the time it was done.

  12. I feel your pain…both heart and knee, having lost my mom and my knee within a year of each other. You are, however, lucky to have a sister with whom you share love and respect. It is much easier to share a loss than to duel over it. May your knee recover as well as mine has. Hugs to you. You will recover in small fits and starts.

  13. I’m glad you have a sister there to help share and heal during this time. Sorry to hear about your knee, glad you have confidence in your doctor–now be a good patient! 😉

  14. I have knee problems, too. They feel thick and hard to bend at times. I still go to Zumba but sometimes I wonder how much longer that’ll last. It’s amazing how much we need our knees and how not having them in the peak of health hurts. It’s a difficult task what you and your sister are doing. When I had to do it, after both my parents had died, I did it pretty much alone, with only my three year old daughter for company. And most of the time I had to find ways to entertain her, while I sorted everything, in my attempt to get the house ready to sell. Boy, those were hard days. I’m sorry, Renee, that you have to go through with it now.

    1. It feels so intrusive to go through their belongings, doesn’t it? She was fiercely independent and would never let us sort through her things. Many times I suggested cleaning out a closet or a chest of drawers and she let me know quickly it wasn’t going to happen. We have decided to give ourselves a year before we make any permanent decisions about the house. We can always sell it, but we can never get it back. Did you ever regret selling it or was that the final act of letting go for you?

  15. May God Bless and keep you. I’ve been orphaned for a number of years now…and it takes time to heal. You will. It’s good that you have help with the belongings. I did regret selling my Dad’s house (My mom was killed in a tragic car accident with my aunt years before my Dad’s death…never really got over her loss and neither did the family. We moved on and because she was the glue…my Dad only saw her mom and brother and wife…once after her death. That was it. They lived far away.). But it turned out for the best. My brother was very difficult to deal with at the time, motivated by an irrational fear of world wide doom. He is married (his wife now has severe alzheimer’s which started much earlier but we didn’t see it at the time. She is 66 now.) and may or may not have influenced him to sell. But we sold right after my Dad’s death. It impacted the tax situation…he made a mistake on the taxes. Again, intractable, I could not influence him; he is older and “knows best.” But we got money back, so it worked out. Long story short, 16 years later, I was able to reconcile everything, the house sale, etc., with the power of the living God and my faith…which is stronger than ever. I let the house go…could have bought it from my brother, but I made peace with myself. And it is well. He has to watch over his wife, now, 24/7 and they moved to Florida away from family. A son is 21/2 hours away and sees them once every 3-4 months or so. Making decisions out of fear…every writer from Shakespeare to Ben Johnson to Faulkner indicates…IS A DISASTER. So it is smart that you are waiting. But every situation is different. But making decisions when you are in a calm place and have rationally worked through the options is much better. Be well…it is well and heal from the inside…the outside follows.

    1. Good advice Carole. It sounds like you know first hand how difficult it can be. We learned this the hard way too.

      My mother’s mother died suddenly from a stroke. Her father was in the hospital at the time and refused to ever enter the house again without his wife by his side – she was quite a bit younger than he and nobody thought he would outlive her. She was only 67.

      My grandfather moved in with us and my mother and her brother and sister carried out grandpa’s wishes to sell the house immediately. They forever regretted it. It was made out of grief and fear and shock.

      We figure we can always sell it, but once sold, we might not be able to get it back. There’s no hurry. We’ve still got a lot to do and go through.

      I’m glad you have found peace with the decisions you made. That is the best anyone can do.

  16. My heart goes out to you. Going through memories are both painful and joyful. It brings tears and laughter. Most importantly it brings healing. May you continue to find healing in your precious memories and may they always reside in your heart. {hugs} – glad your knee is ok too.

    1. Thank you Patty. I know you understand, having recently suffered a great loss yourself. It is hard to get back into the groove. There are new demands on your time and grief demands its share. You’ve been a good example for those of us learning to pick ourselves back up.

      1. Thank you Renee, grief has bonded many of us. It is the hardest thing any of us will ever have to do. Blessings and hugs for your sweet memories to comfort you.

  17. It’s so nice to see your smiling face on Word Press, Renee. I’m so sorry for your loss. I can’t even imagine how difficult this has been for you and your sister. I hope your knee is doing better. Take care of yourself. xo

    1. Thank you Jill. It has been a bit like shutting the car door on my hand over and over. Just when I think I’m getting a little better – physically or emotionally – wham! Talking to you – my blogging friends – is helping.

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