Because people dear to me have recently died and because grief is inescapable, let's talk about it. This show features the music of Low, who's vocalist/drummer Mimi Parker diedon Sunday. The show features my own audio stories, poems by Emily Jern-Miller, and words from Christopher Wind, Clair McDevitt, and Al Letson.
Mimi Parker, vocalist/drummer half of the mostly husband/wife duo died Sunday of ovarian cancer. She was 55. I’m now working my way backwards through their discography. Low put out 18 albums between 1994 and 2021.
Is this the right way to grieve? To work my way backwards in time?
I wonder what determines the intensity of grief from one loss to another.
In the moment it can be baffling, but I can usually make some sense of my grief response eventually. Like how I felt more impacted when Travis, a fellow middle school classmate suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack compared to when my grandfather who I didn’t see often and who was already old and prone to heart problems, suddenly dropped dead of a heart attack at 73 within a week or two of Travis’ death.
They were different (one earth shatteringly shocking and close, one mildly shocking and far away) but these deaths also compounded. Grief transferring from one place to another, like a single spirit possessing an array of bodies and objects.
I remember the coffin being carried through the Catholic church in my Northern California hometown and crying with my 13 year old classmates. It was completely new to me. And tragic and bizarre. He was a regular kid, funny, lively, a bit of a jerk sometimes.
I remember the food at the memorial for Grandpa Jack back in New York. His wife, Emmy, from the Philippines, had laid out an exquisite spread of food I was afraid of. The fish with eyeballs still attached. I don’t think I tried any of it and I was so hungry. Even then, I felt shame for this reaction. And now, for mostly forgetting her.
In the time I knew Emmy, she took me, raised in a secular Jewishish hippy family, to a Catholic church once or twice when I was little. I loved the ritual of lighting candles for the dead. I lit one for my sister Jessica who died as a baby before I was born. It felt empowering to do something and to imagine I could connect with her through the fire-light. Empowering in the way witchy stuff can be.
Last week I felt empowered again, standing over my Grandma’s open grave with a shovel. I wondered if I was maybe too enthusiastically shoveling dirt into the hole after the family began to disperse. I was almost giddy when they let me do it.
There’s a traditional Jewish ritual where loved ones use the shovel to place a small amount of dirt onto the coffin, or in my Grandma’s non-traditional way, the capsule containing her urn, first with the backside of the shovel to signify reluctance to say goodbye and then another little scoop on the regular side of the shovel to signify acceptance. This was touching, each of us lining up to awkwardly do a thing we mostly don’t do and some of us were just learning about for the first time. Like the candles at church, I felt a little reverence and magic in this action.
But I think my body wanted to do something more physical. I don’t know what to call that urge. Digging. Gardening, Burying. I buried my grandmother. I’m glad I wore my hearty boots.
It’s hard to differentiate the past month of Halloween episodes from what this radio show already does every week. I understand that for some people, keeping death contained in the occasional ritual or holiday is the only thing even a little bit tolerable. Maybe it’s a sign I’m so afraid of it that I talk about death so often - sometimes with reverence and sometimes as a series of dark jokes.
Even still, when it comes for real it’s just a complete mess of feeling and non-feeling. No stage to master. No sentiment that feels useful.
If there was a quantifiable grief scale and if it was possible to disentangle discreet griefs from one another, I’d say Mimi Parker’s death is hitting me harder than my grandmother. Or maybe the grief spirit got transferred to a place I could more easily process it. I’ve never met Mimi. She exists as a haunting, mournful voice breaking through abrasive distortion, sometimes a sound I want to be completely absorbed by and sometimes a sound…a feeling…I want to run away from. In “More” she calls out:
"I gave more than what I should've lost
I paid more than what it would've cost
You have some of what I could've had
I want all of what I didn't have"
Low’s music feels like grief itself. Confronting and comforting me at the same time.