The Atlantic

The Secret Life of Grief

My mom’s cancer and the science of resilience
Source: China Daily CDIC / Reuters

Someone laughed. It might have been my sister, dad, grandmother, or one of the dozen friends and family members arrayed around that bed in my parents' room. Before we cried, said goodbye, and fanned out in separate cars to begin our private journeys of grief, something was said, at the moment she died, in a summer evening's half-light. And somebody laughed. Maybe it seems strange, but I like to remember it.

* * *

I come from a long line of mama's boys. My dad is a mama's boy, my uncle is a mama's boy, and my grandfather's mama's-boy-ness was practically clinical, according to family tradition. So, really, what choice did I have in the matter, born at the confluence of all this maternal devotion, except to be helplessly devoted to my mom? When I was a kid, I adored her in a way that made people with perfectly adequate mother-son bonds think, there is a boy who needs more friends in life.

Jewish mothers, however, will sooner cut off a pinky than apologize for cultivating religious devotion in their children. Realizing that she had invented a human who would believe everything she said, my mom lied to me constantly about her most mortal enemy: her age. Through her late 30s and into her early-40s, she told me she was 27. The years would climb; her age would not. I believed her, not only because I was a supremely gullible kid, but also because I preferred to think that she, too, was a kid, passing undetected through the land of adults. Even before I knew too much about death, I wanted her closer to me on this side of life.

One day, when I was 8, my younger sister Kira got the hunch that mom was making stuff up. Secretly digging through our mother's wallet, Kira found the incriminating ID and brought it to me.

"Mom is not 27," she said, displaying the evidence, radiating with!"

You're reading a preview, sign up to read more.

More from The Atlantic

The Atlantic6 min readWellness
Measles Can Be Contained. Anti-Semitism Cannot.
Just as the anti-vaccination movement feeds off a handful of fringe outsiders, long-standing stereotypes about Jews have found a new vector in the latest outbreak of the disease.
The Atlantic6 min read
How Game of Thrones Lost Its Way as a Political Drama
In its later seasons, the show started relying on heavy-handed historical references to do the difficult work of character-building.
The Atlantic4 min read
Why Good Girls Is Such a Rewarding Show
The series, which wraps its second season on Sunday, has blossomed into a uniquely flavored, daring drama of the sort found more frequently on cable.