Do I tell them? rings in my head as they talk about whether their parents know how massive of a nerd they are.

Do I tell them? I consider as he says, “I don’t know why I keep telling these personal things to you. Now you have all this power over me.”

Do I say it? as I see one person make a “your mom” joke only to have the other fire back, “Wrong person to say that too; she’s dead.”


I’ve met a lot of people over the past few months, and most of the time I intentionally keep it light. If social media and teaching teenagers has taught me anything, it’s that spilling your guts online isn’t the way to go. There is a time and a place for everything, but the place is almost never a massive public forum.

Interacting with a bunch of strangers online on a nearly daily basis—other than making me feel ancient at the ripe age of twenty-five—has presented me anew with the grief disclosure conundrum. I want to join in when they all talk about their parents, but how does revealing to them that my mother has died help? What’s the point?

The first year of grief, it feels like you are wearing it around your neck, written all over your forehead. Your family knows, your friends know, the people you have obligations to—whether that be teachers or bosses or coworkers—they know, the random people on your Facebook who you friended three years ago know. You can’t not talk about it; it’s the first reason you give when things are off.

But as the years pass, pressure recedes. The best metaphor for grief that I’ve heard of is the ball in a box—your grief is a ball, and when everything happens, the box it is inside is small, and the ball is constantly hitting against the box, causing pain. But as time passes, the box gets bigger, but the ball is still there—still the same size but smaller relative to the box. The ball still hits the sides, but it happens less often. There are weeks, months, that I don’t think about what my mom is missing out on. I know other people have forgotten my grief, just like I have forgotten theirs.

But when the box is bigger and the ball does hit, talking about it becomes more complex. My friend the other day wanted to put a song on her Instagram story to honor her dad who passed away a few years ago. “I don’t want people to think I’m not okay!” she said as she stared at her phone, trying to get up the courage to post it, “I just want to honor him this way. But I don’t want this to look like a cry for help.”

Every year, I expect to write the grief post as my November post. It seemed like fate when I first started writing at the post calvin that my assigned date was so close. Every other year, though, it hasn’t felt right. But my ball is pressed up against my box right now, and I’ve had to decide who I’m going to tell that I cried at my desk this morning for no reason other than I was sad.

Most of my online friends are not going to know. Monday will come and go for them. But there was one who I privately messaged and gave a heads-up. At least someone knows now, I ended the message after the barest of explanations. They replied with a hug emoji and Take the time you need; I’m here for you.

And for now, in this place at this time? That’s all I need. For someone to know that it isn’t going to be an average day for me and for someone to say that it’s okay to do what I need to do. I can handle the rest.


  1. Hannah Beth Riffell

    Thanks for this post, Alex. As someone who lost a parent years ago, I also find it weird to talk about it sometimes. Thanks for the graceful reminder to tell who you need to tell, when you need to tell them. Take care of yourself on Monday!

    • Alex Johnson

      Thanks, Hannah. It is definitely weird to talk about it, but it’s worth it too to tell the people who can support you. Appreciate your comment.

      • Mary Margaret Healy

        This is a beautiful and relatable essay on the weirdness of grief. Thank you for writing it when you did.

        • Mary Margaret Healy

          I did not mean for that to be a nested reply. Whoops…

  2. Laura Song

    A similar day passed for me a few weeks ago in which I commemorated 21 years without my dad. A friend texted me – she must have put the day in her calendar as a reminder. A blessing, as it’s a weight I have a hard time expressing.

    Thank you for the really wonderful analogy of the ball in the box. Hoping this Monday will be a day to honor the love you could share with your mom while she was here.

  3. James A Bulger

    This is awesome Alex! We all get it and we love you ! Thanks for the very pertinent share here! Dad Bulger


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