The Smell of Grief

Kirie Pedersen

The grieving are a danger to themselves and to others. Side effects include illnesses that mimic those of the deceased, difficulty eating and sleeping, nightmares and night terrors, relating to others as if through a screen or glass, and a craving for solitude coupled with a need to be held.

You might weep in public and howl while alone, take friends or lovers emotional hostage in your shrinking world, face your own impending death.

Face your urge to hasten it.

You might tell those yammering about how their own mother died: Please. Shut. Up.

You might feel you’re going crazy or perhaps you’ve always been crazy.

You might feel numb, or that your skin’s been torn off or boiled. Your brain might feel as if it’s blowing up, your heart pounding out of your chest. Or heavy: someone large is sitting on your chest. Sometimes while walking, you see the deceased. You might even call out.

You’ve rarely had a headache, but now your head is pierced with pain. As your father’s was when the stroke stole him.

You wish you’d said or done something, everything, differently. It’s your fault. If you were a better person, she would never have become ill. The dog wouldn’t have slipped its leash and dashed in front of the car. Your parents, spouse, child, and even perfect strangers would love you.

You are unable to make decisions. Any choice is wrong. You become hyper-sensitive to noise, and go on the Internet to order a sampler pack: forty varieties of earplug. They are insufficient to create the silence you crave, and so you stuff two into each ear. You become hyper-sensitive to smell. Rose geranium makes your eyes roll back in your head, and so does black cherry concentrate, and that something in the forest you never catch when you take a few steps backwards to breathe it in again.

Your muscles stop working. You stumble and twist your ankle, your knee, your back. You sprain your wrist and fingers. People crash into you on the sidewalk, then curse you.

You are driving just fine until you notice the car veering towards the thousand foot cliff. The tree. The median. Oncoming traffic.

When you awaken in the morning, you’re already exhausted. Although friends assure you how well you’re “taking” it, you sleepwalk through the day. You cannot imagine how you managed before. You have no energy to socialize because you cannot remember how to open your mouth.

Most of all, you don’t want to hear what others believe will help: Be strong. That’s what your [mother, father, lover, child, dog, god] would want. Grief lasts a year, and then you move on. If you move on too quickly, you aren’t grieving properly. If your loved one dies following a long illness, you should have been able to parcel out the grieving in advance. If you say the person “passed” or “left,” you’ll feel better. Don’t mention death to the person whose loved one died.

Pretend the dead baby was never born. Don’t even give her a name.


Kirie Pedersen’s recent work appears in Quiddity, Eleven Eleven, Folly, Chaffey Review, Caper Literary Journal, Avatar Review, Bluestem, Glossolalia, Folly Magazine, The View from Here, r.kv.r.y Quarterly Literary Review, Laurel Review, and South Jersey Underground. Kirie holds her M.A. in fiction writing and literature and blogs at

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