It was the third anniversary of my mom’s death on September 14. I wrote a lot about the week she died in a piece for Modern Loss so I don’t want to repeat myself too much and I’m trying to keep these things shorter (last part of the sentence didn’t help). It’s entirely possible I’ve repeated myself a lot already in these newsletters because I never re-read them or particularly remember what I wrote. That seems like a symptom of trauma, but I also never remember anything I’ve said in an improv show unless someone tells me later. I’ve heard Will Ferrell is the same way on the set of his movies and, in that way, Will Ferrell’s comedy career and mine are very much the same.
I’ve been rewatching The Real Housewives of New York a lot lately, which is a sentence I could write and pass a lie detector test for about the past 12 years. Since the pandemic, I’ve been watching RHONY with the intensity of a detective who has 24 hours to find the murderer before he kills again. Imagine me hunched over microfiche mumbling “in season 4, Ramona Singer and Countess LuAnn claimed they had no choice but to host their daughters’ Sweet Sixteens on the same night at different Manhattan clubs, but Avery’s birthday is in May and Victoria’s is in November!” I run out of the library dramatically into the rain. End Scene.
So on one of these academic rewatchings, I noticed that drunken anti-hero Dorinda Medley honored the third anniversary of her husband’s death in her second season as a housewife. This shocked me. That means she has been on television since a year after her husband died. This is something that wouldn’t have thrown me before my mom died. Three years would have seemed like a long time. Now I can’t believe how soon after her husband’s death Dorinda took on such a big project as screaming “Clip!” at Sonja Morgan in a Bronx Italian eatery.
It’s the third anniversary which is now in the territory of “just another year.” I’m not special like the year-one people or at a milestone like the 5-year and 10-year people. I’m just three. Some people reach out and some people don’t and that’s okay. It’s GOT TO BE. We can’t always be reaching out to everyone all the time. This can’t be everyone’s story all the time...is a question I’m asking you. I really don’t know if I’m putting too much energy into this or if this is normal or if what’s normal matters.
It’s still getting in my way. Recently I had a Lyft driver who said three of her kids shared two birthdays one day apart. I wanted to say my brother and I had birthdays one day apart, but I couldn’t say that because then I’d have to say “and my mom died two days before either” and you can’t put that on your Lyft driver. In this gig economy? Absolutely not. I know I don’t have to say the mom part. It’s not the law. But I promise you: I would have said the mom part. So I say nothing. I make less of a human connection than I could have. Look, I don’t think that Lyft driver and I would be best friends now if I had said that, but that’s just an example of ways I’m living differently than I did. Connecting less. Sarah Michelle Gellar’s kids have birthdays a day apart, also in September. What if by the time I meet SMG I’m not ready to connect to her over the birthday thing yet?
“Caitlin, you WILL overshare to Buffy,” you’re thinking, confidently, but you’d be surprised. I’ve met celebrities my mom and I loved together and said nothing. I worked on an entire comedy special about someone’s mom dying and said nothing. I’m here in this newsletter, but I’m not there all the time out in the real world.
An embarrassing obsession of mine is thinking about people who never ever reached out when my mom died. People who knew my mom and laughed with her. People who have to know she died and they said nothing. I would describe my anger towards these people as “without limit.” It hurts because I know if I was more successful, they would reach out. If I was more important, my mom’s death would be more important. It’s humiliating they didn’t reach out and it’s humiliating I still care.
It’s possible they don’t know. I recently missed beloved weatherman Willard Scott’s death only to be aghast at my ignorance during the Emmy In Memoriam montage. My family was a TODAY Show family and no offense if your family’s a Good Morning America family, but that means you’re also a Sega Genesis family and a Diet Pepsi family and, actually, some offense. Prayers up for the The Early Show families. They’re struggling. Point being, you can miss a death, but...they didn’t.
Of course, I should focus on how many people do care and did reach out. It’s actually amazing how them people are when they reach out. If you’re on a group chat, you're getting condolences on a group chat. If you DM on Twitter with that person, you’re getting a DM on Twitter with a crying face. If you exchange ALF GIFs with someone, you’re gonna see whatever the saddest version of an ALF GIF is (probably he’s chasing a cat and doesn’t catch it?). It’s nice because it’s people sending a life preserver from your normal life. They’re saying “keep checking this platform: we’re here. Life’s here.”
But that’s probably why I focus on the people who didn’t reach out. Because it’s unresolved. It’s a knot to untangle. It’s something I can put in between me and the real grief. Late night on the 14th of this year my brain messaged me “you haven’t seen your mom in three years.” A simple idea you can’t argue with, but one I hadn’t really thought about that day and it leveled me. Easier to be angry at someone who didn’t DM you.
People who’ve lost someone are often referred to as being in a club and that’s the saving grace of losing someone. That’s the offset of connecting less with random Lyft drivers and, hypothetically, Sarah Michelle Gellar: you have a bond with other people who’ve lost someone. It’s a strong connection and some of the most important of my life right now because people know how you’re feeling without saying it, without writing this whole thing. But it’s weird to be part of a club that no one wants to be in. I’ve been on improv teams like that, but this is slightly sadder. The Bob Seger lyric “Wish I didn't know now what I didn't know then” really nails it. This learning and understanding stuff doesn’t really improve your life. And how long is this grief thing going to be going on just forever? Longer than three years, I guess.
Very glad I found your newsletter Caitlin. I barely know you but I was thinking of you this week!
" I worked on an entire comedy special about someone’s mom dying and said nothing." That broke my heart. I get what you are saying about living in the world differently now, connecting less. All conversational roads lead back to the fact of this new hole in my heart (which only makes sense), so I keep my mouth closed for much longer periods than it is used to being. Glad you are showing up here. Club members like me appreciate your grief-stricken eloquence. xo