The Lie I Used to Tell Myself About Time

The first winning submission of October’s Writers Club prompt!


When I was small, my mom and I established a bedtime ritual. We would, as we called it, “talk about the days.” She’d sit patiently on the edge of my bed, run her fingers through my poof of wild curls and go through what was planned for the upcoming week: Tomorrow is Tuesday. I think it might be a little rainy. You’ll go to school in the morning. You’ll come home and have a playdate. We’ll go to John’s soccer game if it’s still on and get pizza after… It was her way (her always-knowing-what-to-do way) of soothing my anxieties: This is what is going to happen. This is how you will spend your time.

The biggest lie I ever told myself is there would be time.

One brisk February morning, years later when I was a junior in college, as I sat in a geography elective I didn’t care about, as I stared out the window and noticed the sun moving out from behind an especially big cloud, my mom died. It was completely unexpected. She was home, alone except for our dog, and suddenly collapsed. It was an aneurysm and it broke me.

Everything I thought I knew about time changed after that. I thought a lot about forever. And never. I had panic attacks that lasted hours, brought on by the notion that everything could be over in seconds. Seemingly insignificant memories would emerge, vivid, and transport me.

Now that a few years have passed, time no longer feels freeform and mercurial; it feels consistently urgent. It’s harder to believe the lies I used to tell myself — like that I’ll have time to write that New Yorker-worthy short story once I’ve got more life experience; that I really will train for a marathon when I have more time to dedicate to it. No. “Now or never” has superseded “maybe later.” These are the kinds of ideas that sound cliché until they’re close to you, close as my dad’s voice, shaky through the phone: I know this must sound like a nightmare. But Mom died today.

The newfound pressure to do stuff before I die is more complicated than it seems. Sometimes it’s motivating. It can be the push I need to get up and run in the morning or join a fiction workshop. Other times, that same pressure, coupled with the profound fucked-up-ness of losing my mom way before her time, that endless ache of grief, feels nothing more than depressing.

So I’ve reconsidered how I “talk about the days.” I do my best to stick to present tense.

Today is Saturday. The sun is shining. I am writing.

Collage by Emily Zirimis. 

Get more Brain Massage ?
  • ashley steenson

    Thank you for this.

  • why

    I am so sorry for your loss. This article hit me pretty hard, but I think I needed that. Thank you for writing it.

    • Emily Graham

      Thank you so much for reading ❤️

  • Jules

    wow, this made me cry… extremely well written and the message is important. I’m so sorry you had to go through that Emily 🙁

  • Amber

    I’m so sorry about your loss Emily <3 Thank you for sharing this – it means so much, and your words are so true – "stick to the present." Even when your present means just being still and feeling something, rather than doing xxxx

  • Andreea Iulia

    I can’t express how moving this was. I, for one, am convinced that she lives through you. Keep writing.

    • Emily Graham

      Ah, my heart. Thank you!

  • Alison

    Thank you for sharing this. Your words really connected with me.

  • My god this story is my story in so many ways . My beloved Mum passed in her 57th year and with shock and dismay I stumbled on . Time and life and change and anxiety and all forms of normalcy have led me in a journey to mindfulness. I live in the very moment…sharing your grief.
    Dress The Part

  • Diana McNeill

    Wow, I really truly got chills up and down my arms at the close of this essay. Thank you so much for sharing. Sometimes it doesn’t take a lot of words to say everything you mean.

  • Terri

    I’m currently going through a similar situation. My father passed away unexpectedly, when I was a senior in college, just last year, and since then I’ve gone through the same thought process.

  • Wow, this was beautiful in so many ways. So very touching.

  • Anne Dyer

    Gorgeous writing. You made “get published on Man Repeller” in time. Cheers. XX

    • Emily Graham

      Thanks so much!

  • Sarah

    Beautiful peace Emily. This story really resonates with me – my mother also had an aneurysm when I was a junior in college. She survived but is permanently mentally handicapped as a result. It’s hard to live through at 20; to deal with feelings of injustice that create so much anger, sadness, and sometimes total emptiness while you’re still trying to figure out how to function as an adult and where you fit in this confusing world. You’ve done a lovely job of channelling pain into something wonderful – I hope to read more of your work in the future : )

    • Livmarie

      This story resonated with me as well. My mother had a massive stroke when I was a junior in college. it was cathartic to read Emily’s story and your comment. When you’re twenty and dealing with either the death of a parent or trying to help navigate their life with a new disability it can be very isolating. Thank you for sharing your beautiful piece Emily!

  • Monica M

    Emily, this was such a gift and privilege to read. Thank you for sharing your talent with us.

  • Ciccollina

    So beautiful, thank you. And sorry about your mama x

  • Asia Berger

    This made me tear up and I’m so glad I got to read it today. Very moving for me 🙂

  • Today is a new day. You are here. You are beautiful.

  • Joe Lattanzio

    Channel your Mom. Ask yourself “what would Mom do?”. I’m Dad to five beautiful souls like you [ask Anna], and only recently discovered that they often ask themselves that question. One of my guides has been CSNY’s “Teach Your Children:

    “You who are on the road
    Must have a code that you can live by
    And so become yourself
    Because the past is just a good-bye.”

    We need you to write on.

  • Tina Barcello

    Thank you for putting into words what so many of us have felt but could not write <3

  • Veronie

    This was wonderful. Thank you for writing.

  • Carolina Delgado

    Your words brought me to tears. Thank you for reminding me of something I so frequently forget…Can’t wait to read that short story

  • Melissa

    This was so beautifully written and captured how I feel about time as a result of loss too. My dad passed away suddenly last year at the end of my final year of college. There is nothing else quite as metamorphic as losing a parent in your most influential and formative years of life. But sometimes it can be for the better. I am definitely more determined to get things done now. Before my dad passed away I thought I had all the time in the world to reach my goals. Now I am actively pursuing them and trying to make each day another step in the right direction. But it’s also important to remember that if some days feel like you’ve taken a step back, that is absolutely fine too. Tragically, I understand your pain but hopefully, I share your new outlook on time and life and the possibilities of where you can go.

  • Bo

    There is nothing greater than a mother, and correspondingly no greater loss than losing a mother. I’m so sorry this had to happen to you but so heartened by your resolve to forge your way through the pain. You also write beautifully.

  • Serena

    This is beautiful…

  • Wow. This just shook me to my core. Thank you

  • Grace

    This kind of thing keeps me up at night. Knowing that my loved ones or myself could be taken away at any moment. When it pops up in my head I feel unable to breathe. I know it’s not healthy and I try not to let the thought get further than a brief moment, but sometimes it’s so overwhelming. This was beautifully written.

  • Angela

    This, and the collage, are so beautiful and sad and I love them

  • Danielle Cardona Graff

    Beautiful Beautiful essay! Keep it up! You have much to contribute! <3

  • Anna Curran

    Thank you for sharing your touching story.

  • Mon Valdés

    I have goosebumps all over my arms. Beautifully writen. I especially loved the ” I thought a lot about forever. And never.”
    Whenever I hear about someone’s parent dying, I contemplate the time I still have with my own parents, it’s a weird feeling when I hear or read the age of the person dying, becasue I immediately relate it to my parent’s age (if he/she died when they were 58, and my parents are 55… does that mean I will only have 3 years to be with them now?) I know it’s not a rule and shit happens, but I can’t even begin to image how it must feel to lose someone you love so dearly, in just a second.
    Thank you Emily for sharing your story

  • Kristen

    This story is incredibly moving and touching. Please keep writing because your words are so important.

  • This is moving, important and so well written. Thank you for taking the time to bring it into the world.

  • Pauli

    Thank you for remiding me that life is today.

  • Wow.

  • billhaverchuck

    Oh how I relate to this. I lost my marathon running, supposed-to-live-forever Dad to brain cancer last year and my perspective on life is so different. I’d wanted to move abroad for years so 3 months ago I sold everything I owned and moved to Germany with no job, no friends, nothing to catch me because I know more time is not a guarantee anymore. Trying to explain this to my friends who were hurt that I was leaving was so difficult. You either see it or you don’t, and you have to witness someone’s time being inexplicably cut short to understand. Thanks for this.

  • Becca Stickler

    This is beautiful and incredibly relatable.