Sense of Smell and Grief

(cw: Grief)

I had a new experience with grief yesterday. Smell. I was having a horrible day, and social media was making it worse so I decided to step away from my phone and computer and tackle some jobs that needed doing here.

For those that don’t know I am currently living in my late mother’s house, getting it cleared for the upcoming sale.

Yesterday I decided to clear out the wardrobe in her bedroom and bag up the clothes. I was about half way through when I came across a gorgeous thick wool Ralph Lauren jumper. I thought, ‘I’m keeping this one!’ and went to hang it on my clothes rail in the other room. I can’t remember why but I smelt it. Like they do in fabric softener adverts. Really got my face into it.


My eyes were closed and the smell consumed me. I had the clearest image of Mum I had had since she died. I remembered what it smelt like when I used to hug her. Smelling her jumper transported me back to giving her a big hug. Yes Mum and I had a difficult relationship, but she was my Mum. That never stopped me wanting her love. I just sat and sobbed. I was also aware I was crying in rather close proximity to a very nice jumper. So I held it a safe distance from the streams emitting from my eyes. 

I haven’t cried much about Mum’s death. I cried a lot more before she died, when she was sick in hospital. The first time I saw her without her hair. The first time I saw her after I was told, ‘it’s only a few weeks now’. 

Yesterday I just bawled my eyes out. I went back to the wardrobe and stuck my face in amongst all her clothes and just inhaled. I huffed it like it was a gram of cocaine I had been waiting on a dealer to bring for over an hour. Bad comparison? Well it’s apt for me. No apologies. 

After a while you get used to the smell and it goes. I couldn’t believe it though. For those brief moments my Mum was alive, I can not tell you how visceral that smell was. Funny how our senses do that.

I also found an absolutely stunning Mr Motivator sweatshirt. Mr Motivator is an ICON in the UK. He’s an energetic fitness instructor who wears the greatest lycra you’ve ever seen and incorporates a lot of hip thrusts into his workouts. My Mum was a big fan, every year she would go to his events at Centre Parcs. I presume this jumper is from one of those excursions.

It fits me! It fits me so well. It smells like her. So I’m wearing it right now. It’s the closest to a hug I can get from my Mum again. I can’t explain the cavernous feeling I have in my chest and stomach. I wrap my own arms around myself, close my eyes, and inhale. That’s going to have to do for now.

Thing is with smells, they fade. That’s the unfortunate nature (in this instance anyway, some smells I am grateful they fade). So I need to be thankful for this moment. Even if I keep some of her clothes forever, the smell is going to go. I don’t know when. Maybe next week, maybe next month – if I’m lucky.

Today I am thankful I can experience her smell. Even if it’s the last time ever. I never expected to get this time, so for that, I am grateful.

Wow. Look at me. Two cries in one week. Is this healing?

If I’m honest I feel like I’m starting my grief journey now. I’ve buried it for so long. It’s so painful. 

“I used to think being strong was not being affected. And now, to me, being strong is letting it affect you but being able to move past it, and seeing the pain, walking through it, letting it flow through you, and then letting it leave. You can break and still be strong.”
Evan Rachel Wood, 2019

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