Parenting After Loss, One Writer’s Journey
Written by Eirinie Carson
Photography by Vanessa Mona Hellmann
As a teen I was invincible. Around every corner was only adventures and possibilities, adulthood so tantalizingly near I felt I could reach out and touch it. I was a model, my music taste was unmatched, my grades were good (or good enough), and my very long legs were sure to walk me into wonderful stories in which I was the main character, or maybe Robin to my best friend Larissa’s Batman.
As I moved into my early twenties, I was even more sure of my immortality; how could I possibly die when I was brimming with life, practically vibrating with it, wielding my sexuality like a too heavy sword, cutting down men and the occasional woman in my path?
At 29, I had my first child and I experienced a fullness of life (and an exhaustion) like no other, I was living for someone else for the first time and I felt absolutely essential. My child’s life underlined mine—I existed for her, she needed me and I would be exactly what she needed. I was the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter of the eldest daughter—there was surely some witch to that. I was continuing the line as I was supposed to and my life felt carved in stone, a purpose fulfilled.
In my thirties, Larissa died, also in her thirties.
It felt like a record scratch, it felt like the party was well and truly over. Death was always a “well yes obviously” inevitability, but now it felt closer. I felt the specter of death behind me, breathing rotten breath down my collar. I could die at any moment, I thought. Parenting after Larissa died felt breathless—my child’s birthday party seemed like a finish line I just had to cross; if I can just survive to take her to Disneyland, if I can just stay alive long enough to see her start elementary school. And of course, in America, death is something we live with, just out of sight in our blind spot, we know it is there, we watch the bodies pile up on the news and yet we still go to work, go to dinner, get out out out.
When Larissa died, it felt like growing up. It was a little bleaker than the average coming of age story, sure, but there was suddenly a distinct watershed moment: When Larissa Was Alive and When Larissa Was Dead. When she was alive, I still measured myself by her metrics—the things she thought were cool, the music we shared together through WhatsApp chats that shortened the six-thousand-mile distance between Paris and San Francisco. I partied, went to after-show parties with rockstars, I bought sunglasses I couldn’t afford and promptly lost, I had the kind of adventures I knew she would love. And she did. Whenever I told her I had seen Courtney Love across the room after a Distillers show she sent me a voice memo of a jealous scream. And then after I had my first baby, when she told me she was in Berlin for a photoshoot and had never seen so many beautiful men, I sent her a photo of my newborn, nestled in a bassinet, for context.
In hindsight, I suppose life had begun to shift even before she died; my husband and I were thinking about moving to a different city, for a bigger place to raise our daughter. I was plotting ways to leave modeling behind. Things were slowing down in this beautiful, seamless way I wasn’t sure she would understand or even like.
And then she was dead and nothing mattered any more. All I was left with was a list of things I never got to tell her, things I never got to ask. I saw the many ways I could die in everything I looked at, so obvious, so clear now. The first 6 months after she died, I drank too much, went out too often, something my husband tried to be understanding of. I was grieving, I was lost, I needed to try something, maybe this was it? Without realizing it, I was trying to recreate some of those heady days with Larissa—out all night, sleeping all day, devil may care. Except this time, I had my daughter, small and sweet with big brown eyes and a serious face. I felt I was failing her and it was too much, all too much. It was dizzying, this loss, and I kept trying to recalibrate, to find my footing but it was impossible. I was stuck, stuck, stuck, and sinking.
In those early stages of grief, Luka saw me cry frequently. Sarah Vaughan’s A Night in Tunisia would come on and I would be sobbing, often stood turning my head, looking around as if searching, like I lost something that refused to come back into view. It became apparent to me that I should explain this to my tiny, almost 2-year-old Lu, and so I began saying, “Mama is sad. Auntie Larissa died and that means she can’t come back and I miss her.” My lock screen on my phone was a picture of Larry, demurely sipping a Moscow Mule in a Cobain-esque striped shirt. Eventually, I showed it to Luka so often that she began to say “auntie Rissa.” I still sometimes show it to her, like a flashcard, to see if she remembers. I want her to remember.
I’m not sure what changed, but I have a sneaking suspicion it was writing. I began writing about Larissa for her funeral and I just couldn’t stop. I would write on my Notes app on walks with my dog through the Californian redwoods, I would stop during dinner with my family to write a sentence down. It poured out of me. When things felt tough, I wrote something, sometimes a question directly to Larissa, sometimes a story I didn’t want to lose, like the one in the bar in Paris where I wore a white satin jumpsuit and thought I looked the shit until a bouncer at a club opened the door for me and I fell promptly on my face.
As life continues, I can’t help but wonder who Larissa would have been had she not died. What would 35 have looked like for her? And 40? And 50? Where would her story have lead her? There is a certain amount of survivor’s guilt, for want of a better phrase, that I cannot shake. I am here and she is not and how do I reconcile with that?
As I age, I also evolve and move past who Larissa knew me to be. I am a mother of two, I have a career I am crafting out of a 20-year modeling career and absolute thin air. One day my children will leave my house and I will be an empty nester, I will be finding hobbies—power walking and calling my kids too often or whatever it is retired people do. Time marches on and leaves her in the dust and that makes me sad, but I suppose that’s what grief is—the mourning of the loss of potential.
When I was a small child, I asked my mother why we never went on adventures like the children in the stories we read together at night. My mother said to me “how do you know you are not on an adventure right now?” Nothing is promised to any of us, even though our children are a seed of hope, there is no guarantee we will live to see them sprout up and surpass us. Our hope can be to live in the moment: to be there when they are begging us to play another round of hide and seek (in which they will be behind the curtain again, of course), to be there when they tell us we brush their hair too hard, to be there even as they shut the door in our face.
The vibrancy of life is underpinned by the inevitability of death. In the wake of Larissa’s death I see even clearer just how crucial each second with my babies is. I am on an adventure right now, with them and with all of you, and it is special and dull and painful and wonderful all at once.
Eirinie Carson is a California-based writer, model, and mother of two. Her stunning debut novel, The Dead Are Gods, explores the intimacy of grief after the sudden loss of her friend, Larissa, in 2018.
Eirinie’s past essays for MOTHER include: My Beautiful (Medicated) Birth Story, When Fathers Get Fanfare And Mothers Get Nothing, and Pregnant During A Pandemic.
She’s also shared tips on 9 Ways To Be A Good Friend To Someone Who Just Had A Baby, starred in our touching Mother Each Other video, and opened up her beautiful home to MOTHER for a profile.
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