Zibby Mag

The Webby Award-winning literary lifestyle destination.

Remembering the Parts of My Parents I Miss the Most

Monday, July 25, 2022

By Meghan Riordan Jarvis

I woke up early one morning thinking of my mother’s hands.

Her perfect oval nails were as long and sleek as mine were stubby and peeling—and sharp enough to cut. My mother used her nails the way I’d seen others use a Swiss army knife: retrieving small items from places they didn’t belong, like splinters from fingers or foreign items from soup.

I have vivid memories of the few times in my childhood when she painted her nails. I think it scared me. We weren’t a family with many “special occasions,” but painted nails often signified her departure. My mother would emerge from the downstairs bathroom in a pleated skirt with a thin gold belt, a blouse with frills, and a string of pearls at her neck. Sitting on the closed toilet seat lid, watching her add lipstick in a quick swipe across her lips, I would feel a rising sort of panic. With mascara and eyeliner, my mother became a bolder outline of her already beautiful self.

Every time she walked out the door, I worried the world would decide it wanted to keep her and she wouldn’t belong to us anymore. When my third-grade friend Melissa didn’t seem to agree with my declaration that my mother was the most beautiful woman in the world, I wasn’t offended. I simply realized Melissa was stupid. To a child, blind adoration and a near-constant panic of losing someone is more a story of love than it ever could be of fear.

My father talked with his hands.

His nails were short and square—the backs of his oversized hands touched with wisps of dark hair that grayed as he aged. His wedding ring was the only jewelry he ever wore, gleaming every day for fifty anniversaries. Once a year, he’d plunge his finger into his mouth and scratch the ring off between his teeth to peer at the date inscribed in tiny cursive. A huge mind that held dates from history with no effort, he was notoriously unable to remember anniversaries and birthdays.

His ring was found buried in the bedclothes after cancer wasted his body down to less than half his weight. These days, I wear his ring around my neck on a chain so long that it often hits my belly button when I sit down. I have the inscription memorized.

Sometimes missing my parents feels so overwhelming that I have to break it down into parts. I miss their hands, the way they smelled, their voices. Of course, I can only miss as much as my memory serves me. The brain is largely an information-gathering system searching to predict and protect. It’s possible that one day I will have lived more days of my life without them than with them. So I concentrate on their hands. I have my parents memorized, and I practice the memories of them every day.

This is grieving.

This is the work.

The love and memories of the past, carried forward into every moment of every day.


Meghan Riordan Jarvis, MA, LCSW is a psychotherapist specializing in trauma and grief and loss. Meghan provides consultation to companies and organizations looking to create grief-informed workplaces and works in private practice in Washington, D.C. After experiencing PTSD after the deaths of both of her parents within two years of each other, Meghan started the platform “Grief is My Side Hustle” which includes her popular blog, links to her podcast under the same name, and her free writing workshop “grief mates.” Meghan’s memoir The End of The Hour publishes with Zibby Books in 2024.