The Story of a Pretty Girl.

the story of a pretty girl

Dear Grief,

I didn’t expect to meet you in the dentist’s chair.

“Oh, you’re such a pretty girl,” the fifth, maybe sixth, dentist said. “But those teeth…”

Smiles poke my attention now, hitting a nerve with every passing 80-year-old woman with pearly whites. Are they real? Dentures? Crowns? Did it hurt?

You wait for me, every day, at my alarm clock. It buzzes and I snooze it, but you demand to be noticed and felt in every ticking second, every smack of my gum. So I scuff my slippered feet to the bathroom, where the floss and toothbrush wait, every day, to stare me down. What’s the point? I flash a grin in the mirror and run my tongue over every one like the grand unveiling as I pull back the red curtain. They’re still there. For now. It was just a dream.

I try to escape the anxious noise that plays like a scratched record in my head, Say goodbye. There’s nothing left to save. Say goodbye. There’s nothing left to save. But that’s the only song in the cue. I didn’t expect to face you so soon, while clutching the dentist’s chair and exposed under the bright light, blinding my vision and jolting me out of the darkness of denial. I thought we would meet after I blew out 80 candles. Not 26.

The next canine thief—The Thief—wore a mask, perhaps to cover his own perfect smile. “They’re wearing down to nothing because of your Sjögren’s and lack of saliva,” he muttered from behind the mask, as he poked and scraped and drilled. “Soon you will have no other choice.”

He touched my shoulder when a tear escaped. Come out from behind the mask if you really mean it, Thief.

“We will have to grind all of them down to a stub,” The Thief explained. “It’s the only way…”

The Thief finally showed his face from behind the mask. “I’m very sorry.”

I thought I met you with the death of my grandmother, lulled into a trance of disbelief. I learned about the numbness and the endless expectation that she would come back, any day now, to leave a lipstick kiss on my cheek. She would stretch her quivering red lips from her wheelchair, as I crouched down to meet in the middle for her warm whisper. “You are such a pretty girl,” she always said.

But now you aren’t found in a person. You are found in a smile.

How do I mourn the loss of a smile? I hoped and dreamed, no expected, to keep this smile for years to come, to use these teeth for chomping and indulging and grinning and laughing, to see these teeth in photo albums of my wedding day and my children’s graduations and even the birth of my grandchildren. If The Thief grinds them down to stubs, there won’t be any chance that they’ll come back, any day then or now or ever.

The thing I’m learning about you, Grief: You are very expensive.

It costs everything we have to say goodbye. The bills pile in to give them the proper burial. We dig and we lift and we lower and we cover with dirt to say goodbye to the gone and invite a new normal. The price of the burial and the adorned tombstone—it doesn’t matter, for they deserve the utmost respect. We grind and we lift and we lower and we cover with new teeth to say goodbye to the rotting and withered and lifeless. We invite a new normal, a new smile. The price of the grinding and the covering—it shouldn’t matter, for they deserve the utmost respect with a proper burial. Maybe that’s why we call them crowns.


I sit in the coffee shop now, watching the white smiles walk by all day. Sometimes there isn’t anything playing in my earbuds. Do they know the music isn’t playing anymore? You stopped the melody and I don’t know how to play it again. Do they know it would be so much easier if they didn’t smile at me?

There are other tasks I need to be checking off, instead of meeting you, Grief, in the dentist’s chair and carrying you here to take a seat across from me and my latte. Hands mounted on the table, I lunge forward and crane across the wobbly wooden carpentry to look you square in the eye. You are very expensive, do you know that?, robbing my joy and my security and my comfort. But you won’t budge.

“Can I get that out of your way?” the barista asks.

Yes, please do…the empty coffee cup, she’s talking about the empty coffee cup.

“What happens in five years, or ten years?” I asked The Thief.

“We will have to see,” said The Thief. “But this is our only option. We can only keep filling and refilling every tooth for so long.”

Patchwork. That’s all we’re doing while I wait to meet you full on, Grief. It’s like life support. Someday, I’ll have to make the choice to shut it off, to say goodbye. Nothing but a vegetable, my teeth will be useless.

The Thief was hopeful about the outlook in five years or ten years. But I read a different story online in a support group chat room. I can’t wear dentures, I have no teeth, I can’t eat anything. I am just waiting to die.

This old woman—with my same autoimmune disorder—met you full on, Grief. Sinking her soul, all of her hope, deeper and deeper into the pit—you are so expensive, Grief.

“Smile,” they say. “Why don’t you smile? You are such a pretty girl.”

When I was little, the loss of a wiggly tooth didn’t bring you, Grief. It brought hope of a grown-up tooth budding at the gum, and a dollar bill tucked under my pillow. But this time, the Tooth Fairy isn’t fluttering for a fly-by.

You, Grief, have grown wings and become the Grief Fairy that has flown into my life.

But let’s get one thing straight: I will carry you around for just a little while. Then you must move on, fly to someone else’s house, poke and scrape and drill and grind someone else down to nothing.

He will turn my mourning into joyful dancing. He will clothe me with joy and gladness.

There is a time to cry and a time to laugh. A time to grieve and a time to dance.

I didn’t expect to meet you in the dentist’s chair. I didn’t expect to carry you to the coffee shop and to let you close the curtain and stop the music. I definitely didn’t invite you to sit and to stay and to linger and to be so chatty. I didn’t expect to meet you at this young age. I must learn a new smile.

And I can’t afford to keep you around. You are way too expensive.

Yours truly,
A Pretty Girl


This post is in response to Kate Motaung’s special edition link-up to celebrate the one-year anniversary of Letters to Grief by writing our own letters to grief.


12 responses to “The Story of a Pretty Girl.”

  1. What a moving post, Ashley! Wow. You write so beautifully. I’m so very sorry for the grief you’re experiencing. You describe it so well, yet I wish for your sake that you couldn’t! It takes one with personal experience to be able to articulate so powerfully. May the Lord Himself be your source of comfort and strength as you lean into Him during these days of waiting and mourning. Thank you so much for writing and linking up. I’m so glad you did.

    1. Kate, thank you so much for taking the time to read and comment and share my post. I’m so encouraged by the community of readers and writers that you have gathered to wrestle through these struggles together. It is your beautiful collection of letters to grief that has started the movement to feel and to share. Thank you.

  2. What a beautiful post. I am sure you have a beautiful smile!! It is indeed expensive. Blessed to be your neighbor at Kate’s linkup today!

    1. Hi Tara, thank you for stopping by! Sharing with others certainly helps me to keep smiling. Thankful for your encouragement.

  3. Your smile will always be beautiful to me! I wish I could take all your grief away. MomMom is always looking down on you and making you prettier each day by adding your smile to your beautiful writing!
    Love, Mom

    1. Hi Mom 🙂 Thank you for always helping me to keep smiling. Like any great mom, I know you just want to take it away. But wiping my tears away helps me more than you know. I love you and thank you for being my #1 supporter.

  4. Wow.

    Bless you.

    It’ll work out. Trust me.

    Keep the faith!

    If misery loves company… Know that I’m struggling now too…..

    xo,xo, xo, UB 🐸

    1. UB, you have taught me the power of trust and faith for so many years of my life. Your determination through your own tremendous grief is simply incredible. You keep the faith and keep the fight so that we can all see you soon for Christmas! I love you so much and look to your example every single day to learn how to get up and to conquer and to trust.

  5. My dear friend, this is, as usual, beautifully written and heartfelt. While I don’t know Your Grief, I do know Grief, and how expensive it is, and the Grief that accompanies the Grief because of the price-tag that comes along with it (as in, seriously? I can think of much better ways to spend that $10,000 than on anesthesia…) But, that is why I love the ending of this post. We must journey to a new normal, a new smile, a new joy. In the past two years I have learned to have what some would consider, perhaps, an almost abnormal acceptance of death…a comfort in knowing this whole life is temporary anyways…no one gets out alive…For some, that death comes suddenly and tragically – like my neighbor’s 22 year old son – killed in a car accident…for others, it is always lurking behind the mask (whether it be the dentist’s or the heart surgeon’s…) In some ways, I feel blessed in knowing that nothing is to be taken for granted, not this day, not this hour, not this smile, not this heartbeat…He has brought me to a new place of trust and living for His Kingdom, and while I wish it was not at the expense of my son’s life expectancy, it is the journey He chose for my life. This life is not awesome sometimes, but He Is. And He is making us His. Just hang in there, friend. Take it one merciful step at a time…put one foot in front of the other…slowly…slowly…He is with You. Always. Everywhere.

    I love you and I will pray with you every step of the way.

    “Every day will offer you opportunities to choose between kingdoms, and sometimes it will be an either-or-choice…above all, side with the good, the true, the beautiful, and the forever. in the end, it alone will remain.” – Chris Tiegreen, Heaven on Earth

    1. My sweet friend, you have covered me in prayers from the day I met you. And I am so thankful. Your words are so beautiful–you need to write your own letter to Grief. The Grief that accompanies the Grief….oh so true and you know it in the biggest of ways. Your acceptance and journey these past few years has opened the eyes of so many who are watching you navigate with total beauty. I know that it feels messy on many of your days, but know that you speak to me and to so many in profound ways. Thank you for choosing to keep walking in His light through every step of your painful journey. It shines a light for me and everyone around you.

  6. Ashley, I’ve come to believe that grief is always connected to some form of loss. It doesn’t have to be the loss of a person. It can be a dream, a job, our health, a home, . . . .our teeth. Life changing loss brings grief, and grief takes us to the cross. Thank you for stopping by and leaving a comment at my blog. It brought me here for which I’m thankful!

    1. Hi Stephani, thank you for stopping by and especially for reminding me that it is grief that takes us to the cross. I hope that you will keep writing through all of your own seasons of grief. You have beautiful words to share with so many.

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