Sometimes, she thinks the others have forgotten how to grieve. Yes, they’ve all lost people. By definition, practically. Their families, their original families, are centuries, sometimes millennia gone, and their loss is subsumed by the bigger and stranger loss of entire civilizations, cultures, ways of life. They are people out of time, many of them.
Kady has never felt that way. When she was a woman in her twenties, she got into a spot of trouble. Her mother got in even worse. And then, right in front of her eyes, Kady Orloff Diaz watched her mom die. She died, and Kady had scant seconds to process how that made her feel, before she too was cut down in the prime of her life.
Of course, she got up again afterwards. Her mother decidedly did not.
Things had not been simple between them, by the end. Her mother had gone to a dark place and Kady had tried to follow her there, which only made it all more painful for the both of them. They hadn’t been close since Kady had decided to go to Brakebills, despite her loyal reasons for doing so, and in the aftermath it had become clear that whatever affection had existed between Kady as a child and the woman who raised her, it had been warped into something nearly unrecognizable now that Kady was an adult in her own right. It hurt, to lose something she’d so taken for granted that she hadn’t even had the words for it. Motherhood, childhood, that bond, it had mattered. And it had been broken, and there had been attempts to mend it, and then… the end. Dead mom, perpetually alive daughter.
Even if Kady’s mother had lived to be one hundred, she’d have been long dead by the twenty-first century. And maybe that should have mattered, maybe it should have made the grief taste different, but it didn’t. Kady still remembers what it was to be the daughter of a mother, and she remembers viscerally the feeling of having that cut away from her, violent and sudden.
El, Q, and Margo cannot commiserate with this grief because their relationships to their long-dead families are, at best, mythic fairytales, shakily recalled in moments of nostalgia. Q can remember a name or two, the dreams he’d once had as a mortal man, the shape his life would have taken. El and Margo don’t even have that much. El isn’t even sure of his original homeland, holding onto certain identities more out of habit than out of conviction that they’re real or true.
Julia and Penny can’t commiserate either, not really. They’d both left their families and gotten the rare opportunity to watch from afar as the people who mattered to them grew old and died natural deaths. They remember names, they remember events, concrete and solid, but their extrications from their old lives had been gentle things. Abrupt, at first, as they’d realized the truth of their new existence and then run away to learn more about it, but then gradual in the end, as they’d allowed themselves to return to familiar haunts, a ghost frozen in youth as middle-aged parents became elders. As kids grew to adulthood, as descendents sprawled out and moved away from familiar cultural context.
That isn’t to say that the others don’t have their own measure of grief, of regrets, of pain when recalling the deaths of those they’d loved. Kady has shared memories with them during meditation, had felt the shock of grief in Julia’s heart as her grandchildren died, elderly and fulfilled, while she watched on from a distance, a stranger to them, mourning in solidarity with a family she no longer had.
But Kady doesn’t feel her grief for her mother’s death as an immortal person should: a complicated combination of personal loss and larger, societal shifts. Kady is… in her heart, Kady is still young, uncertain of her path in the world, a woman who lost her mother and still wishes to turn to her for advice in moments of doubt. Kady grieves for her mom like the young woman she feels herself to be, not the two-hundred-plus-year-old immortal that she has literally become.
Of course, there are years there in the middle where Penny’s death wipes away everything else from her heart and her mind. Where grief for him makes the rest of the world tiny and insignificant in comparison. But even in the first wails of disbelieving agony, she can recall remembering how much she’d wished her mother could have known Penny, known that her rebellious, troubled, powerful young daughter had found someone to keep her grounded, steady, fulfilled. And despite her age in years, she’d still felt, at Penny’s loss, like a young widow, still in the bloom of love. She’d wanted to turn back to childhood, go to her parents’ family home and cry into her mother’s lap. But that home hadn’t existed anymore, and her mother has passed out of all living memory, save her own.
This is why she’d fallen in love with Alice Quinn.
Well. No, it would not be charitable to say that grief is the only thing that binds them, but it is the first string, the foundation that tied them to one another years before Alice had even become one of them. Because Alice does not grieve her losses like an ancient being from the mists of time. She does not lament the passage of the centuries, the shifting sands of unceasing change. She still grieves her brother Charlie with the sharpness of immediate loss, of knowing that were the world a just place, her brother would still walk upon it. The way Alice talks about Charlie, the way she lashes out in anger at the unfairness, the cruelty, the capriciousness of magic and of life itself… it’s how Kady had felt about losing Penny. And even when she gets Penny back, it’s still how she feels about the time she spent without him, and about all the years she lost with her mother.
Someday, Kady will slip from the grief of a child over the loss of a parent, to… well, whatever it is the others are. She will become someone who looks back on early nineteenth century New York with a smile at the quaintness, the mythology, of what once was and can never be again. One day maybe she will be like El, squinting into his hazy past before shrugging and declaring, quite truthfully, that it doesn’t matter where he came from or who he might once have loved. He’s forgotten them, and thus forgotten to be sad for them.
But she’s not there yet. She grieves for a loss she can remember as if it happened only yesterday. And nobody else in her life understands that like Alice. She decides, even knowing herself to be impossibly old in Alice’s eyes, as foreign as any of the others in the unnatural longevity of her life, to hold onto the grief while she has it, to remain young in this one way. Someday, inevitably, she and Alice will both take death for granted, and Kady is not convinced the softening of her anguish will be worth it.