After the death of my son, I relied heavily on friends to bring us meals or to pick up our groceries. I did that for as long as I possibly could. Once I did begin shopping for my family again, I stayed home, sat on the couch, and bought online whenever possible. When we needed meat, milk or produce my husband and I shopped together late at night, running in for an item or two and then dashing back out just as quickly.
But this trip was different. It was the first I dared alone as the mom of a dead boy.
Still deep in the throes of grief, I entered the door, grabbed a cart, and stared straight ahead as if I was wearing blinders. I didn’t want to run into people I hardly knew, receive looks of pity, or worse—make small talk.
I survived the produce department, gathering salad ingredients without seeing an acquaintance and having to converse. The same was true for the next few aisles. About half way into my trip, I spied a former neighbor at the meat counter, so I lingered by the crackers until he left, afraid of what would spew out of my mouth if he dared ask how are you doing?
I pushed my cart down the cereal aisle and grabbed a box of Raisin Bran, an item my youngest added to my list. And then I spotted it. The cereal my seventeen-year-old dead son use to eat religiously: Cream of Rice. It was positioned where it had always been, on the top shelf, next to the Cream of Wheat. This time, however, it caught me off guard, and I burst into tears lamenting my precious son. And as ridiculous as it sounds I grieved that Cream of Rice would never be on my weekly shopping list again. And I wondered if I should go home and throw the box of Cream of Rice that was in my pantry away or would that feel as if I was throwing Joseph away too.
I abandoned my nearly full cart, fled out the door, jumped into my van, pressed my face into the steering wheel, and sobbed like a baby. For the next half hour, I sat utterly undone in the Food Lion parking lot, bawling uncontrollably, and purging a little bit of my grief. I missed my boy so badly that every cell in my body throbbed.
In those first early raw days of grief, the unexpected in the ordinary days often caused tidal waves of grief for me without so much as a moment’s notice. Hearing a song, watching a sports team, or seeing a box of cereal would cause grief to erupt within me.
Now, over a dozen years later, seeing Cream of Rice is bittersweet. On occasion, tears fill my eyes. Most of the time I smile, remembering my long, lanky teen and the items that used to find their way into my grocery cart especially for him.
We live near that same Food Lion and shop there regularly. Now and then I sit in that very same parking spot remembering the day my grief imploded in the cereal aisle. But now I sit and thank God for seventeen years with my precious boy and the healing He has provided since that excruciating day. I ask Him to use my grief and to heal me a little more. And I ask Him to use your grief and heal you a little more.
Press on, friend. With God’s help, you can do this.
(an excerpt from Grief: A Mama’s Unwanted Journey)