Grief attack at the grocery story

Lately I was becoming a bit of a shut-in, and if I didn’t go food shopping I’d go hungry another day. Having exhausted the dry goods and freezer supply, my stomach grumbled in agreement.

I had to first take a shower so as not to offend anyone with my funk. Feeling a little revived and more alive, I hopped into my Jeep before I could change my mind.

Wet hair blowing in the wind, head boppin’ to the bumpin’ music. I had to stay motivated because I was on my way to what my depression had convinced me was a battlefield. Landmines everywhere in the form of memories threatening to strike.

Today I didn’t walk into the grocery store, I sauntered—an effect of having some pep in my step for the first time in a long time. Armored with my favorite protection amulet, most soothing gemstone ring, and my trusty pocket knife.

In the very first aisle I caught a glimpse which took my breath away and stopped me in my tracks.

A twenty-one-year-old man-child was buying beer. The puffed-up way he walked, strumming the whiskers on his chin as he carefully considered his choice, suggested it was his first time.

I had to steel myself at the sight. I wasn’t armed for this.

Brandon’s body had been found mutilated just a week shy of his twenty-first birthday. On his birthday, his father spent it in court for the arraignment of his suspected killer. His mother spent it at a funeral home planning his services.

In the grocery store, I took a deep breath, shook my head and put up my defenses. Trying to stay present by focusing on the task at hand of restocking provisions. I’ve always been a healthy eater, sticking mainly to the produce aisle and the perimeter of the store. I drink only the three necessities: black coffee, water and beer, though not necessarily in that order anymore.

I didn’t think about the case of coke, nor did I give a second thought to the Mac-n-Cheese or easy squirt jelly as I placed them in the carriage. In fact, it didn’t hit me until I was in the frozen section grabbing DiGiorno’s stuffed-crust pepperoni pizza, buy two get one free, that I froze.

Too late this time to steel myself from the oncoming grief attack.

My heart refused to accept reality and I found myself grabbing supplies for what had been our regular Friday pizza night. I was buying nephew-approved foods, as Brandon called them, eager to have them on hand for our next aunty date. Except there won’t be any more aunty dates with my nephew Brandon. Ever.

He’s not missing anymore like he was for six weeks. He’s dead. Murdered.

He’s not going to pop over. Not. Ever. Again.

Float like a butterfly, sting like a bee. The hands can’t hit what the eyes can’t see. ~Muhammed Ali

The weight of this truth hit like Muhammed Ali and stung like a bee. Grief is the perfect TKO.

With weak knees, slumped shoulders, and eyes heavy with unshed tears, I knew I wouldn’t be able to duck and cover this time. The blows landed and I was about to go down. I made a beeline to the bathroom for cover.

As I shut the stall door, my shoulders began their familiar shudder. I leaned against the door and let the tears flow. I just had to ride it out.

As women came and went, I was helpless against the onslaught. Their concern and kind words exasperated my breathlessness. All I could mutter was, “It’s grief. It’ll pass.” With the breathy whisper of a shy little girl, I said, “Thank you.”

If I didn’t sit down, I would fall down. So I went to the sink and, leaning on it for support, splashed my red swollen face with cold water.

Just then an employee came in to check on me. I swayed on my feet fighting for control, and she offered me a chair and a bottle of water. She introduced herself as Nancy and asked genuinely for whom I was grieving. I told her about my beloved nephew Brandon. She was quiet, empathetic and—most important—not the least bit patronizing.

She surmised, “He felt like a son to you, didn’t he?”

I silently nodded my head. I wouldn’t dare to say it out loud, but a crucial piece of me is gone and I’m lost in a daily struggle of being here without him, the present reality too much to bare. With a hoarse voice I thanked her for her care and concern, to which Nancy replied, “We are all in this together, just helping each other along.”

I left the bathroom and shuffled to the register, leaning on the handlebar of the carriage. My unsteady gait, red face and runny nose revealed the heart on my sleeve. Grief has a way of breaking down walls and stealing what’s left of one’s dignity.

A young teen tentatively approached me and said, “I hope your day gets better.”

Bless him. He saw heartache on my face and tried to shine a little light in the dark. Wishing I could hug him but feeling too damaged to dare, I whispered over and over, “Thank you,” trying to convey my gratitude yet unable to feign a smile.

I returned from the battlefield battered and bruised. The grief offensive defeated my resilience defense and left me feeling listless.

I don’t remember the drive home but when I got there, I tossed the perishables into the fridge and retreated to sleep.

Grief had won today’s fight. But if I’m lucky, I’ll see Brandon in my dreams so I can wake to fight another day.

-Sarah Mercier

In loving memory of Brandon

Grief Diaries