Grief attack at the grocery story

Grief Diaries

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

Can a marriage survive grief?

Grief Diaries

Grief Diaries

It was a beautiful fall day. The temperature was perfect and only a few clouds hung suspended in the blue sky.

The date was November 18, 2007, a Sunday. We had been living in a hotel because our home had been flooded when Jacksonville Electric Authority did something called pipe bursting on the house behind ours. That day we were finally able to get into our home to start the cleanup. Barry asked if we would need him there all day because he needed to finish a project for school. He said he would be at Auntie’s house using her computer and then was going to help with the setup for his younger cousin’s birthday party. A couple of hours later he called to ask if we were going to make the party. We said no, because we still had more to do and no time to change. He said okay and then we exchanged, “I love you.”

We received three more phone calls from our son’s cellphone. First, he said he was back at the hotel and asked if we were going to bring something to eat. In the next call he said he was going out with friends. The third call was from his friend saying Barry had been shot and they needed to know what hospital to take him to.

We drove so fast down U.S. 17 that we saw the ambulance and followed it all the way to Shands Hospital. Barry was whisked into surgery and we were ushered into a waiting room. Hours later a minister came and asked if we’d spoken to the doctor yet. We told him we hadn’t, and he left to go get him.

We are so sorry.

Nobody likes those words at the beginning of a doctor’s statement.

Barry and his girlfriend were robbed while walking to a friend’s apartment. They stole Barry’s cross and wanted to accost the young lady. When Barry stopped one robber, the other shot Barry in the chest. The bullet pierced an artery in the heart, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding. He died in the early morning hours of Monday, November 19, 2007.

I was told by a couple of people that my wife and I wouldn’t survive the loss of a child. Not because they were being mean or spiteful, but because of what they’ve seen happen to others in our situation. And it is true, I’ve seen it also. There is no guaranteed survival after the loss of a child. There is work. You have to want to do this work. The hardest thing in life to do is bury a child. Your child. So if you work at it slowly, because it’s going to take time, you can make it through.

Burying a parent, you know you have to do that, and even your spouse. Life will not start over for you, and the majority of the people you meet won’t have a clue as to what you’re dealing with. Everything outside of you will exist as it is. Children will play in the park, people will still wave their fists in anger when someone cuts them off on the road, and you will survive. You will be a survivor.

I can’t promise you that every day from here on out will be sunshine, and you wouldn’t want me to. I can tell you it will be hard, exhausting, and it will feel like it would be easier to go your separate ways. Love tests for your heart and soul multiplied by infinity. Stay in that love, and communicate. You are a survivor!

Written by Barry Brooks, Barry’s 19-year-old son was murdered in 2007. His full story is published in Grief Diaries: Will We Survive?

Grief Diaries