The grocery store. For most people it’s a place of necessity; a chore that must be completed. It may not be the most enjoyable part of the week, but the overall experience is relatively benign. For a loss mama it can be an emotional gauntlet; an experience that is painful and triggering. When you have lost a child, are pregnant after a loss or are parenting after a loss, the grocery store can become aisle after aisle of triggers and reminders. That’s what it is for me.
Approaching those double doors is always the first test of my will power. Do I dare enter when I know the triggers that are waiting on the other side? It’s not a question of whether there will be triggers, it’s just a matter of how many I will face on today’s shopping excursion.
After I enter, I begin to maneuver through the produce department. Over by the apples I spot a former co-worker. I haven’t seen them since I was very pregnant with my first daughter, Dorothy. Our eyes meet and they begin to approach the cart. When they come over, they spot my second daughter, Frances, and I see the confusion. “Is this your baby? I thought she would be around 2 years old now.” they say as they smile down at the 7 month old in my cart. Great. Now it’s time to decide what version of the story to tell. I settle on the awkward “cliff-notes” version and just when I’m trying to decide how to excuse myself, they uncomfortably mumble something about needing to hurry up and get home. That makes sense. I didn’t want to hear a depressing story in the produce section either.
Frances and I continue on, the tears still brimming in my eyes. I’m having a hard time looking at my daughter’s smiling face right now because all I can think about is her sister. I stop at the deli counter and wait my turn. I’m staring off into space when the deli clerk tries to get my attention. I know my face is already blotchy from crying and now I’m blushing for being so distracted that I didn’t even know it was my turn. I place my order and a few minutes later we head to the next aisle.
I begin to head down the pasta aisle and I am stopped by a sweet older woman. I know why she’s stopping me. She wants to fuss over my daughter who has turned on her charming smile for the people passing by. (I don’t blame her, that smile stops me in my tracks too.) I watch her bending over, her face close to Frances, as I stand there tight lipped and waiting for the inevitable question. “Is she your first?” she asks. There it is. I’m fragile from my encounter in the produce department, so I lie. “Yes,” I manage to whisper. She watches me, waiting for me to elaborate, but I don’t. I can’t. I already hate that I lied. The guilt is weighing heavily on my heart and I don’t want to tell any more untruths. As she coos goodbye to Frances, I am sending a message to Dorothy that I’m so sorry that I pretended she didn’t exist.
So far, I’ve only managed to procure half of the items on my list and I’m already so drained. I debate just leaving and trying again another time, but I keep going. I meander through the next few aisles unscathed, simply gathering my needed items. I’m starting to feel like the worst is behind us and then I take notice of the display next to me: greeting cards. More specifically, greeting cards for the upcoming holiday season. Ugh. My eyes scan over the cards and they lay to rest on a card meant for “A Sister on Thanksgiving.” (Greeting cards have gotten really specific.) I consider buying it for Frances from Dorothy or for Dorothy from Frances, but I end up leaving it on the shelf. I am always resentful that when I buy these cards it’s a kind of make believe because only one of them is actually here to give and receive. Time to keep moving.
We make our way through the beverage aisle and I crouch down to load some seltzer onto our cart. As I am straightening up, I spot another cart coming our way. A mother pushes and her daughters trail behind. “Hurry up please,” she implores “I feel like I’m always waiting for one of you.” The girls giggle and scurry to catch up. I smile sadly as I watch them. I look at Frances and imagine what it would be like to be at the grocery store with both of my girls. What would it be like to keep track of two children while I shop, instead of one. Frances sees me smiling and she grins at me. She’s still too young to know the difference between a wistful smile and a carefree one.
Our list is now complete and we head towards the cash registers. After waiting in line, I notice that the cashier’s name is Grace. That’s Dorothy’s middle name. I smile upon seeing it because I love seeing any part of my daughter’s name. It’s like a little wink from her and I know she’s okay. “How are you doing today?” the cashier asks as she starts scanning my items. “I’m good,” I say and I’m only half lying.