I've have read on other parents' blogs that they avoided the Lego aisle or the Polly Pocket aisle when shopping after their child had died. This created a dilemma for me. On the one hand, Erin remains very near to the surface for me, and I wouldn't want to deliberately trigger those inevitable meltdowns that particular memories could stir. On the other hand, Erin had so many "favorite" things that if I worked to avoid public places that would put me at risk for having my memory stirred, I wouldn't go anywhere: no bookstores, toy stores, or movie rental places. No grocery stores or clothing stores. She adored nurseries, so they would be off the list. Hardware stores. . .she would browse until I made her leave. The meat market? You've got to be kidding. Hobby Lobby? Every aisle would be a potential disaster. You get the idea.
She wasn't necessarily a shopaholic or even particularly acquisitive. She just found delight in the beautiful, interesting, fun, or novel. So, inevitably I have to go to those places. And so far, no big mind fields.
One day recently, I was pushing the cart through the grocery store.
Produce section: Do I put kiwi in the cart? I'm okay with kiwi and so is Walter, but Erin was a big fan, and we're closer to indifferent. No kiwi this time.
Soft Drink/Sports Drink Aisle: Gatorade doesn't fall under the category of beer, wine, coffee, or water, which are really the only things that we actually drink. No real need for Gatorade.
Snack Aisle: Do Walter and I really need Chex Mix or Cliff Bars? Nah.
It finally hit me. Not grief. Not tears. Just realization. Kids give you permission to stock things that you like (salty/naughty snacks, sweets, ice cream confections), because you don't have to admit you want those things. Having children (or someone else you can indulge) gives you permission to experiment, to try different options and more varieties, to buy treats. Of course, you can still buy those sorts of things if you don't have children in the house, but you can't fool yourself into thinking you are doing it for someone else. If you by a bag of Cheetos or a box of Butterfingers, they're for you.
Of course, all sorts of people have figured this out before me (single folks, empty nesters). It really wasn't just about whether I was willing to indulge myself by adding treats to the cart or face the inevitably dullness of my basket. It's about having to admit that the person I loved to dote upon is no longer dotable.
I helped Shirlene with her Meals On Wheels route last week. I remembered and asked after a couple on her route from previous times I had helped her. The man would come out to the car to get their lunches. He always had a cheerful remark and a smile. Shirlene told me she didn't serve them anymore. When his wife died, the man took his name off the list--like it was okay to get a meal for himself as long as MOW was delivering to his wife anyway, but he didn't think he deserved one on his own account.
Shirlene worried about him. He wasn't any less homebound than he had been before. On her route days, she buys his lunch and delivers it anyway. When I saw him on Monday, he seemed glad to have it.
I think that man lost someone that he took pride in taking care of. This happens to a lot of us. Sometimes death is the thief, but other things can bereave us and leave us personally and profoundly deprived of another person and the love that we shared with him or her.
W.H. Auden wrote that "Love requires an object." Our bereavement is not so much about what to put in the shopping cart or what aisle to skip in the toy store. It's about admitting that the object of our love is gone and deciding to live anyway.