More than a decade ago, I found myself sorting through a pile of clean clothes trying to put together an outfit for a mundane but big shopping day. I chose to make my entrance to the local food market in black yoga pants, a long sleeve hunter green tee, a leather jacket and old sneakers, no socks. An odd ensemble for venturing out to the grocery store on my own as it may seem like a mundane task, but after making my way through all of the post- funeral casseroles, this little jaunt the market seemed to take an embarrassingly amount of herculean effort.
I gave myself an actual “pep talk” before heading out, actually, peppering it with flat platitudes and promising myself that the trip wouldn’t take long. It wasn’t lost on me that I was engaging in self- parenting as I was basically bribing myself with purchasing a copy of People magazine as a reward.
This was in 2007 before smartphones; therefore, there weren’t fancy grocery shopping apps to download, not that I would have given much thought to creating a list. My (late) husband did nearly all of the cooking, as he loved to be in the kitchen. Although, he wasn’t a chef, it was like a haven- with his favorite cutlery on the counter, oils, cutting boards, spices. Our fridge drawers were lined with white butchered paper packages sealed with stickers reading: salmon, orange roughy, whitefish. And never once in those four short years of marriage did I think to ask him what he wrote down on a grocery list.
Once inside the wasteland, also called a grocery store, I found myself peering into other shopper’s carts looking for ideas of items to throw into my own lonely cart. On more than one occasion, my sideways glances must have turned into stares as I was met with unfriendly glares. I tried to think back to my “single” days after completing graduate school and living on my own what items were in my fridge. And for the life of me, I couldn’t recall what I ate. It was like my brain short- circuited, and the memory “inbox” was empty.
Then, I discovered the deli section of the store with pre- made meals, and soon my cart had a few plastic containers. I wasn’t certain what foods went together, but I was glad to have food.
While my first shopping experience as a new widow was about to close with simply paying for the items, a pounding in my heart occurred followed by unrelenting tears streaming down my face. I reached into my handbag for my wallet only to discover it wasn’t there. I knew exactly where it was- on the dining room table. Earlier that day I was on the telephone speaking with the health insurance company going over my late husband’s medical billing statements. I needed my insurance card; hence, the wallet remained on the table.
All I could muster to the grocery clerk was, “My husband just died.”
I couldn’t even look her in the eyes.
It was at this choppy moment, punctuated with ugly tears, that I knew for the first time that I was overwhelmed by grief.
Once at home, I swore never to return to the store again sure that all would remember me walking away, with head down, sobbing over groceries and a forgotten wallet. I also knew that I needed a plan to get a grip on my grief. And although, I’m a licensed clinical social worker with a graduate degree in the same subject, absolutely nothing prepared me for this tsunami called – Grief.
To be clear I was no stranger to loss. My father died from cancer, just two short weeks of my fifth birthday. And now less than eight weeks after my husband’s doctor’s visit my husband also died from cancer. However, this time around the bend of grief was sharply and strangely different. Obviously, I wasn’t a child missing their dad, but I still felt isolated. I was 33 then in 2007 and while my friends were having babies and prepping for the holidays, I was alone.
And in that galley kitchen standing in front of an open door looking at a poorly stocked fridge I decided to make a plan to manage my grief.
It started with a blank notebook, and I told myself each day I’d journal my activities, from noting the time I woke up, to a follow up phone call, to venturing out to Target or reading a chapter in a novel. No one told me to do this, but it gave me some sense of control over my day. This simple task, oddly enough let me feel a bit in control and this helped me cope.
Then, I found myself writing prayers in the journal. I was less than pleased with God. This outcome is not what I envisioned. And those who told me “this is the will of God” I thought were delusional. My friend told me that God can handle all of my anger and fear and well, that was in no shortage of fear and anger.
At one point, in my reading, I stumbled upon the word “Grace”. I can’t remember now what I was reading or surely I would quote it here, but I remember the feeling I had reading this five letter word- grace. And for reasons, I still can’t explain, it was at this moment that I said aloud, “I need grace.”
I don’t have a degree in theology, so I’m certain I don’t have all the answers to the true definition of what grace means; however, I can tell you what it feels like. During grief, mistakes happen. Harsh words are exchanged with others and sadly to yourself as well Grace, is feeling that envelopes you with a maternal gentleness and warmth that makes you feel even if just for a moment that you will be okay.
And so I found myself seeking moments of grace. I discovered grace in the most unlikely places. I felt it in a yoga class. I found it in an email from a close friend. I saw it in the gratitude journal my late husband wrote in even during the medical crisis.
While there is no stunning announcement I’m making, I’m here to tell you that both grit and grace as painstaking as they sound can help you in your journey with grief. They don’t provide an elaborate affair as you won’t suddenly feel complete or healed, but what I’ve learned along the way, is that healing occurs in small micro- moments. When you become open and you can allow grit and grace to enter, even for a moment, there comes a break in the darkness.