Who’s that woman crying in the grocery store?

Grief, Sculpture by Andrassy Kurta
Grief, Sculpture by Andrassy Kurta

I cried today when I bought “Smart Food” in the grocery store.  That cheesy popcorn was one of Nancy’s favorite snacks, and just thinking about that catapulted me into grief once again.  I was purchasing it for my daughter Regina and her friends who were hanging out at our house after school.   I’ve been apt to tear up at the grocery store, the traffic light, yoga lessons, in fact, just about everywhere these days.  There are so many reminders that Nancy is permanently vacant from my life, at least in the physical realm (and I’m reserving judgment on the afterlife—haven’t heard from her yet).

But it makes me wonder: why haven’t I ever noticed people crying in the grocery store before? I can’t be the only widow, person who’s lost a child, whose world has been upended by divorce, by losing a home, a job, or whose relatives here or in other countries have been the victims of natural or unnatural disasters. Nor can I be the only one who responds to such calamities of life by tears. I wonder if I have been immune to the suffering of others, inoculated by my comfortable life with a stable partnership, two daughters, a nice home in a safe neighborhood, and a decent job? Sure I’ve had my own crosses to bear. With a sick partner for many years now, a labor-intensive job, and kids with needs–both special and ordinary–I have had my hands full. All these years, I’ve been huddling down into myself as I go about my shopping, single-mindedly pursuing my task of getting items off the grocery store shelves and into my basket, without taking notice of the sadness of other human beings around me.

Frequently I’ll make small talk with folks at the grocery store and other places, something that annoys the hell out of my kids. But I don’t think I probe beneath the surface of their superficial remarks. A friend of mine named Tami, also a lesbian widow, does probe beneath the surface in her interactions with strangers. While in the line to see a movie, she heard someone ask the woman behind her how she was doing. “Fine” the woman replied, but Tami heard in her voice that she was far from fine.   She asked the woman: “Why aren’t you fine?” And the woman told her that she had just lost her husband of forty years to cancer.   After which, they shared their individual stories and comforted each other. I want to be like Tami.

Recently, I’ve been reading Anne Lamott’s Stitches: A Handbook on Meaning, Hope, and Beyond. I’d long ago put self-help books behind me, not because I didn’t have problems but because I believed that I had no need for their clichéd object lessons. I could solve my problems on my own.   I no longer have the arrogance of thinking that I don’t need help, solace, or inspiration from those wiser than myself—or even just wiser in ways that I am not. Desperation does that to you.

Lamott defends the “overly sensitive child” in her book. Chastised for being too sensitive as a child, she wonders if being sensitive to the many occasions of brutality and personal loss that is inherent in this life isn’t a reasonable response.   Considered an overly sensitive child myself, I felt somewhat redeemed by her analysis. But I want to be overly sensitive not only to my own personal losses but to the losses experienced by others.

During the time period of Nancy’s last stage of life and her death, our nation witnessed the horrific shooting in Ferguson and its aftermath of urban turmoil and outrage in the city and beyond.   I was aware of what was going on, but I skipped through the facebook posts and the news, numbly insensitive to the world’s greater cares in the light of my own personal tragedy. We can only experience so much pain at once, I guess.   But I hope to reclaim my ability to care about the world beyond my own experience.

But, really, my personal goal is less lofty than that: I want to use my experience of loss to try to become that woman who, having cried in the grocery store, is more open to the suffering of the world. Maybe then, I will notice all of the others who are crying in the grocery store.

15 thoughts on “Who’s that woman crying in the grocery store?

  1. egrant66 January 27, 2015 / 12:41 pm

    Julia, You are deeply in the flow and this moved me deeply. Keep sharing your sensitive soul:)


    • juliagrant1 January 27, 2015 / 12:43 pm

      Love you sis, and your beautiful flow!


  2. bigbadbengals January 27, 2015 / 1:42 pm

    I find it amazing (as I am also the lady crying in the grocery store, the parking lot, the …everywhere) that no one actually says anything. It’s completely evident in those moments that I am experiencing issues in some form, yet no one says a word. It seems to be a fine line between allowing people their privacy vs completely ignoring the situation (to perhaps not noticing entirely — like you, I don’t remember others crying in the store before…)…


    • juliagrant1 January 27, 2015 / 3:30 pm

      I have thought the same thing, which led me to wondering why I had never noticed people crying before. Is it that we are too preoccupied with our own lives, tasks, etc., afraid of intruding on private grief, or insensitive? Maybe it is all of the above. Once a woman did ask me why I was crying, when I was in the hot tub! I felt comforted that she at least cared to ask and offered to pray for me.

      Liked by 1 person

  3. nickybates January 27, 2015 / 6:13 pm

    Not long after my mom was diagnosed, I broke down and cried in the Union because there were advertisements and signs for graduation everywhere. The first words out of her mouth when she told me she had cancer were “I promise I will live to see you graduate” and I was terrified that her body wouldn’t keep that promise.
    A kind stranger stopped and talked to me for a while and offered to drive me home when I had calmed down. Your new grocery store attentiveness to others is a gift. Someday you’ll use it to be a blessing to someone.


    • juliagrant1 January 27, 2015 / 6:56 pm

      Nicky, Thank you for sharing your story. I am so glad that someone took the time to comfort you, as you struggled with the pain of your mother’s diagnosis. Much love…


  4. Diana Farmer January 27, 2015 / 7:43 pm

    I love you, Julia. Thank you for being so real.

    Liked by 1 person

    • juliagrant1 January 27, 2015 / 10:44 pm

      Love you too, Diana. Thanks for being a role model to me.


  5. Rose Costin January 27, 2015 / 8:34 pm

    This is beautiful. I know you are hurting but you are getting there. Nancy would be so amazed at how you have carried on. 🙂

    I miss her all the time. I laugh to myself when I think about what she would say to be about different situations I am currently experiencing.

    She loved you and the girls very much. As long as we are all around she will never be forgotten.


    • juliagrant1 January 28, 2015 / 12:09 am

      Thank you, Rose, for keeping Nancy’s memory alive….!


  6. Mollie Callow January 27, 2015 / 9:04 pm

    If I cry in public I think to be perfectly honest, I would not want a complete stranger to talk to me. I don’t think that person could really say anything that would comfort me. Telling me they’ll pray for my atheist soul just angers me. Though perhaps that would jolt me out of my grief…so could end up being a positive?
    Anyway, Julia my dear friend, I so look forward to these entries. Keep writing. It’s helping us all.


    • juliagrant1 January 27, 2015 / 9:09 pm

      Don’t worry, Mollie, I would never tell you — or anyone else – that I would pray for them! But I might ask them if I could help in any way…I don’t know….I’ll have to ruminate on that.


  7. Kathleen Romig January 28, 2015 / 9:16 pm

    So beautiful. Once, after weeks of struggle with my not-yet-diagnosed special needs child, he completely lost it on the subway. I felt so frustrated and humiliated, I broke down in tears. A woman squeezed my shoulder and said “You’re doing a good job.” That meant the world to me. I still think of it.


    • juliagrant1 January 31, 2015 / 6:10 pm

      Thanks for the lovely comment, Kathleen. One more example of what a difference it can make when we are able to see another’s pain. Whether or not our comfort “helps,” we can at least make the effort, for when it does it really means a lot.


  8. Karen February 18, 2015 / 12:26 am

    Until reading this, I always thought I was the only person who cried at the grocery store. Something about the normalcy of that chore, mixed with the realization of being alone yet surrounded by people who, unlike me, were shopping with or for their ‘person’ — in that moment, made shopping unbearable for months and months after losing my partner, Kim. Almost three years later, I still find it hard, but no longer break down (until I’m safely in my car)…unless I accidentally end up on the seasonal gift isle.

    Thank you for writing this blog! I’m so very sorry that you lost your Nancy. I hope that you find comfort and healing through your writing!


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