The grocery store

The grocery store is an emotionally fraught place for many people in grief.

The grocery store is just a full-on assault of everything that’s gone.

You’re seeing people with what look like intact, perfect family lives. “Your husband is still alive; I just buried my husband. Your child is still alive and throwing a tantrum in the grocery store; I would give anything for my child to be alive and having a tantrum in the grocery store.”

So, not only is the sensory assault happening, but for some very strange reason, the grocery store is where casual acquaintances want to know how you’re doing really?

So you have just pulled yourself together enough to get out of the house. You’ve been sitting in your car in the parking lot for 45-minutes trying to calm yourself down and psych yourself up enough so you can go in and buy your bananas and leave. And, you get to the produce section, and your boss’s sister’s friend’s girlfriend recognizes you and they remember, “Oh my gosh, her brother just died!”

And, you’re just trying to keep yourself together to get your bananas and they come up to you and they pat you on the arm and they tilt their head and they say, “How are you, really?” As though, the produce section of the grocery store is the place where you would like to reveal your most personal, intimate emotional landscape to a comparative stranger.

What do you do if you are a compassionate, aware human being at the grocery store and you see somebody down the aisle and you realize, like, “Oh, right, their mom just died last week! Should I say something? Should I not say something? What if they’re just trying to keep it together. I don’t want to be rude.”

Well, the first thing to do is to not avoid them. Remember that grieving people see you when you turn down and go down an opposite aisle. That is weird. That is a weird thing to do.

At the same time, you don’t want to invade their personal space. So, it’s important to talk about what should we be doing. So, a really great thing to do when you see somebody and you know they’ve been going through a hard time and you want to respect their space is you can just do this [put hand over heart] and make eye contact and give them a little nod. And, then go about your business.

It’s a beautiful way to acknowledge somebody’s reality and respect their boundaries at the same time.

Below, several people we spoke with share their experiences with grief in the grocery store.

Play Video placeholderJimmy Hilliard: The Grocery Store

The awfulness of the grocery store is the fact that it exists in all of our lives. It is ultimately the best example of the, how mundane the, our acts are. How necessary but how basic and mundane they are, and it is community.

It’s something that you have to do, everyone in there accepts the fact that they have to do this. They need food, they need to purchase it. They need to feed someone or feed themselves.

And it is by nature members of your community, and it’s exposure. When you’re in the middle of grief and you are forced to survive in the process of foraging for food (laughs), in our modern day is going to the grocery store.

And this experience completely encapsulates it. Is that you start dividing members of your community, there’s a litmus test here. And who I’m gonna tell, and who you’re not, you know?

Is it the cashier, Belinda, that I always go to because she gives my kids the stickers, you know, that they love. And she’s gonna ask me how I’m doing, and it happens to be the day before Paul’s birthday, and she doesn’t know what I’ve been through.

In the acute phase, I couldn’t even imagine going. As you come out of it and you start to go it’s these little challenges, going to the grocery store. It’s unpredictable (laughs), you want to, there’s this new version of the paparazzi probably, it feels a little bit like. That you wanna go almost in disguise, with a low hat and get in and get out. Plan your way around to get the ingredients or whatever you need to get, and get out as fast as possible.

You’re not going to the cashier. You just try and extricate yourself, to get in and get out. But when you are kind of seeing it, and then you see a person you kind of come out and start making the decisions. Am I gonna tell this person? That’s the struggle with the grocery store.

Play Video placeholderZee Wolters: The Grocery Store

My mom was a really great cook. Um, she got, um, a lot of her recipes from, um, my dad’s mom. And so we have all these family recipes, and I enjoy cooking.

And so, you know, that ... one of the benefits of a long, prolonged illness is that, you know, you can kinda be like, okay, this is something I wanna learn from my mom. Um, and the other thing is that in care-taking for her, um, especially in the later years, I would cook dinner.

So, we had a sort of standing weekly day to me and my mom. The other thing was that there is a ... there was a Middle Eastern, um, grocery store near her house. And there wasn’t one near my house. So, we’d go, you know, maybe once or twice a month and just buy a bunch of stuff, and we’d stick it in the freezer.

So the first time I went to that grocery store, um, I ... and again, it was a complete shock. I didn’t really ... wasn’t prepared for it. Um, so I went to that grocery store and I, I got the, you know, the cart, and I’m heading in there, and I’m going to the meat department, and I just lost it. Because ... I rarely went to that store. She would always go, and she would always ask if I wanted anything, and she would pick it up for me. And so the first time I had to go and do that from, you know ... without her around, was really emotional. And I had kind of gone through the aisles, and I sort of picked up other stuff, and I was slowly feeling emotional. But it was kind of when I went to the, the butcher section, that I just lost it. And I just left the whole cart there, and, um, just had to leave.

Play Video placeholderAjai Blue-Saunders: The Grocery Store

In the early stages of grief, I could be going to the grocery store. You’re used to buying certain products in the grocery store for yourself and your family and your husband.

So you automatically go toward those items in the store and then your hand reaches to them, and you remember that they’re no longer there to buy that for.

For awhile I couldn’t even pass by the Old Spice aisle because it would bring memories of John, and what he wore, and I would cry.

Play Video placeholderJack StockLynn: The Grocery Store

The grocery store was awful in some ways, um, particularly around holidays, that was really awful. (laughs) The first Mother’s Day, I just like, I block the, the Mother’s Day cards. I like, I don’t look at the floor. I just do anything to not see it, which is sort of an intense reaction. Like, walking through the grocery store like, you know. I just, I can’t look at those cards.

Play Video placeholderKate Suddes: The Grocery Store

We have, like, a neighborhood grocery store where you just, where if you’ve lived here long enough, you start to get to know everybody who works there. So there’s people who worked at the grocery store near us that we’ve literally known for 10 years. So who watched us have June, and then have Paul, and then have Diana. And that’s where many of my memories are, of some of the not so ideal responses.

You know, one of the first people I told is someone who still works there. And I walked in, and she sort of was like, you know, like looked down. And I just said, “Stop. I have to stop you. I had him, and he’s not here.” And I started to explain. And she immediately said, “Oh my God, my mom, or one of my mom’s friends went through something like that. And my mom had a miscarriage before me.”

And that is like my first introduction, kind of, into being into the world, was really jarring. ’Cause I was like, well, this is going to be about taking care of other people. This is going to be about holding their responses and their experiences. And the ones that are going to be about my experience are going to be more few and far between.

And so in the grocery store is when I’ve had that response; I’ve had a woman who tried, like, started to do religious speak with us. Like, got down on my daughter’s level and talked about Jesus, and how he is now with Jesus, and do you know about Jesus? And I was like, okay, this is not, like, these are two totally different things. You know? And the, he’s an angel, he’s a, you know, a lot of those responses have come from the grocery store. (laughs)