A couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, I was in the middle of Stop & Shop when I saw a box of rye-flavored Triscuits. Those particular triscuits were a favorite of my mom and John’s. The lonely box was at an end cap, propped up among many other “holiday” favorites, including Stove Top stuffing, gravy in a jar and cranberry sauce.
I started to cry.
Luckily, it was very early on a Sunday morning, so the store was pretty empty. I immediately pulled my sunglasses down to cover my eyes.
I wasn’t sure why I had had that reaction or what had triggered it – I go to the store on a regular basis and walk right by the crackers, chips, pretzels, even the Hallmark card section, without incident. It made me feel vulnerable, uneasy and out of control.
Thinking that I was “over” it, I took the sunglasses off and turned down the next aisle only to feel suddenly surrounded by Starbucks K-cups. My mind went straight to the last time I had bought them – a visit to Chicago last November while my nephew, Patrick, was staying at my mom’s house. Patrick…
I started to feel that familiar, tingling, burning sensation in my eyes and nose, and I had to put on the sunglasses again.
Praying that I wouldn’t bump into anyone I knew, I put my head down and pushed my cart through the aisles hoping I could somehow regain some composure. Candy is always a good distraction. So, I walked over to the candy aisle and grabbed a big bag of mint M&M’s. I also decided to message my lifelong friends, as they were coming for a much-anticipated visit the following week.
I texted that I wondered how long it would be before I heard, “Clean-up on aisle 7!” over the loudspeaker. I was a total mess. Their responses were immediate, thoughtful, encouraging and there was no judgement.
Holding back more tears, I typed that I was really looking forward to their visit, more than they realized, because I was struggling with an overwhelming flood of memories…
All those memories…being with family, seeing my grandparents, aunts, uncles and cousins, my brother saying, “I’m getting that!” after EVERY single toy commercial leading up to Christmas, my mom saying with almost every single bite that, “I shouldn’t be eating another bite!”, the Christmas carols, my siblings and I begrudgingly polishing the silver ornaments before they could go up on the tree, posing on the stairs before we could tear into the presents, and even the simple and mundane memories…the crackers and the Starbucks. We all have memories…some are on the surface and some are locked away, and then all it takes is something like a box of Triscuits to bring it all up again. And it hurts. Grieving, especially during the holiday season, really hurts.
With that pain, however, there is joy. I know I don’t always see the joy right away, but it’s there.
There is joy in remembering how much Patrick enjoyed a good cup of coffee, especially espresso, which he’d finish in 45 seconds or less. There is joy in remembering my mom closing her eyes and smiling while she went for that third or fourth bite of pumpkin pie after the table had been cleared. There is joy in remembering John loudly humming along with the Mannheim Steamrollers Christmas album. There is joy in remembering the Christmas tree falling on my little brother, Brian, while we watched t.v. together. There is joy in remembering how the entire pew would shake as my siblings and I tried to hold in our giggles during those more reflective, prayerful moments at church. There IS joy.
There is joy when I think of some of the new memories my family and friends created just this year…from the Chicago girls visit, to the Fireball old friends/new friends toasts, the trips to NYC, the Thanksgiving program and intimate family dinner, and the harmonica that wouldn’t die. There is joy.
Some people think we shouldn’t dwell on the past because we cannot change anything – we should just look ahead. For me, it’s because of my past and all of the people who shaped it, that I even have the strength to look to the future.
And I just realized that it’s because of my past that I now know how to navigate the grocery store during the holidays, which is the quickest route to the candy section, and that the alcohol aisle opens later on Sundays. I also realized that there are many people wearing sunglasses in the grocery store on Sunday morning. I used to think it was just because everyone was out celebrating the night before, but maybe some of those people are trying to deal with painful memories too.
I am not alone.