Tears in Aisle 5
March 28, 2021
Two weeks after Keven died, I had to go to the grocery store for the first time. I remembered a friend telling me it took her 6 months to drive after losing her son because she couldn’t trust herself to be a safe driver. I knew what she meant. My brain had been enveloped in a thick fog. I did things like opening a cupboard to get something out of the microwave, calling people by the wrong name, and completely losing my train of thought. The grocery store was 1/4 mile, so I concentrated and arrived safely.
When I got there, I grabbed a cart and started my weekly routine. I turned down an aisle, stopped in front of the Rockstar energy drinks, and reached my hand out to grab the yellow can of Recovery Rockstar that I bought Keven. each week. My hand froze mid-reach, I felt the burn in my chest. Hot tears were forming. I would never buy these again because MY BABY WAS GONE! I knew he was gone, but the reality of never having to buy him Rockstars or cigarettes’ or anything ever again - kicked me in the gut.
I walked around the grocery store crying. No more blueberry Pop Tarts. No more green apples. No more Lemonade. Each aisle held a reminder that Keven was gone. Crying in public didn’t embarrass me. Frankly, I didn’t give a damn. Things like that are so minor now. No one asked if I was okay. I tried to be quiet and unobvious, but I saw the faces. Tears make others uncomfortable, I understood that. Later on, I asked myself if I would have gone up to a stranger that was crying. Yes, yes, I would and I have. It’s just who I am. I’ve been told I am too kind (is there such a thing?).
Then it was time to check out. I’d been going to this store for over 30 years, all the cashiers knew me and Keven. I panicked knowing I would be asked, “how are you doing today?” Did I tell the truth? Did I look downward, hiding my red eyes and say, “Fine, how are you?”
Ling was working, so I chose her line. She was very sweet. When she asked, I cried again and choked out, “I lost my son 2 weeks ago.” Her face, full of concern, asked if it was COVID. I shook my head “no” and blurted it out, “he took his own life”. “Oh, no!” she gasped. Everyone around that heard was looking at me. I realized that the main reason I didn’t want to cry in public was because of those looks, it caused other people to feel bad. I hoped Ling would spread the word to other employees so I wouldn’t have to go through this till each of them knew.
“How are you today?” seems so innocent, so ordinary. All of us are asked that question repeatedly throughout our daily lives. What do you say when you’re not “fine” or “good”? Does the person asking really want to know, or is it just part of polite society or the etiquette of someone who serves the public?
I hated that question for months. The entire world had changed because Keven David Legere was no longer part of it! Walking around hearing people laugh or have chatty conversations felt like a slap in the face - didn’t they know my son was dead and I felt like I wanted to die? I walked around feeling like the air was being pulled out of my lungs, there was a constant feeling of darkness vibrating around me.
Those initial feelings slowly faded. Reality says the answer to” how are you” is supposed to be “fine” or “good”. It’s not a real question, it’s a term used to greet a customer or a stranger in an elevator. I do my best to answer “fine” now, but every time I hear those words leave my lips, it feels like an offense to my genuine feelings.
What I really want my response to be is this: “I’m not fine, but I’m doing my best. Remember to love and appreciate your family and friends every single day, you never now know when you might lose someone.” I haven’t said it yet, but I’m working up to it.
I will write a lot about what to say and not to say to a grieving person. For starters, instead of asking “how are you?” Maybe say, “how are you feeling today? I really want to know”.
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