I cried over a carton of ice cream. Not while eating a carton — or even a scoop. I cried about a carton of ice cream.
I cried because I couldn’t find it. Standing in the middle of the frozen food aisle, my eyes welled up, my nose ran, and my throat got all cry-choke-y. Was it too much to ask the store to have a carton of Chocolate Trinity in stock? It was the only item I wanted for myself when I drove my daughter there.
I’m not usually one to complain, but Publix policy seems to prompt every cashier to ask, “Did you find everything?” I’d never before admitted shopping-list defeat, but as I dried my eyes and sulked my way to the front of the store, I decided this time I’d speak up. The moment someone asked, I’d let my red-rimmed eyes make my petition seem more pathetic: No, I did not find everything I wanted. The only thing I wanted was Chocolate Trinity. And there wasn’t any.
I’m not sure what good I expected it to do. After all, Mom always taught me “you catch more flies with honey than with vinegar” — not that she could explain why anyone would want to catch flies in the first place — and I’ve tried to follow that approach with people.
For the first time ever in my years of going “Where Shopping Is a Pleasure,” the cashier didn’t ask whether I found everything. Since she didn’t bring it up, I couldn’t. When she bid me a good night, I forced a plastic smile and polite nod, expressions I donned often in the early days after my husband died.
In hindsight, it seems ridiculous even to me, but I cried a bit more in the parking lot. I sniffled while driving home. While unloading the car. And yet again while not putting away the Chocolate Trinity I didn’t get to buy.
Looking back on my ice cream mini meltdown, I realize it wasn’t the missing ice cream that hurled me into distress at the drop of a hat — er, drop of a flavor. It was the loss — the tiny, little loss — that amplified the grief behind the reason I wanted that Chocolate Trinity.
July is one of my grief minefield months, and I wanted ice cream — that ice cream — as a grief-trigger comfort food.* When I searched every shelf of that frozen food aisle and looked behind every container but found nary a single carton of the one I wanted, it meant I found no comfort.
My husband died nearly seven years ago. I seldom cry over his death now — after years — but sometimes it still gets to me. Times like the approach of my wedding anniversary. Times when I’m briefly stirred back inside the newly bereaved, cry-without-warning emotions of the first year and a half (or more) of new widowhood.
When grief is raw, grocery shopping hurts. Everyday reminders of the loved one’s favorite foods make meal planning and cooking difficult. It’s hard enough when your body is mourning to remember you need to eat without seeing reminders that your deceased dear ones no longer eat anything.
In Grief and Groceries, Part 1, I shared why it’s so helpful to bring a family food before (and after) a funeral. For a list of specific, food-related ways to offer condolence and comfort to your friends after a death, please see Grief and Groceries, Part 2.
As for me, I’ll have to make do with vanilla. For now.
*After my mother’s death, my comfort food of choice was chicken-broccoli-rice casserole — her recipe for chicken-broccoli rice casserole. Is the ice cream I wanted a healthy coping device? Of course not, though I could make an argument that it’s less harmful than some.