Pain in the Cereal Aisle

Since my wife Lisa passed away last December, I’ve had to get used to doing lots of things alone. For the most part, I think I’ve done okay. It hasn’t been easy and there are times when I think it may be too much, but I know this is my new normal and I have to get used to it.

I’ve gone to the movies, gone out to eat, gone to a bar to have a beer, gone walking in the park and even gone to a Phillies game all solo. And sure it hasn’t always been fun, but Lisa wouldn’t want to see me stay in the apartment all the time and wither away to nothing. That is what I try to tell myself when things get to be too tough.

But the thing that’s been the hardest to get used to? The one activity that makes me wince every time I know I have to do it?

Going to the grocery store.

I’ve often told people that, unlike most couples I know, Lisa and I almost always went food shopping together. It was incredibly rare if one of us went shopping and the other wasn’t trailing behind the cart as we went down the aisle.

When we lived in Warminster, we would go to the Wegmans in Warrington and sometimes get dinner before we did our shopping. Lisa would get Chinese food while I ordered a hoagie and we’d go upstairs and eat, talk and enjoy a night of not having to do dishes.

When we moved to Willow Grove we would shop at the Giant at least once a week. We’d pick up all the essentials as well as fried chicken or seafood salad or whatever else struck our fancy. When Lisa quit smoking we would always have to hit the candy aisle so Lisa could stock up on gum and, more often than not, Swedish Fish for her sweet tooth.

Later, when Lisa’s Alzheimer’s was getting worse, going to the store became a regular weekly activity for us. For Dementia patients it’s all about routine, so every Monday, whether we needed to or not, Lisa and I would go to the grocery store. We’d make sure to get a box of her favorite cereal that she ate every morning, her gum and anything else that we decided we needed. It was a way to get her out of the house and have her interact with people.

And interacting with people is something Lisa loved to do. Even before she got sick when we went to the store I knew not to be in any hurry. Lisa would talk to just about anyone. We’d make the rounds and she would be saying hi to all the employees she knew, chatting with other customers and God forbid there was a sample station running. I’d lose her for 20 minutes at the minimum as she got into a discussion with the person running it.

Now, eight months after she passed away, I still get a lump in my throat and a dull ache in my chest when I know I have to go to the store. The first time I went was two days after Lisa died and I had to pick up a few things. I lasted all of ten minuted before I had a massive panic attack and had to call my sister to talk me down and get me out of the store.

Everyone tells me that eventually I’ll get past this and that going to the store will be just like doing anything else, but I’m not sure I believe them. Whenever I walk down the aisle I still always look behind me to make sure Lisa is still there, even though I know she’s not going to be. When I walk down the cereal aisle I make sure to brush my hand on a box of her favorite cereal because I just can’t help myself. As soon as I get to the bakery I smile as I look at the giant containers of chocolate chip cookies I know she loved so much.

Memories can be a beautiful thing. They help us get past the rough times and make sure the person we love will always be with us. But sometimes, I just want to be able to buy a loaf of bread and not break down into tears.

Of course, part of me hopes that never happens. And that for the rest of my life Lisa will be with me every time I go to the grocery store, walking behind me, telling me she needs more gum.

I guess there are worse things in life than that.