For most people, the grocery store is a place of necessity, a chore that must be completed. It may not be the most enjoyable part of the week, but the overall experience is relatively benign.

For a grieving parent, it can be an emotional gauntlet; an experience that is painful and triggering. When you have lost a child, are pregnant after a loss or are parenting after a loss, the grocery store can become aisle after aisle of triggers and reminders. 

That’s what it can feel like for me.

Approaching those double doors is always the first test of my willpower. It’s not a question of whether there will be triggers, it’s just a matter of how many I will face on today’s shopping excursion.

After entering, I begin to maneuver through the produce department. Over by the apples I spot a former co-worker. I haven’t seen this person since I was very pregnant with my first daughter, Dorothy. Our eyes meet and she begins to approach the cart. She spots my second daughter, Frances, and I see the confusion. “Is this your baby? I thought she would be around 2-years-old now,” she says as she smiles down at the 7-month-old in my cart. Great. Now it’s time to decide what version of the story to tell. I settle on the awkward CliffsNotes version and just when I’m trying to decide how to excuse myself, she uncomfortably mumbles something about needing to hurry up and get home. That makes sense. I didn’t want to hear a depressing story in the produce section either.

Frances and I continue on, the tears still brimming in my eyes. I’m having a hard time looking at my daughter’s smiling face right now because all I can think about is her sister. I stop at the deli counter and wait my turn. I’m staring off into space when the deli clerk tries to get my attention. I know my face is already blotchy from crying and now I’m blushing for being so distracted that I didn’t even know it was my turn. I place my order and a few minutes later we head to the next aisle.

Heading down the pasta aisle, I am stopped by a sweet older woman. She wants to fuss over my daughter who has turned on her charming smile for the people passing by. (I don’t blame her, that smile stops me in my tracks too.) I watch her bending over, her face close to Frances, as I stand there tight-lipped and waiting for the inevitable question. “Is she your first?” she asks. There it is. I’m fragile from my encounter in the produce department, so I lie. “Yes,” I manage to whisper. She watches me, waiting for me to elaborate, but I don’t. I can’t. I already hate that I lied. The guilt is weighing heavily on my heart and I don’t want to tell any more untruths. As she coos goodbye to Frances, I am sending a message to Dorothy that I’m so sorry I pretended she didn’t exist.

I’ve only managed to procure half of the items on my list and I’m already so drained. I debate just leaving and trying again another time, but I keep going. I meander through the next few aisles unscathed, simply gathering my needed items. 

We make our way through the beverage aisle and I crouch down to load some seltzer onto our cart. As I am straightening up, I spot another cart coming our way. A mother pushes as her daughters trail behind. “Hurry up please,” she implores “I feel like I’m always waiting for one of you.” The girls giggle and scurry to catch up. I smile sadly as I watch them. I look at Frances and imagine what it would be like to be at the grocery store with both of my girls. What would it be like to keep track of two children while I shop, instead of one? Frances sees me smiling and she grins at me. She’s still too young to know the difference between a wistful smile and a carefree one.

Our list is now complete and we head towards the cash registers. After waiting in line, I notice that the cashier’s name is Grace. That’s Dorothy’s middle name. I smile upon seeing it because I love seeing any part of my daughter’s name. It’s like a little wink from her and I know she’s OK. “How are you doing today?” the cashier asks as she starts scanning my items.

“I’m good,” I say and I’m only half lying.

Originally published on the author’s blog

Rachel Whalen

Rachel Whalen is a writer and Kindergarten teacher who lives and loves in Vermont. She is the mother of two daughters; Frances who is 14 months old and Dorothy who was stillborn two years ago. Her daughter's silent birth has inspired her to use her voice to share about grief, pregnancy loss, and parenting after loss.