Grocery Story

I cried at the grocery store yesterday. It wasn’t an unprecedented occurrence — anyone whose life partner has been claimed by death knows the triggers lurking in those well-lit aisles — but in this case, the tears had nothing to do with me.

I was standing at the protein bar section, picking out a couple of Lara bars when a younger woman approached and asked if I knew which ones would help her gain weight. Apparently, her family and friends think she looks like a drug addict, and she thought if she gained ten or twenty pounds, they’d leave her alone. I looked her up and down, and shrugged. I said she looked fine to me. She was very thin, but mostly because she had a delicate (though not frail) frame. She wasn’t emaciated, and in fact had average to good muscular development. And her eyes were clear and bright with intelligence.

I said, “Tell your family I said you looked great.”

She replied, “I’ll say you were a perfect stranger.”

“I am perfect,” I said, and we smiled at each other.

That moment of connection opened her up, because next thing I knew, she was telling me her story. She had been a drug addict, but that very day was her third anniversary of being clean. Those seven lost years had changed her metabolism, and now she couldn’t gain weight.

She went on to tell me that ten years ago her three-year old daughter had been run over and killed, and the next day, her husband went out into the desert and shot himself because he couldn’t handle the pain. That, of course, was when my tears came, and I hugged her. The death of a child or a partner is excruciating, but to have to deal with both at once? Oh, my. The poor woman. No wonder she shrouded herself in drug-induced numbness. Now that she’s clean, she has to learn to cope with her grief as if it was still new.

Even worse, she is fighting not to be racist. The guy who ran over her child was of a minority, and the judge who let him off was of the same minority. And last week, two fourth-graders of that same minority choked her six-year-old son in the school bathroom. (I hesitate to mention the races of both her and her various adversaries because in today’s climate, even that could be considered racist.) She doesn’t want to hate, so she is fighting that feeling, too.

It amazed me that instead of seeing this woman’s honor, strength, and courage, her friends and family saw someone with a weight problem. Admittedly, they were probably worried about her, and afraid that she had picked up her old ways, but still, we are much more than the weight we carry, whether too much or too little.

I hugged her again and wished her happiness, then we went our separate ways.

But her story haunts me, and now whenever I am in that particular grocery store aisle, I will think of her and hope she is still okay.


Pat Bertram is the author of four other suspense novels: Light Bringer, More Deaths Than One, A Spark of Heavenly Fire, and Daughter Am I. Bertram is also the author of Grief: The Great Yearning, “an exquisite book, wrenching to read, and at the same time full of profound truths.” Connect with Pat on Google+. Like Pat on Facebook.

14 Responses to “Grocery Story”

  1. Deborah Owen Says:

    Thank you for that moving story. We are surrounded by a hurting world and I don’t know how some people get through it. I will pray for that dear lady every time the Lord brings her to mind. (Are you aware Creative Writing Institute is having a short story contest right now? Ends 9/15. Hope you enter. See for guidelines.) Deb

  2. rami ungar the writer Says:

    Jeez, that is tragic. I feel so sorry for her.

  3. Charlotte M. Liebel Says:

    Touching story. It breaks my heart to hear of such pain and, especially, when a poor soul must “walk alone” except for God. In this case, you were the perfect connection to give her strength for another day. Hugs, Pat Bertram!!

    Charlotte M. Liebe
    aka Sharliebel

  4. Terry Allard Says:

    What a heart breaking story…goes to show there is still a big need in our culture to understand grief… presuming her family is simply misguided and capable of learning! Maybe it is time for you to write a second grief book? You told your story…maybe tell others? I sure have benefited from the first!

  5. Constance Says:

    Heartbreaking story. When you think that you have it bad, there seems to be someone who is worse off than you. I try to keep this in my mind. A book with a collection of short stories like this would be very interesting. Where there has been drug abuse in families, they sometimes get afraid, and don’t know how to handle it.

  6. Roberta Pace Says:

    I love your compassion and willing to be an “ear” for her. Love is what we are here for.

  7. Coco Ihle Says:

    Anytime you start wondering why you were put on this Earth, come back and read this blog. well done, Pat. You probably made a bigger impact than you realize! Bless you!

  8. Charles Thurston Says:

    Nice story, well told, Pat. Sometimes I think the most valuable gift we can give others is simply to listen and empathize.

  9. paulakaye Says:

    Such a wonderful story. I am glad you shared it. I cannot imagine her pain. I lost my dad to suicide when I was but 7 years old and I am still haunted by it today. I am glad she found you in that grocery aisle. A kind soul with a major power to listen. Sometimes that is all we need. Someone to share our pain!!

  10. foodrebel73 Says:

    Thank you for sharing that story! Strangers sometimes inspire others to be completely themselves. No walls or barriers. And you were selfless in letting her vent her true story. You showed her compassion from humanity. You opened your own heart and mind and you put your own grief aside for her. Maybe if all humans were that kind to each other, the world would be a better place?

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