It’s Toddler Thursday—that blessed day when all kids’ clothes are half price. I intend to load up the cart and my son will be set for the long winter ahead.
I hear the bells above the door jingle. Someone has entered. My spine tingles.
I pluck a pair of jeans off the rack. Oooh, perfect. This pair has those stretchy little elastic tabs for sizing. My son’s pants are always too big around his little waist. I drape them over the cart handle.
I move along and my fingers linger briefly on a pair of jeans with pink fringe decorating the bottoms. Girls’ clothes are always so much cuter than boys. And in that instant, I feel him come up behind me.
Not today. I have so many things to do. Please go away.
I continue on to the next rack, my body feeling too heavy to hold up.
Remember Toddler Thursday?
I press my eyes closed. He’s here. Of course I remember. I’ll always remember.
I busy myself with my search. My fingertips graze an embroidered flower on the back pocket of a pair of girls’ jeans. I never did understand why they mixed the boys and girls clothes together in this store.
He laughs at my frustration—a throaty chortle—then moves in so close that I can feel him breathing on my neck. But there’s no fear. I know him too well to be afraid of him anymore. We spent endless days, sometimes weeks, together in the beginning without so much as a break. He even infiltrated my dreams.
I turn around to face him. What are you doing here, Grief? It’s just an ordinary day.
He smirks, knowing I know better than that. Ordinary days are my favorite days. You know I like to arrive when I’m least expected.
It’s true. He rarely shows up on the days when I’m prepared for him—birthdays, heaven days and holidays. I move on to the rack of long-sleeve shirts, and he moves along with me like a pesky shadow. He’s practically touching my arm as he peers over my shoulder.
I like that one. He points to a hot pink shirt with a peace sign and daisies decorating the front.
Me too. I would have gotten that for her.
And you probably would have had a matching shirt of your own. Maybe you’d call yourself twins and she’d giggle, hug you and say, ‘I love you mommy’.
I exhale sharply and shake my head. He knows me so well.
Can you believe she would have been five this year?
Tears prick my eyelids, but they don’t fall. Instead I think about the school clothes I would have bought for her—most likely in this store on a Toddler Thursday. An ordinary day. During her four months with us she wore many of the clothes I bought for her; others remain in a pink bin with the tags still attached.
You look sad. Does it bother you that I’m here? He cranes his neck so he can see my face.
I shake my head. No, it was harder in the beginning, but now I’m sort of used to you … of course, I could do without these random visits.
He laughs and I move along the rack, selecting an orange and brown striped shirt. I don’t attempt to ignore Grief anymore. That makes him feisty and he sticks around even longer, poking and prodding until he gets my attention.
I stop and turn to face him. Actually, sometimes I like it when you come. The pain feels raw again and it feels like proof that she was really here. That she lived.
He looks away.
I turn back to the rack and I can feel his eyes on me. I think I’ve learned how to deal with you. My friends have helped me. And the support group. And God.
He huffs. Disbelief. Maybe he thought we’d spend every day together. Not too long ago, that’s the way it was. Just his presence had me reeling and I’d cry each snap of his fingers.
But over time, that changed.
Nothing has changed. Your baby still died. His tone was sharp. A last ditch effort to break me.
But the weight of loss, and the way I’d come to bend to Grief’s unexpected visits, gave me a strength I never could have found otherwise.
This is a lifelong journey and you’ll be with me forever … It doesn’t have to be a bad thing. We can learn how to live with each other.
I wait for a smart remark, but he’s quiet. I pick up a tan shirt with a dinosaur on the front. Oh, he’ll love this!
I head for the checkout and Grief follows, a few steps behind me now.
“Hi there,” I say to the clerk behind the counter. “How are you today?”
Grief gives a little grunt then walks toward the door. He gets ornery when he’s not at the center of my attention. Out of the corner of my eye I see him raise his hand and give a little wave.
See ya soon kiddo. Take care.
I turn quickly to look at him—was that compassion in his voice? But it’s too late, he’s already outside on the sidewalk, strolling away—at least for today.