I am happy. I really enjoy where I am in my life right now–job, apartment, kids, my lifestyle has all become what I had always hoped. Most days, the actual road that I took to get here remains in the rear view mirror, but every once in a while, the veil is pierced ever so slightly to remind me, always, from where I came.

I HATE Food Shopping

I hate to shop for food. I really do. It was something my husband did with love. He was a consummate eater and enjoyed the process of buying, cooking, and serving food. His joy of it allowed me to be guilt-free when on a Friday after his work week he would stop into the supermarket for one or two things and come through the door with those plastic bags hanging off of each of his big fingers. 

I didn’t love unpacking and putting the groceries away, but it was a price I happily paid not to go up and down the aisles. The only time I enjoyed shopping was with him. He was a careful shopper, and didn’t buy junk (His famous line, pointing to his paunch was “You don’t think I got here eating Twinkies, do you?) always rang true and was met with laughter. 

He bought fresh, in-season food. When I met him, he didn’t have a refrigerator in his apartment because he liked buying and cooking food on the same day. He threw away leftovers and that was it. When we started dating seriously, I insisted he get a small refrigerator–he maintained for years that was the downfall of his healthy lifestyle (as if.)

After he died, the supermarket was one of the hardest places to go. I have never had patience to scour up and down the aisles for things. Rather, I make a list and do what I consider a surgical strike. The thing that my style misses is the whimsical buys–watermelons, and skirt steaks on sale, and all the funny things that he would come home with that were not on my list. One of these was Prosciutto di Parma. It came in a clear plastic and the pieces were layered, delicately with a pearly white layer of plastic. When the kids were young, he would carefully peel this salty meat and roll it and give each a slice. I on the other hand, clearly missing the half-Italian gene for good cooking and food appreciation, used to grab my slice by the end and stretch it until it either cut clean from the package or broke. He was aghast, my kids were aghast, what can I say, I have little patience for those things, which made me appreciate them all the more. 

So last week, on one of my weekend trips to the supermarket–an abbreviated jaunt since the kids who are home, are vegan and vegetarian, I passed the cold case and there was the prosciutto. I smiled sadly and walked on, but within ten feet my head started swimming, my hands started to shake–no rapid heartbeat, just this sinking sensation as the blood rushed from my head. 

I was awash, not with the happy memories of Prosciutto, but with images of a hospital bed, bloodied and my frantic ring of the nurse’s bell, the artificial suck and whoosh of the forced air in his last days, and the faces of my kids as the casket was lowered into a frozen hole–done prematurely because the cemetery workers were too cold to wait until the cars pulled away.

At that moment, in ShopRite, I wanted to crawl underneath the small ledge in the wall that was currently holding stacked blocks of Velveeta (of note, those blocks would outlast all of our natural lives and perhaps the Apocalypse, are they even cheese?) I had the warring impulses of running or hiding–not able to discern which so I froze. Lurking behind the package of salty, dried meat was a memory of an end of a life so profound in its suffering, that it literally took my breath away. 

So I stood there, cart half full, and waited for it to recede back to where it came from. Tears welled behind my sunglasses and I used a crumpled up disposable mask that I still kept in my bag to wipe them. I made quick work of the rest of the visit and headed home. 

Most Days

On most days, I think of him alternately as a sometimes-present benign guy like the ghost in “The Ghost and Mrs. Muir.” Other times, I picture him and my father floating around when I call them to answer some tough questions, like the Ancestors in Mulan. Occasionally, I allow myself to think of the galant mortal who fought his illness with everything he had–never throwing in the towel. The physical changes that the cancer brought could have caused him embarrassment, but instead, he handled them with grace, humor, gratitude, and kindness. He was an example of courage. I remember that with peace. 

But that damned prosciutto put me over the edge. 

This happened two years ago, at Christmas, also at the supermarket. I texted a very wonderful widow friend of mine and she reassured me that this would pass, and it did, but like a hangover, the effects lingered.

My Happy Place

It is Summer and for all who know me, or even read this, the beach is my happy place. It is the place where, once feet touch sand, my stress level decreases, my smiles increase and I just feel at home. 

After my brush with the ShopRite meltdown, I unpacked my groceries and headed to the beach. As I sat with my sister and close friend, it was as if I was separate. Like a bad dream that lingers in the morning, I couldn’t shake the effects and for one of the infinitesimal times of my life, the beach was not doing it for me. 

Watching them talk, the usual stuff, people, places and things–tears seeped out and I quickly wiped them. My sister, who doesn’t miss much, asked me what was wrong. How do you describe this to someone who has not experienced it? And is understanding actually necessary? 

I took a breath and as matter-of-factly as I could, I described my episode. 

“Was it a panic attack?” my friend asked. 

“I guess,” I answered. “Probably.”

I told them, as succinctly as I could, and in the telling it was exorcised.

Providing the description, and looking at their faces, finding compassion, if not total understanding, I was free of the lasting effects of this thing.

I, who talks to widows once per week, who loves my life, who loves what I have made of my life after death,  talked it out and felt better. 

“You should order your groceries on-line,” suggested my sister, who always has the straightest answer. And that was the answer. 

So I will blame it on the prosciutto–that benign package of salty, fatty meat, and I will order my groceries on-line, pick them up and just continue to be as grateful, happy, and content as I can.

Claudia Lucey is a widowed mother of four, mostly adult children. Her “happy place” is the beach, where she spends every waking moment in the Summer. But spending time with her children is her greatest joy. Her philosophy is that laughter, even through tears, is the greatest emotional outlet. Nothing makes her happier than a good laugh, even at her own expense. She is a Director of Marketing for a construction company, yet she is a trained journalist who loves to write and photograph buildings of any size or shape.

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