Every year I like to take a survey of where I stand on my love meter. Am I on the high or the low side this year? How is my relationship with my husband, Phil? With my daughters and their families? Is there any misunderstanding or disagreement with a dear friend or colleague that still needs some attention? I take a quick inventory.
Inevitably, thinking about the people I love takes me hurtling back in time to what I call my “Ground Zero.” For me, that was in April 1983, when my 17-year-old son, Scott, was killed in an automobile accident. That boy was the love of my life. After his death, I wondered if I would ever be happy again.
Your “Ground Zero” may not be the loss of a loved one; dealing with any big loss takes time. Afterward, you may find, as so many of us have, that doing even the most routine chore can utterly besiege your heart.
After Scott’s death, one of the activities I found most painful was going to the grocery store. The first time I went shopping, I just tossed things into the grocery cart without much thought, avoiding people I knew as they avoided me. (Most people still don’t have a clue about what to say to a bereaved mother.) “The task to be done today,” I told myself, “is to pushcart, place items in cart, and get out as soon as possible.”
I was confident that, by sheer force, I could get this job done. When I got to the dairy counter, I selected eggs and milk and then tossed in ten cartons of banana yogurt. I trudged to the checkout counter, relieved to have another task under my belt.
Several days later, I opened the refrigerator and my eyes locked on those ten cartons of banana yogurt. I was stunned. Tears welled up and trickled down my face as the reality hit. Scott was the only one in the family who ate banana yogurt. I quickly tossed the cartons into the garbage and made a note to cross it off my grocery list.
On my second trip, I labored again through the supermarket aisles in a fog. When I noticed a vaguely familiar face staring at me across the produce counter, I quickly turned and pushed my cart to a distant corner of the store. After collecting myself, I began shopping again. I selected some cottage cheese in the dairy section and looked sadly at the banana yogurt, feeling a wave of grief. My eyes began to tear up. I longed to put just one or two cartons in my cart.
For weeks, whenever I opened the refrigerator, I felt an empty pit in my stomach as I looked at the second shelf, which no longer held those little containers displaying a jolly little yellow banana.
On my third trip to the grocery store, parking and shopping seemed to be a bit easier. I even managed to pick up a couple of containers of strawberry yogurt, which I knew Heather, Scott’s 14-year-old sister, loved. By the fourth trip, I found that food shopping had become another routine that I had mastered as a part of my changed life.
Now, more than two decades later, I smile just thinking about my boy and how he lived, not how he died. He was amazing—so smart, so easygoing, so fun-loving, and so strong. I remember how he used to carry four grocery bags at a time for me from the car into the house. Now I have to make four trips.
Like my experience with banana yogurt, some of your “ firsts” will become routine during the first year. But many others, including the first day of school, the first holidays, the first spring, the first birthday, the first death day, can take years. Some events happen only once in a lifetime, like a wedding or a graduation.
Facing these events and milestones takes persistence and courage, but eventually, they will begin to feel more routine. By “routine,” I mean that we develop new brain patterns so we don’t have to think so much about a task or an action that had previously been second nature. After a major loss, we are again like newborns. We have to learn to crawl before we can walk.
Where am I today on my love meter? I am pleased to say that I am on the high side this year. Take a look at your life and relationships. Where do you stand? Where you are in relation to your “Ground Zero”?
Give yourself a boost and look for areas where you can bring more love and joy into your life. Start with taking care of yourself. Ask yourself the following questions:
Am I pushing others away?
Do I put myself out for others? Remember: You get what you put out there:
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