An Acquaintance in Grief

I ran into an acquaintance the other day.

“I know you,” she said, walking past me in the Stop & Shop parking lot, on her way into the store. I was loading my own groceries into the back of my van.

I knew her too, but we couldn’t place each other.

Frankly, I wasn’t in the mood for an acquaintance. I hate grocery shopping, and I’d forgotten my reusable bags. One of my paper bags had ripped, and oranges were rolling down the length of the van.

What I did recognize was the high pitch of her voice, one that can startle even the snoring on a crowded commuter train. 

And then I remembered. She’d been vending next to me in a holiday craft show a couple of years back. She was a teller of stories all lacking any kind of conclusion. She’d talked about her son a lot, her only child. There was some story about her son still living at home in his old bedroom, at forty never having married, a story that stretched thin as a taut rubber band into a one about him buying her a parakeet that perished after swallowing a pin from her sewing table.

I remembered seething. She’d sold nothing but Christmas stuff. Tiny hand-sewn Christmas mice in red hats, snowmen, bears dressed their best in tiny green vests. People would stop at her booth first, to snap up the cute stuff. Shopping-satiated (as when I’d sat next to the felted-hat lady in another show), they’d move onto my booth, only to politely coo over how “soft” my scarves were.

She pointed at me. “You do something with . . . yarn.”

“Weaving,” I corrected her. “And you…specialize in Christmas decorations.”

She nodded. “Hand-sewn.”

We chatted about that show, rather she chatted, as I tried to retrieve my oranges. I asked if she was doing any holiday shows this year, not really giving a damn. It was getting dark, and I just wanted to leave. 

She laughed then. A hysterical laugh. “Oh, I’m not sure I could even thread a needle,” she said. “Not since my son’s passing.”

That was how she let me know that her son had died.

“I didn’t know,” I said, as if I should know. As if we had some mutual friend, whom we didn’t, that should have let me know.

She launched into another story so I wouldn’t have to mumble that awful awkward “I’m sorry,” nonsense, that is best kept to condolence Hallmark cards.

This story, though, was not her usual meandering. It was quite pointed – she told me how her 42-year-old son had died in her arms. That the last two months he was in the hospital, she and her husband had kept a constant vigil. “It was actually a wonderful time,” she said; by then, her son had made peace with his fate, and they were able to reminisce and “even laugh a lot.”

She related all this to me with such animation, it was clear that even though a year had passed, it was still like yesterday. “It was odd. His appetite came back a few days before he died. But he had one craving. For bowls of whipped cream. So every day, I whipped up a fresh bowl.”

She told me then, that no, she wasn’t doing any shows, hadn’t produced a “single snowman” all year. She’d tried once to get back into her sewing room, and she had burst into tears.

I know nothing about losing a child. But I could imagine that returning to my own studio, to my looms, would feel too much as if I were trying to let go. I would be trying to move on, and I could imagine that, bursting into tears.

She looked up and around then, at the grey, darkening sky, and exclaimed, “Oh, I miss him so much!”

I’d stirred up her sediment of grief – If she hadn’t run into me, she would have continued on her way into Stop & Shop, her mind on something as mundane as having run out of milk or toilet paper.

But in her great animation, she seemed grateful. As if the currents of her grief were still just too strong for that sediment to stay settled for very long. For her even to be able to thread a needle.

She wiped at her eyes, laughing now. “Oh, look at me!”

I did. In admiration. She’d held her son as he lay dying. And she was still able to go grocery shopping.

It was dark now, and a wind had whipped up. Old plastic bags and receipts blew around our ankles. There was nothing left to say. Even under ordinary circumstances, there’s just so long two acquaintances can converse in a Stop & Shop parking lot.

But as much as I’m not fond of cute, I was remembering the fine detail of her smallest Christmas mice. How I couldn’t imagine having the patience to hand sew those tiny ears and whiskers. A patience I admired. 

I wanted to offer her something, however unsolicited: I suggested she try again to get back into her sewing room.

She nodded. In that high-pitched voice that could wake a train-load of snorers, she said, “Oh, God knows I have to do something!”

We parted simply, saying maybe we’d meet up next year at a craft show.

I watched her head off into the glaring florescent lights of the store, courageous enough to brave the needs of daily living. Of keeping stocked a refrigerator that couldn’t stand empty. She was pulling her open coat close around her, bracing herself against the wind, and I saw her for what she was: heroic.


About Sandra

Author;editor of The Woven Tale Press at; mother; weaver
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6 Responses to An Acquaintance in Grief

  1. wow. sad, but yes, inspiring. she has strength i cannot even imagine. I do hope she gets back to creating, perhaps it will ease her someday.

  2. You wrote that beautifully Sandra, but so sad for the woman. It’s interesting how my own perspective can change when I find out what someone is going through. Hopefully she is able to get back into her sewing someday soon.

  3. Onceadancr says:

    So very sad, but beautifully turned, powerfully written. Thank you.

  4. Barbra says:

    This ranks high in your writings…beautiful.

  5. Mariana says:

    What a moving story, Sandra. Your writing moved so close to this woman’s reminiscence of her grief,and your observations. I’m glad I found your blog; I followed your link from a message you left on mine in September– sorry it took me so long to find it!
    I will find you on Zibbet and here as well.
    Best wishes for the New Year,

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