There is a woman who works at Trader Joe’s and is completely bald. I am sure that she endures a lot of stares and wonders: does she have cancer? Today, she wore a pink Trader Joe’s shirt, with a pink scarf around her neck and October begins breast cancer awareness month, so the pieces were coming together.
I wanted to say something to her, but I could not work out what. I worked it out in my head later:
Hey. I assume that you have cancer, and if that assumption is not correct, I apologize. I know people who have had cancer, and breast cancer, and I cannot begin to understand what you are going through. But I do know what it is like to have your life make a monumental shift to a different path. I know what it’s like to have people say the wrong thing, or be awkward around you, or say nothing at all. I don’t even know if I am saying the right thing now, or the wrong thing, but it has to be better than silence and stares. For those uncomfortable moments, I am with you.
But that would be an awful lot to say to someone I don’t know in the checkout lane at Trader Joe’s.
I do know that there are many types of grieving, and many things in our life can die. It could be our marriages, our friendships, our health in the form of serious illness or genetic condition, our sense of culture, or direction, or passion: any of these things can be broken and torn apart and leave us with a huge, gaping hole. We are right to mourn what was, and how going forward it can never be the same.
Death is clear, firm absence of what we knew. That part of our lives becomes irreversible.