She came up to me, right in the grocery’s soup section. “I’m sorry you have cancer.”
I stared at the woman’s soft features, yet I swore I’d never seen her in my life. “I have so much going on. I’m sorry if I forgot, but do I know you?”
She turned a very bright red. “I must sound so creepy. Gosh, no—you don’t know me. But my friend’s cousin follows your story on Facebook. I’ve been reading every post you write for almost a year. We talked about your story at a family dinner! It was after you wrote something about your baby who died. I just couldn’t stop reading your stuff. Oh, God—I sound like a stalker.”
I broke out laughing and gave her the biggest smile. “Are you kidding? YOU just made my whole day. It’s not all the time I walk into the grocery store and make a new friend!”
She bit her lip and nodded. “So…since I ran into you. Can I ask you something?”
“Sure!” I said.
“Your son died. How did you—how did you get over it?”
That felt completely unexpected, and my eyes kind of darted around to make sure no one else might overhear our conversation. “I could tell you time heals everything. But…” I looked into her eyes and recognized a kind of grief that I have unfortunately experienced. That tragic sorrow is only birthed from the death of a child. Although I didn’t know this woman, she knew a lot about me. And she needed absolute honesty. “I used to have dreams that I’d go in my backyard, searching for something. But it’d turned into a junkyard of all these things I didn’t want and I’d thrown away. Then on some eroding bookshelf, I’d always find my little boy’s lifeless body—shelved away like some forgotten book. I’d hold him and rock him. He’d even be wearing a little ring that the doctors gave me when he died. But no amount of tears would bring him back. Nothing, especially time.”
She nodded. “You just seem so strong online. I want to be stronger.”
“It’s okay not to be strong. I’m not strong! I’ve just decided to get through this so I won’t be a shell of myself. I have to be the best that I can for my kids who are alive and for my husband.”
Tears filled her eyes, and she nodded. “Elisa, you look kind of weak. Do you need to sit down? I’m done shopping; we could find a place to talk?”
I hadn’t wanted to say anything, but I’d begun to hunch over the shopping cart because of the pain in my spine and where the muscles have atrophied in my right leg.
So, we paid for our groceries and sat on a bench at the front of the store.
“I’m sorry you went through this, but it’s nice to know someone made it to the other side,” she said. “How did you know when you were over things—when his death didn’t hurt quite so much?” she asked after a long silence.
“Well, I don’t think you ever really get over it. I wore his tiny ring on a necklace for an extremely long time—too long. Then one day, I took it off and put it into a special box that holds little items that mean the most to me. I wasn’t saying goodbye forever. I could open that box and cry if I needed to. But there was a time and place for it. I needed a place to contain my grief. I stopped having the nightmares after that.”
“I’ve been having nightmares too,” she said. And then that beautiful woman told me her own story…about her toddler.
It’s odd how people who are experiencing the same kind of pain can end up gravitating toward one another. I’ve met so many people who have lost children or struggled with a recent cancer diagnosis. And I have to admit that this isn’t the first time a stranger has come up to me and recognized me from my online profile—THAT seems somewhat surreal. It’s incredibly ironic how being given an expiration date after my cancer diagnosis has ignited so many miracles AND given me a renewed passion for life. Life is amazing.