By Suzanne Magdalena Rolph-McFalls
Shopping while grieving is a dangerous thing. So much so that my advice to you is to keep a dark suit, a black dress and shoes, at the ready, at all times. Mark it on your calendar to update the outfits, and sync it to springing forward and falling back, but be sure to keep something in the right size, appropriate for warm or cold temperatures, rain or snow.
Because you should not shop while bereaved. You should not have to pick out a proper pump or a man’s black 34 belt while this mourning quivers so close to the surface of the thing that makes you yourself. You’ll lose your temper, lose your composure, spend too much money on the wrong thing or too little on the right thing, and end up wondering how you ever decided on a “right thing” to wear to that funeral. It will stay with you (if you don’t take my advice and keep the mourning suit at the ready!), the memory of a McAlpin’s or Nordstrom or DSW or Target or JC Penney. You’ll somehow fuse the event to the death, like surgeons do with ruptured disks, to lend strength to the surrounding vertebrae. A metal cage and titanium screws will integrate into your spine, just like those clothes will become part of the narrative of that week; the story of the black trench coat with the red lining, and the below the knee black dress with the ivory panel down the front, the things you bought on a store credit card that equaled a month’s wages, but it didn’t matter because one more second in that store would have driven you mad. One more inane exchange of words with a clerk, the small talk of commerce, would make you spill it. Everything. The anger, the love, the guilt, the love, the jealousy. Yes, jealousy, because THIS not happen to him, or her, or her, or him, you are jealous of them. You do not know if it actually has, or not, it may have, it is not NOW, and the petty part of you is jealous.
You carry feelings, attitudes, on your skin and on your person, like a heavy pack on your back. There is superiority, because fuck them, they don’t know how strong your are being at this very moment. You are shopping for dress to wear to a funeral. You are iron.
You are alive.
They will want to commiserate if you tell them this, and that is the worst. It will push you close to losing your shit. The clerk who lost someone, I despise that phrasing of death – lost – like love is book or a glove or your keys, because everything in the known world has an equal and opposite force, so, if it is lost, then at some point, I will find it, right? They want only to welcome you to the sisterhood or brotherhood of the bereaved, and even though it’s exactly the same, you will get angry at her, him, them, for the arrogance of acting like they know your pain. They do not. It is freshly minted, job specific currency, and it belongs to you. You lok at that person, that clerk or valet or cashier, and you want to punch their face off to stop their lips forming the syllables of this language only you can speak. It is not Esperanto. It is your Bloodyheartwords. Stop mangling it, you will think. Shut up. You’re saying it all wrong, though, in the better part of you, the educated and compassionate part of you, you know all grief is similar It is the same mammal. It is A black bear, and you are standing between her and her cubs. The wildlife books say to play dead in order to survive such and attack.
Do not shop for clothes or shoes or a coat. Do not interact with anyone who doesn’t know that you are wearing death upon your skin, and that it aches and burns and stretches like having a high fever. If you must take a plane or bus or train, if you must rent a care or check into an hotel room, do it wearing dark sunglasses, and whisper while pointing toward your throat, “I have laryngitis.” Play dead in order to survive.
If you follow my advice, your thank me, later. You will recommend this life hack to people you know, people you love, so they won’t make the same mistakes we did. You’ll tell people how the next death, the one you already had the outfit for, was, actually, a little bit easier to deal with at the time, all because you didn’t have to worry about what your were going to wear to the funeral.
You will still marvel why bad people are alive, and your good person had to die. Or, why your bad person died without saying sorry, or your good person died and you didn’t make your last words, “I love you.” It will never make sense why one person gets to have their son, mother, grandmother, father, daughter, husband, grandfather, wife, lover, partner, friend, and you DO NOT. No, that unfairness, and the ugly part of you that is making mental trades with their people like they are baseball cards, will be around for a long, long, long time. It will happen when you see the news, and some awful person is alive and did an awful thing. Why not them? Huh?
The books say to talk about it, and fight it off by going to get a hobby, or exercise, join a group, journal about it, go out in nature. But it has been my experience that nothing works except playing dead, it is not a grizzly bear, making yourself larger will not frighten it away. Your only choice is waiting for it stop attacking you, in hopes it will eventually lose interest and lumber off back into the woods.
It will be a bloody attack.
You will carry the scars for the rest of your life.
It is the price we are charged for loving each other, and the greatest love brings the most magnificent grief. That transaction cannot be avoided, and god(s), the universe, does not let you put on big sunglasses and inky clothes so you can hide away and become dark and small in the face of death. It demands attendance and attention.
As it should be.
Suzanne Magdalena Rolph-McFalls is an essayist, fiction writer, songwriter, and screenwriter. She’s won awards for several genres of her work, but never a leg lamp. Suzanne is also a member of the Society of Children’s Book Writers and Illustrators, AWP, ASCAP, and The Scooby-Doo fan club. She’s been a middle school teacher, adjunct university faculty, yoga instructor, herb and health food store owner, book and magazine editor, loan officer, benefits administrator, mother, grandmother, and has been married to Michael McFalls since 1993. Together they own S&M Custom Painting Services, Inc. She’s lives in Hebron, Kentucky and has one cat named Harold Be Thy Name. He only answers to Harry, though. THE BALLAD OF ROLLO CRANE, her first illustrated children’s book, has been called “An auspicious debut” and “A sure fire Halloween CLASSIC!” by adult reviewers, and “super cool and gross and scary” by kid reviewers. QUEEN GRACIE AND THE CASE OF THE FROGS IN THE NIGHTTIME marked her second collaboration with the talented Lika Kvirikashvili. I’M SO GLAD YOU’RE HERE is her newest, a Valentine’s Day book for adults and children alike. Her memoir is due out in 2016. She can be found in Twitter as @suss64, on Facebook and on Amazon.