We stopped off at a little Podunk gas station in South Carolina. My friend and I desperately needed to use the restroom. From the outside, we weren’t sure how safe or clean it was, but we knew our bladders gave us no choice. The only other option was to stop on the side of the road and use the woods. Both seemed icky, but we opted for the one with a toilet.
How were we to know there would be a line for this dark, disgusting, single toilet restroom? We waited and waited. I squeezed my legs together, danced, and waited some more.
The lady in front of me seemed overly patient. I thought, she must not need to go that bad. I looked at my friend (trying to remain calm), I said, “Goodness, I can’t imagine what could be taking so long!” I was sure the whites of my eyes must be turning yellow at this point.
After fifteen minutes, still no one had come out of this restroom. Growing more impatient by the minute, I asked the lady in front of me, “Are we sure there’s someone in there?”
She said, “Yes. When they come out, you’re welcome to go before me.”
I said, “No, it’s ok. You’ve been waiting longer than I have. You should go ahead.”
The door began to open, and I realized there were two women in the bathroom. The one with white hair and face worn by years had her hands clenched tight around the walker in front of her. She slowly moved through the doorway with the sweetest grin.
The lady waiting turned to me and said, ” Sorry it took so long. It normally takes a while for my aunt. She has to have someone help her.”
I managed to keep my composure until the woman went in before me. Then, unexpected tears flooded. Unable to make them stop, I felt ridiculous.. for being impatient, for crying in the middle of this convenience store, and for letting myself go so long without peeing (I was about to wet my pants). I was a hot mess! Over the past 15-20 minutes of waiting, I had felt an array of emotions, but this was not one I expected.
As the woman moved toward me with her walker, I pictured my grandma who died of Alzheimer’s. I had helped her in and out of more bathrooms than I could count. What I wouldn’t give to help her again.
She died on Easter 2008, and still grief catches me. It ebbs and flows, and when I least expect it, it hits like an ocean wave from behind.
It was a similar experience the first time I returned to my Aunt Evelyn’s kitchen, a year or two after she unexpectedly died in her sleep. Grief! It slapped me in the face and took my breath away.
Or there was the time I ran across my high school friend, Laura’s, number in my phone and realized I couldn’t call her.
Grief suffocates. A knot swells in your throat. Tears flood and sting and bring a momentary tinge of release, like a pressure cooker letting off steam.
What is it anyway, this thing called grief? Isn’t it just coping, over and over?
It comes and goes, looks different with time, and gets less over the years. But it’s still coping. It’s still grief. It really never goes away completely, and just when you think it’s over, the wave raises up and hits you from behind again.