Kim Murdock is a writer and editor who’s made it her mission to help those dealing with the loss of a loved one, particularly a spouse. After becoming a widow at 42, she didn’t want people to tell her how to heal or that everything happens for a reason. She just wanted to know that her feelings were normal.
She spent years working with a grief counselor and joined a young widows group, becoming good friends with many widows and widowers. In gratitude to these widows and widowers who helped her, she decided to pay it forward and support others suffering a loss via her book, “Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve.”
Her book was named a finalist for the Book Excellence Awards in the grief category and a finalist for the Colorado Authors’ League award for the nonfiction category (cookbooks, travel, self-help, and health and fitness).
A Denver native, Kim has an MBA from the University of Denver and a BS from the University of Colorado.
The following is an excerpt from “Feeling Left Behind: Permission to Grieve.”
Each week, The Colorado Sun and Colorado Humanities & Center For The Book feature an excerpt from a Colorado book and an interview with the author. Explore the SunLit archives at coloradosun.com/sunlit.
The Grocery Store is Hell
My friend Meg told me she read an article written by a widow that talked about how hard the grocery store is after your spouse dies. I couldn’t agree more, which is why I’ve devoted a whole chapter to the grocery store, buying food, and the changes in my eating habits.
I can distinctly remember going to the grocery store one of the first times after Reg passed away. Meg accompanied me. It was right before Reg’s memorial service, and people all around me were getting sick. I didn’t want to be sick for his memorial, so I headed to the grocery store to buy supplements to boost the immune system. I stood in the supplement section, where I had purchased many supplements for him, and just stared and shook my head back and forth. Meg needed to get an item, so she walked away and said she’d be right back.
I became panicked and started sobbing when she left. Her walking away and going across the store was too much for me to bear. In my past, I had gone to this store multiple times per month and often alone (Reg and I often went together). But this time, I could not handle it. I was all alone in the store! I didn’t know what to do and felt totally and completely out of my league surrounded by “normal” people. It felt truly too much! Meg came back, saw me sobbing, and said, “I forgot what your world is like now.” Understandably, she assumed it would be safe to leave me alone in my own grocery store. But it nearly brought me to my knees.
My first time at the grocery store wasn’t the only tough time. The grocery store became difficult for me because I didn’t know what to purchase for myself. For as long as I can remember, I’ve hated to cook and have always just made a big salad with fresh vegetables. But after Reg passed away, I couldn’t do that. That was something the “old me” did. Salad was something the “old me” ate, but the “new me” couldn’t even stand the idea. I couldn’t just go about life as if everything was the same. Everything had changed, so how could I eat what I had eaten in my past?
Plus, I no longer had any desire to live. Salad is healthy, and these healthy and fresh vegetables made me feel like I would just extend my life longer. I didn’t want to do that. So, what was I supposed to purchase when I went to the grocery store? I can distinctly remember standing in the store completely lost. I froze, as I didn’t know what to buy and didn’t know where to go. In fact, I often went to the grocery store and didn’t know where to go or what to do.
I often just went directly to the section with the cookies and purchased cookies, which became my main food staple after Reg passed away. I had never purchased Girl Scout cookies in my life but now, seeing the girls selling their cookies at the table was—and still is—exciting for me. Skittles candy also became a main staple for me. I don’t think I’d ever eaten Skittles before Reg passed away, but I practically lived on them after he died. I don’t know if all the sugar was something I needed to comfort myself or if it was a way for me to try to shorten my life, or both. I know I no longer gave a shit, so why not enjoy the food I was eating?
For a long time, I avoided the produce section altogether, the section where the “old me” had purchased most of my groceries. The “new me” couldn’t even go into the produce section without feeling angry, sad, or resentful. At the grocery store where I’ve always shopped the most, the produce section is at the front of the store. Therefore, I would walk in, see it, and feel absolute betrayal when I saw the produce.
The mushrooms in particular were distressing for me to see. In the research I’d done, I’d discovered mushrooms are supposed to be helpful in combating cancer, so I often fixed Reg food with mushrooms. When I went to the grocery store after he died and saw the mushrooms on the shelf, I almost felt hatred for them. They let me down! That whole produce section let me down! So rather than browsing in the produce section, I generally hurried through it and proceeded to other parts of the store.
I remember another time going to the grocery store and attempting to buy some prepackaged food. In my past, I had noticed the prepackaged food at Whole Foods was pretty expensive. But with Reg, we had financial stability, and I could afford to buy those things. This time, I saw the price and burst into tears. I felt an overwhelming fear that the financial security I had once known had now disappeared.
I was lucky because my friend worked at Whole Foods that day. We had become friends when one day I purchased mushroom supplements, and she was my cashier. We discovered our husbands both had cancer, and we discussed supplements to give them and different ways to treat cancer holistically. Our shared experiences resulted in our becoming friends. Her husband passed away eight months before Reg died. She still worked at my Whole Foods, so on this occasion when I was sobbing in the store about how expensive groceries are, she was there.
I wheeled my cart up to her counter and lost it. I felt lucky because I had someone—an ally—there who understood what I was going through. She could give me a big hug. I don’t know how I would’ve gotten through the grocery store that day without her.
One woman in my young widows group told me that in order to handle the grocery store, she would listen to a podcast or her music via her headphones. That way she couldn’t hear anyone. She kept her head down and just got through the grocery store as quickly as she could. Jessica, whose husband died years before Reg, switched grocery stores after her husband passed away. When I heard that (long before Reg died), I found that strategy perplexing and didn’t understand. Now, I understand.
As I stated in an earlier chapter, my widow friend Tara said she found the music at the grocery store difficult. In her past, she had never noticed that the store played music. But after her husband passed away, she went to the grocery store and heard songs about heartbreak, missing your spouse, or being alone. Hearing the songs made her panic. She had to get away from the songs, so she would leave her cart right where she was and leave the store.
In addition to the grocery store, the pharmacy was also a challenge for me. Toward the end of my husband’s life, he had a lot of prescriptions. I had to go to the pharmacy frequently, and the pharmacy clerk knew me by name and would ask me how my husband was doing.
After he passed away, I could not go near the pharmacy. In fact, if I needed any prescriptions, my mom had to go to the pharmacy for me. I think it was almost a year before I could go to the pharmacy by myself. Granted, I don’t have many prescriptions, so my mom didn’t have to go frequently for me, but I just couldn’t handle it.
The first time I went to the pharmacy by myself, I cried the whole time. My mom had told the pharmacy clerk that Reg had died, so she didn’t ask me how he was doing. But, it still felt hard to see her.
It wasn’t only the grocery store and pharmacy that were difficult; I also struggled with the farmers’ market. During the summer, I used to shop at the farmers’ market twice per month or sometimes weekly. I loved purchasing the fresh produce, especially for Reg.
Frequently, I purchased vegetables and small potatoes that I later cut up and prepared; Reg grilled them on our outside grill. At the same time, I would buy ears of corn that were piled high into the back of a pickup truck at the market. Reg always did a great job grilling those. We would sit on our outside patio, eat our grilled food, and enjoy the summer evening together.
The first time I went to the farmers’ market after he passed away, it was almost too much to bear. The farmers’ market is in a straight line with booths on either side of a wide aisle. I walked down the center of the aisle crying pretty hard. I had on sunglasses, so I just let the tears flow. Nothing had changed; the same booths that had been there the prior year and for years before that were still there. How could those booths still be there while Reg was gone?
There was a man who worked at one of the booths who always wore a Hawaiian shirt. When I went to the farmers’ market for the first time, he still wore a Hawaiian shirt. How could the same man be wearing the same shirt as if nothing had changed while my whole world had changed?
The same pickup truck that held the ears of corn was in the same spot. I saw people at the truck choosing which ears of corn they wanted to purchase. I just stared and felt dumbfounded that other people got to purchase their corn while I’ll probably never grill corn again. The grill was Reg’s domain, not mine. Therefore, seeing these fresh vegetables, the small potatoes, and the corn showed me what I no longer have. That life has ended. The farmers’ market just shoved that right in my face.
Plus, as I indicated earlier, I had no desire to live and certainly not to extend my life. So I didn’t know what to purchase at the farmers’ market. I didn’t want fresh berries, which combat cancer. I couldn’t buy the veggies I used to buy, so what was I supposed to purchase? Thankfully, Denver has a vegan bakery, and it had a booth at this farmers’ market. So I purchased a vegan pastry. Perfect—sugar and nothing healthy. Welcome to your new life, Kim!
I can now go into my grocery store and that farmers’ market without crying. But honestly, it still bugs me every time, and I don’t enjoy it. It reminds me of the life I used to have. I used to buy groceries for him. Now, I only buy groceries for myself. I hate that!
I realize not every widow and widower dreads the grocery store. Gina didn’t mind the store and didn’t understand why it was so difficult for me. However, she struggled with the pharmacy and found it uncomfortable to go there. So, perhaps you can’t relate to this chapter. But if you’ve found it challenging to shop at your supermarket, pharmacy, farmers’ market, or local stores, know that you’re not alone.