It’s mid-September 2020: Ruth Bader Ginsberg died yesterday, wildfires are decimating the West Coast and hurricanes are drenching the South and hurricanes are churning through the gulf of Mexico. Did I mention the pandemic?

And while it’s a popular thought to hold up 2020 as the worst year ever, for my family that’s not the case. We lost our 17 year old daughter, Nora, to cancer in 2019 — she got diagnosed in August of 2018. So 2020 lags in third place for us in the list of worst years ever.

Many months of therapy and a renewed focus on taking care of my own health has helped me get a toe-hold back into the world. I’m still employed and I still love what I do. Our son, a recent college graduate, just moved with his girlfriend into his first Chicago apartment. And tonight, they are having us over for a Rosh Hashanah dinner.

This is where Target comes into the picture.

We wanted to bring some apartment-warming gifts, so I drove over on Saturday morning to our Target to pick some wine, wine glasses and candles.

The sense memories hit me the minute I grabbed the shopping basket. The Halloween decorations and aisles of candy were on full display (though part of me wondered if Halloween is even happening this year). In two months, that same area would be transformed into a Christmas shop with lights and ribbons and stocking-stuffers. I walked by the dressing rooms, where I would wait not very patiently for Nora to try on clothes. I strolled next to the toy aisles and paused. Not only will I never be buying toys for my kids again, I’ll never buy any presents for Nora ever again. I mean, I knew this already from last Christmas — but somehow it hit me all anew.

I found the wine glasses as I slowly and quietly cried. Not huge hulking sobs like the ones that dominated the days, weeks and months after she was gone. It is different now. The tears have become more subdued, but the sting in my heart is still razor sharp and the knock to my soul and spirit remain profoundly thick. I don’t lapse into frequent bouts of melancholy, but I carry a brokenness inside me that is unfixable. I’ve learned to live permanently bedraggled.

It’s odd, this isn’t the first time I’ve been in this Target since Nora died. But I do think I know why it hit me in this new way now. I just stopped seeing my therapist. She was an amazing resource for the first stage of my grief journey, but I knew I was ready for something or someone different. Of course, having Nick move out has made us empty-nesters — another kind of loss, albeit, one that also comes with a sense of parenting done right.

A few days ago, an acquaintance posted this quote from Barbara Kingsolver on Twitter: “Kids don’t stay with you if you do it right. It’s the one job where, the better you are, the more surely you won’t be needed in the long run.” It gave me some sense of solace as how swiftly our son moved out after graduating college. But it also made me think about Nora and how we won’t ever get the chance to see her graduate high school, navigate college and enter those amazingly strange days of early adulthood — hosting your parents for a holiday dinner in your first apartment.

I guess the minefield isn’t Target, it’s all the days in front of us without the people we love the most — that’s the minefield.


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