No More Strawberries
Moving Toward Healing and Wholeness
Rotten strawberries, little more than mush, were covered with white fuzz that obscured the red that once sang out their juice-filled sweetness. I took the package from the fridge and tossed it in the trash—a motion I had repeated for weeks. “Why do the strawberries keep going bad? Why isn’t someone eating them?” I asked. I thought about each of us—my husband, my daughter, and me. None of us were fond of strawberries. I like blueberries, nectarines, grapes, and peaches. My fourteen-year-old daughter preferred other snacks. My husband didn’t like strawberries. I was stumped, but not for long.
It hit me with yet another punch to the gut: Alexa loved strawberries and preferred them overripe, at the just-juicy-enough stage, the sweetness at its peak, when you dare not wait another day to eat them because it would be too late. So, I didn’t buy the firmest strawberries and instead chose those that would be at the top of their flavor game in only a few days.
When I put those green plastic baskets in the trash, the flavor game had long been lost. Lost—loss—was fitting because I was learning how to live after the loss of Alexa. She was seven and a half when she died of brain cancer only a few months before my strawberry realization.
Buying strawberries was not a conscious act. I probably saw them in the produce department and some part of my psyche on autopilot put them in the cart. I was undergoing so many changes and fumbling my way through loss; the strawberries were just one more life change to make. Once I realized I was buying berries for Alexa, I stopped. I do buy them from time to time, but I’m content to get them at their peak in strawberry season. I prefer other fruits, so I’m rather indifferent to strawberries.
I wasn’t indifferent to my realization that I was buying them only to let them go to waste. This past week, I read One True Thing by Anna Quindlen. Ellen, the main character, took over cooking, cleaning, and all household responsibilities during her mother’s terminal illness. After her mother dies, Ellen goes on autopilot and continues to cook and clean a friend’s house. But she notes an emptiness, a rote quality to her behavior. It reminded me of the strawberries.
Grieving is hard. Every time we experience loss—whether it’s from death, divorce, a new job, moving across the country—we step onto foreign soil. When we lose a loved one whose life has been weaved into the fabric of our own, our routines are shattered. What once were normal activities—welcoming a loved one home, buying favorite foods, planning outings—become stark reminders of just what we’ve lost. We become different people in our lives, routines, and even in our reactions to what goes on around us. Not shopping for school supplies was and continues to be hard for me (yes, I know I can donate them). I often stared and had to catch my breath when I saw girls Alexa’s age with long blonde hair and green eyes. I didn’t know it, but bypassing the strawberries in the produce aisle also was hard. When I was aware, stopping also was hard. It was one more thing to remove from my mental list.
Part of the grief process, as well as at any time of transition in our lives, is reconfiguring our routines. Our rote behaviors often continue despite changes and transitions in our lives. It is important when we note those behaviors that we consider what we’re doing and look for alternate ways of living that are a closer fit to our changed circumstances. It hinders our healing when we consciously keep doing many of the same things we have always done if they no longer apply to our lives.
New behaviors, new shopping lists, new routes home, will move forward our healing and our return to whatever wholeness we can attain—in spite of loss.
Then, one day, if we are fortunate, we realize that we keep “throwing out the strawberries.” It’s then that we must ask:
Why am I buying strawberries?