Expired

I took great care in cleaning out the refrigerator on Saturday. You know, removing drawers, wiping down surfaces and wrangling the fragments of dehydrated carrot that always seems to find its way to the weirdest place in the fridge. Honestly, I kinda identify with this carrot. I don’t usually belong where I am but I find a way to survive in most environments. And I’m probably fairly dehydrated.

Regardless, I clean the fridge once a year whether it needs it or not. There were a couple of things in there that I couldn’t quite figure out but nothing absolutely disgusting. I took each item out, looked at the date, and decided whether or not it could continue to live in its temperature controlled environment where it was randomly awakened by some jackass turning on the light every couple of hours. Actually, I’m starting to commiserate with my fellow refrigerated items. My memories of living in the hospital are much like living in the refrigerator. It’s always 40-freaking-degrees and someone is always waking you up just when you’ve fallen asleep. Each and every person who steps inside is a light invading your space, looking for something to do at 3 am and deciding to quell their dissatisfaction with a snack. Can you just do what you need to do and turn off the light already? People (and refrigerated items) are trying to sleep here.

Anyway, amongst the myriad of random jars – think maraschino cherries and hot pepper rings – the top shelf of the left side door holds a single can of Coke. Everyone living in the house knows about this can of Coke and that it is special. It was acquired by Ben during one of his last hospital stays and for whatever reason, we kept it. We all know not to drink Ben’s Coke. But as I was cleaning off the next shelf, I came across a few yogurts that were truly past their prime. They were Ben’s. Near the end of his battle, the kid just couldn’t eat. The small, drinkable yogurts were one of the only things he could tolerate. Finding those took me down a rabbit hole of “Oh MY GOD a MEMORY OF BEN! To “oh my god this hurts a ridiculous amount.” The emotions threatening to break free from me like an avalanche roaring down a mountain, taking my broken heart with it. I know. I’m a drama queen. I accept that about me.

So, the yogurt. They were tiny bottles that looked absolutely adorable all lined up in a row waiting for my son, who would not be coming back to drink them.

He won’t be back to drink them. Let them go. No.

My mind sighed as I lined all the little bottles up, displaying them like they were a precious keepsake in the refrigerator of life. They were useless, but I could come back and dust them and stare at them and lament that Ben wouldn’t be drinking them and cry and laugh and scream… the yogurts served a purpose in my mind and I just wasn’t ready to let go. I thought I’d like the idea of opening up the refrigerator, seeing his can of Coke and his yogurts. For the rest of the day when I opened up the fridge, the gleaming light wowed me every time it revealed the organized contents of my refrigerator, especially those little bottles of drinkable yogurt.

The next morning, I found my daughter on the couch. She had been up all night throwing up like a freshman at a keg party. I sat next to her and rubbed her back as she tried to recover from whatever was ailing her. I asked her what was going on and she illuminated the fact that the super clean refrigerator had this amazing display of tiny drinkable yogurts. And she drank a couple of them.

As she was telling me about what had happened, I instantly felt sick. Not because Ben’s yogurts were gone, but because I chose to hold on to something that I knew had no true value, it just made my heart respond in a way I wanted it to. And that decision made my daughter violently ill.

The lesson I learned is that grief is simply love with no place to go. I can try to make shrines out of everything that Ben ever touched, and sometimes I DO do that to a certain degree. But as I’m learning to let some things go, I try hard to remember that this doesn’t mean I’m forgetting about or dishonoring Ben in any way. I’m simply letting go of the things that have expired and have no true use in our world. Something that brought me a tiny bit of comfort made my daughter so incredibly sick. Grief will never expire. Love will certainly never expire. And the love I shared with Ben is worthy of saving and displaying. Thankfully, that doesn’t have an expiration date.

The Danimals, however, have left the building.

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9 Comments

  1. Your words jump off the page at me, as we lost our Julia (you may remember) and followed Ben’s story for years. You are so REAL, drama queen or not. Grief is real and it can suck you in if you let it. I’m so impressed with how you pen your grief experience. It really touches my husband’s and my grief. Keep writing and keep living for your daughter. Much love…

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  2. You should compile these into a book. Not only are they straight from the heart (and like this one, from the stomach!), but the insight you could be giving someone who is beginning this journey with their child could be quite helpful. But that’s just opinion. As for Miss M and her getting sick, that’s what you get for eating yogurt. lol I hope your week goes well for both of you! Let me know when you make it back to KB, NC!

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  3. Such truth here. I have never lost a child, so I won’t pretend to identify with your pain, but I have felt deep grief, and you captured it perfectly.

    We gave to Ben’s fund in honor of our son’s marriage in lieu of a wedding gift, at their request. His wife left him right around the time of Ben’s death. I found it oddly ironic.

    You right so richly. I do hope you’re working on a novel. Blessings on you as you walk your journey.

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    1. I am so sorry to hear this but am so thankful you shared with me. Thank you for helping out my kiddo in honor of your kiddo. The losses stink, though. Sending love to you.

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  4. I think all of us cancer parents have something in our fridge we’re not letting go off… Ours is his last couple shots that we forgot to do. It’s been 8 months I think? And they still sit in a bag, under the cheese, just to remind us of this battle.
    The coke is a good one. A good memory. Keep it.

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  5. Ironic to read this today. As I was heading out the door to go to work I grabbed a coat out of the hall closet. It was hung right next to a tiny size 6 winter coat that is red with white and black checkers down the sleeves. It was my son’s. He died in 1992 from Neuroblastoma. I thought on the way to work that it is probably time to let it go, when will I be able to do that? Maybe tonight when I get home. Thank you for the inspiration.

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  6. Thank you for sharing this very personal grief journey with us, Sarah. I think of you, Ben and his sister often. ❤️

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  7. Sara I so appreciate your writing & your ability to communicate so well just an inkling of the grief you are living through. At the same time, I’m incredibly sorry that you have all this wisdom & insight to share. Thanks for continuing to share. I’ll continue to pray for you, Maddie & Matt. Sending prayers your way.
    Janette

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