For twenty years, I thought that I had been marching through the stages of grief in a straight line. I had been following the formula, crossing each processed grief experience off my list.
Except that I was totally deluded. And I didn’t discover that until Jim, my beloved father-in-law, died. I found myself drying off from my shower the morning after his death, really hoping he couldn’t see me naked. Or, if he could, that he was averting his eyes.
From that moment, my path through grief resembled a roller coaster, spiraling and twisting and turning, circling back around. Echoes of past trauma, including childhood abuse and cheating death, would no longer be ignored. I somehow needed to get from the beginning to the end of this grief adventure, and I don’t have a good sense of direction.
But what is always present during a journey through grief, regardless of the path chosen?
Caskets From Costco is a funny book about grief that demonstrates the certainty of hope and healing in an uncertain and painful world.
What Inspired You to Write Your Book?
I wrote Caskets From Costco as a way to find humor in the darkness that I was experiencing. Writing this book has been a wonderful way to embrace grief and trauma, finding hope along the journey.
How Did You Come up With Your Characters?
The colorful characters are all people in my life, although names have been changed.
1. Grief Journey: GPS Not Required
I get lost using a GPS.
Don’t get me wrong, I use a GPS when I’m trying to find my way, but it’s more of a security blanket than anything else. It doesn’t necessarily offer the security of correct directions, but the GPS fits snugly into my palm as I carry it around, just in case.
Why carry a GPS if it’s so useless? Because I have no sense of direction. I understand the compass rose in theory, but my navigational skills consist of, “Head down that one road that goes by the Beaver’s Inn and turn left and then right at the crooked tree. What do you mean, is that north or south? I don’t know, it’s left, just do it.”
I get lost. A lot.
So I carry around the GPS and occasionally feel the need to turn it on and consult a map. But I have found through my many years of getting lost that even though there’s a map in front of me, this doesn’t guarantee that I will get from Point A to Point B without detours or diversions.
Kind of like the grief process.
When I was in college, I learned that there were five stages in order to appropriately process grief. They are locked in my memory as the acronym “DABDA,” which stands for Denial, Anger, Bargaining, Depression, and Acceptance, terms coined by Elizabeth Kubler-Ross.
I bought into this concept with my whole being, interpreting the process as set-in-stone directions for grieving – a Grief Positioning System, if you will. I was going to navigate quickly and efficiently through my past trauma, happily leaving it behind me. There was nothing I wanted to do more than “Get Over IT,” whatever IT happened to be.
I wrote out my list of difficult experiences from which I wanted to be free, greatly anticipating the person I would become once my checklist of grief was completed.
That was over twenty years ago. Currently, none of the items are crossed off.
I had missed a fundamental principle: While there may be a Grief Positioning System with directions for navigation, there are often several ways to get from Point A to Point B.
For awhile, I was angry with the stages of grief theory and claimed it was fundamentally flawed as a Grief Positioning System, blaming it and Kubler-Ross for leading me astray. As usual, though, my misunderstanding of her work was the result of what we call in the technological world “Operator Error,” like when the printer isn’t printing and I think something is wrong with it, but it’s actually because I didn’t turn the blasted thing on.
Upon further reflection on the work of Kubler-Ross (after reading it again), I have decided that I may have been a little zealous about this set-in-stone linear map regarding the stages of grief.
But this led to the liberating realization that while stages of grief provide some helpful direction, a Grief Positioning System is not required to navigate this particular kind of journey.
This is my messy, circular, spiraling-up-and-down grief journey navigated with large doses of humor.
And without a map.
I discovered that Costco sold caskets in October 2009.
Have you ever seen a collection of caskets in the middle of a Costco warehouse? I haven’t, and I wish they’d carry them in the store instead of only online. I imagine a large circle of caskets set up where the tables of clothing usually stand, arranged head to toe with room on both sides for browsing and comparing. To make good use of this space, some caskets could hold collections of smaller products or trays of food samples.
Many times, vendors come into Costco and set up tables to sell unique goods and services. Why not a series specializing in caskets and wakes along cultural themes? The Irish wake could feature bottles of Irish Cream and potatoes, and Greek Week could offer samples of Feta cheese and gyros made in the café with some shots of ouzo. Envision for a moment the week preceding Halloween, where employees dressed as ghosts and ghouls could pop out, thrilling shoppers who like to buy in bulk.
I imagine some people would find this distasteful, and that’s why they don’t do it.
My counselor Hannah told me about Costco caskets when my husband needed an MRI for a long-suffering back issue. I was convinced that the MRI would find a tumor the size of a tennis ball pressing on his spinal cord, or something equally ominous.
“So, what you do NOT need to do is start shopping for caskets,” Hannah said.
I nodded, sniffling, wiping my eyes with a crumpled tissue. I sat hunched in the black leather chair in one corner of Hannah’s office, snuggled under a heavy fleece blanket. It was evening, the lights low, the scent of a Yankee Vanilla Candle – no other brand was at all acceptable to Hannah – wafting through the air.
Hannah sat across from me, curled into the black leather couch, also under a blanket. Her brown, wavy hair escaped from the casual bun gathered on the back of her head.
“Although you could,” she continued, “on Costco-dot-com.” She flashed an impish grin and adjusted her glasses.
I smirked. “Right.”
“No, you can,” Hannah insisted. “I promise.”
“What category is it under?” I asked. “Furniture?”
I threw my head back and guffawed.
“Yep,” Hannah continued. “There’s a tab across the top of the webpage. I didn’t believe it, so I clicked it. Consequently, my husband had all kinds of questions.”
I giggled. “Like what?”
“Do they deliver? To your house or to the store? Is there any assembly required? Can you choose the lining?”
“Oh, STOP!” I said. “He did not.”
“He did! He went on for 15 minutes! ‘Do you have to pay taxes? Is there a double warranty like when you buy electronics? Does it come in a box? Will they help you get it out to your car?’”
I thrashed around in the chair, shoulders shaking. “I can’t take it,” I said.
Hannah uncurled from under the blanket, tossing it aside and reaching for her slip-on shoes while my laughter subsided. When she put on her shoes, I knew that our time was almost up. She perched on the edge of the couch, and her eyes met mine.
“The point is,” she said, “that although you could shop for caskets, you don’t need to. There are a few steps before that.”
“Like what?” I smiled. The laughter had alleviated the fear somewhat.
“Like getting information. Let’s just see what the MRI says.”
I nodded. “I can do that.” I wiped the tears from my face with a crumpled tissue. “I’m scared, though.”
“Yep,” Hannah said with a nod. “But you have so much strength. There’s so much about you that’s strong and healthy, you just don’t see it because you live in your own skin. Your fear is actually a sign of that strength.”
I started crying again, but this time for a totally different reason besides fear for my husband. I rejoiced for a moment that my fear wasn’t a sign of weakness, but of strength. It gave me hope, realizing that all of the loss and grief I’d experienced had built up my emotional muscles, and they weren’t going to let me down now.
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