The youngest and I are in the cereal aisle at Harris Teeter when, out of the blue, he asks the question that stops me in my tracks. "Where's Grandpa?" My father was in the hospital for so long that the youngest had stopped asking about him a week or so before he died. In retrospect, perhaps we were wrong to do it this way, but we never sat him down and really told him. He's never asked until now.
I say, "He's in heaven, honey. He died." And the youngest looks at me with his head cocked to one side and repeats, "Died?" I nod. "Like Clyder, sweetheart. And Marshie."
I'm hoping the youngest will remember the cat that died last Thanksgiving and the hamster that went on to greater hamster glory this past spring. And indeed he must, because he's shaking his head from side to side now, clearly getting upset, "NO. NO. NO. NO. NO. Grandpa's not died! HE'S IN HOSPITAL."
It's when I bend into the cart to hold him that it hits me, too. I'm rubbing the youngest's back, and shhhing, trying to soothe him, and I'm shaking myself. Hard. I'm holding him and trying to keep him from looking up at me because if I see his sweet eyes looking at me all full of tears, I swear I will sit down right here in Harris Teeter and just weep.
And then the woman who was standing just behind us, looking at cereal herself when the youngest dropped his bomb question, places her hand on my back. And I turn my head, and she's still looking at cereal, and she keeps her hand on my back until I stop shaking. When I take a big breath and stand upright, she pats my back once and when I look, she has a sad smile full of sorry. And I whisper, "Thank you." And she smiles again, first at me then at the youngest, pauses like she might say something, then nods, and pushes past us.
And then the youngest is asking for honey nut Cheerios, so I hand him the biggest box Harris Teeter has and push the cart to checkout, feeling suddenly very, very tired.