When Free is Too High a Price

Everyone loves a bargain. People want to feel like they got a good deal – like they got one over on the establishment. I’m no different. I scour the endcaps where merchandise is slapped with discount stickers, hoping there is something I might possibly need so I can cry, “Look how much I saved!” It doesn’t matter that it might be a mongo bag of red licorice (which no one in my house likes) or a fish basket for our grill that is hardly used.


In search of savings I have purchased ladies pants (for me), a DVD burner that is too old for my computer to recognize, and several hats I’ve never worn. I regularly peruse the Goodwill store and seriously considered a $10 suit I once found there. Too often, a good buy isn’t a good buy.

I discovered this truth on a recent trip to our local grocery store where they boast weekly BUY 1 GET 1 deals. I love those. Being a large family we stock up when our favorites are buy one get one free. So what do you see when you see this? Look closely…


A good deal?

The fact that cereal is way too expensive?

That they are almost out of stock?

You know what I see? I see Kylie. I see her because that was her breakfast of choice since before she could talk. In fact, that was her favorite snack and often her favorite lunch and dinner. I look at that box and I see her with perfect clarity in her high chair learning to use a spoon. I remember her as a toddler sitting on the kitchen floor at the entrance to the den where she could eat breakfast and still see the TV. I feel her in my lap holding a yellow cup while shoveling fistfuls of oat squares into her mouth and I so desperately yearn to hold her again… right there in the grocery store aisle.

Before I realized it I had put six boxes in my cart because I spent ten years trained to pounce when they were buy one get one free. You know what’s worse than realizing you’ve put six boxes of oat squares you don’t need into your cart? Having to put each and every (insert handy expletive here) one of them back on the shelf.

Uggg. Slump shoulders. Wipe tears. Leave store.

This grieving thing isn’t getting much easier – it is just getting different. And death is so close to me now that I often feel like its angel. I’ve been to too many funerals for children of late. I saw a man I’ve come to love and respect eulogize his son – both beautiful and heartbreaking. I talk to him often and relive those first weeks after Kylie died as I see him walk in the same stupor. Last week I watched two friends celebrate their little girls’ birthdays on the same day. Wonderful celebrations of life – only one sweet girl is fighting cancer here while the other celebrated in heaven.

There is a thin line between this earthly party and the festivities that await us.

I wonder if they even celebrate birthdays in heaven. If so, is the party held on the earthly day or does it morph into the day you cross over that thin line to heavenly rest? In paradise, is there a need to memorialize one day over another or is every day ten thousand times better than the best birthday party here? Is the cake this good?


I wonder. And I ache to know because a part of me is now there.

But it isn’t my time yet. That will have to wait. The little square-eater gave me a job to do and I’m bound to do it. But understand that though I am healthy and active, I am just broken enough that for the rest of my life, something silly like a box at the grocery store might reduce me to tears.

I’m not alone. You or someone you know may be grieving loss. We might look whole on the outside, but the strangest things can turn us to milk-soaked bowls of mushy cereal on the inside. Don’t throw us down the drain quite yet – there still may be some use for us. Just give us room to mourn and please realize that our grief isn’t a switch we can turn on and off at will. Sometimes it gets flipped by the most trivial of things – like a buy 1 get 1 deal on cereal.


Oh, and if you’re headed to the grocery store can you grab me some Cap’n Crunch? Not everyone likes the healthy stuff…


17 thoughts on “When Free is Too High a Price

  1. The birthday in heaven thing is one I’ve contemplated a lot. I like to think that the banqueting table has cake. And the cake is good.

    I also think a lot of grieving is done in supermarkets. And when songs come on the radio in the car.

  2. Mark, thank you. All I have is hugs, and a bottomless well of affection and love. Your words here are so “allowing” – permission for everyone to be knocked sideways anywhere by anything – and it is OKAY!!

    Love you loads ((hugs))

      1. WOW! Now that is exciting!! If she wants to share lunch one day (my treat), meet this old English-wrinklie – and then run away … I am in London every Friday 🙂

        Our office is just behind Oxford Circus (Gordon Yates: http://www.gordon-yates.co.uk/)

        And if she declines, tell her that I would as well if I were her! 🙂

  3. This brings to mind a woman in our suicide support group whose son’s fave cereal was Cap’n Crunch. She told us the story of just losing it in the grocery store aisle with the cereal in it. She would pick it up and carry it around crying. I’ve done the same thing with hot sauce – my son’s obsession. Grieving just is no fun at all, and it can reduce us to a pile of tears. Stay strong, a Mark.

  4. Sadly I can relate to every word that you write and you write so eloquently. Two years after my daughter died and shopping can still be a very emotional experience. Leah absolutely loved shopping and never missed an opportunity to go around the shops with me.

  5. Mark, Your words always finds a place in my heart to squeeze in and stay. Many people, who comment, have the personal loss, you and your family have – a life without Kylie. As a Pediatric Oncology Play Lady for 20 years and being a Board Member of a Charity since 1998, I only have friendships and memories of dozens of families, that walk in your shoes. I remember always that the suffering that began at the Cancer diagnosis of a child does not end with their death. Rather another type of suffering and sadness is added so something like a box of cereal can trigger even more sadness and loss. I think of you & your family, and I am knowing Kylie through your eyes. Thank you for writing! Margy

  6. I know you are grieving and I pray for your pain to be less for your grieving will not ever be less. As long as I live I will want to hear you talk of Kylie and your family. I feel as if you are part of our family and I wish I could take some of your pain on me for a while to help you. Please know you are loved by a host of us and if there were any physical help we could be, we would. And I do whatever you let us know, contribution, bought the book (but read it on kindle that same night before the book could get here), child cancer advocacy, etc. I cry with you and share your pain as best I can. Please let us know as time progresses what else we can do. And mostly, I pray!

    1. Thank you. I so appreciate that. It warms my heart to know we aren’t alone. We still don’t feel called to start a foundation, but hope to do some other unique things to accomplish Kylie’s charge in the coming months.

  7. We lost my father-in-law more than a year ago.
    Watching him pass has left me fractured.
    But pain shared is pain halved, Mark.
    Together, we’ll both move forward.

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