I was cleaning my refrigerator, which gave me quiet time to reflect on how it is so similar to putting things deep inside to save for later with my grief. Some things I keep to the front, and access them routinely, but some things get shoved way back and simply start to rot in neglect. Some things I simply keep because I don’t want to lose them even though I have not used them in a very long time. Then there are the “gifts” I didn’t necessarily want and don’t know what to do with them!
A few years ago, when helping my mother clean out her pantry after a mouse infestation (nasty little buggers), I looked deep in her fridge…uh ohhhh…It was ugly! In her defense, she had a brain aneurysm that we didn’t know about until later that caused extreme pain when her head was down… so anything that got pushed back in the bottom pretty much stayed there, as my dad had macular degeneration so he could not see stuff in the bottom well. I was in amazement they didn’t get sick from eating something that was waaaayyyyy too old!
So before I let the refrigerator take over, I have to tell you about “Grama’s Fridge” and the journey to clean it out. I had taken my teen age son with me to visit the folks as they live about 70 miles away and we don’t get up there often enough to visit. Our mission was to get rid of all the mouse mess in her large pantry (she grew up in the depression, so she kept a large supply of food on hand) and spend time visiting.
Grama sat in a chair in the kitchen, watching us as we cleaned to make sure we didn’t throw out anything she might need later…she had many boxes of pasta, rice, cake mixes all with chewed holes…herbal teas (the mice needed some tea with their cake I guess) and lots of mess. I was looking for something cold to drink in the fridge, and looked on the bottom shelf, it was ugly…my mission was now to clean out that fuzzy stuff down there after the pantry…that is where my son got lessons in biology…he was too curious… why is it when you say “don’t open that” it becomes an incentive for a teen to do just that?
He took it as a challenge…you don’t want me to open it? I can see at least 3 colors thru the side of the plastic; I gotta see what it is? My response is no… with rainbow colors comes a smell that will stick in your nose for days… it will gag you and cause you to perhaps even vomit! Rainbow colors on food with fuzz are evil… back away and let me throw it in the garbage can… my mother is laughing so hard she has tears coming down her face… we had already found jars of mayo and relishes and jellies that were outdated by years, the oldest being 7 years out… each time one hit the garbage can my mother was like “HEY I might need that”… and we had found some nasty slimy unknown stuff that went out in the container only to hear, not my good Tupperware! I told mom, you haven’t used it for years except to grow whatever was in there, it won’t wash out, it is a part of the plastic now… so when we came to this light blue Tupperware container, my son could not resist, he had already seen green slime, purple fuzzies, orange globs, but not all three in one dish… he asked my mother what she thought it was, she said pork chop. I asked when she cooked that chop, she said a while back I can’t remember… I said must have been a very long while… my son says well then it can’t be that bad and popped the lid…
Science lesson… gas is created as things change form… he was so overcome he is gagging… and his eyes are rolling into the back of his head, I run over and put the lid back on, and open the 2 closest doors as we are all under the rainbow cloud… when we can breathe again we all start laughing so hard I about pee my pants! Holy Cow! It was way worse than I imagined! I got to tell my son, “I told you not to open it” and thru his tears of laughter he had to admit mama was right… not often a teen thinks mom knows best…
Now back to the message about stuffing your grief like you stuff your refrigerator…
I have been on this grief journey for over 30 years now, so I have way too much experience stuffing things (emotions) away to deal with later. Just like I put stuff in the fridge to take care of later. I cook a lot of roasts and casseroles so I have extra to put in the freezer for travel meals for my husband. He travels and takes them with him to the hotels to warm up. But some nights I am too tired to divide it all up and just stick it in the fridge. If it gets pushed to the back, sometimes I forget about it until it is nasty. (not like my mother’s stuff) and sometimes I get food gifts that are too spicy or different that I save, but never quite get enough nerve to open them and try them… how does this relate to grief?
If you think of grief as food for thought in the grief refrigerator, it is easy to see the similarities. Grief comes to you in many forms and at any time. If you are not ready to deal with what grief is bringing you, you put it in the fridge for later. There is room on the shelves and in the door, space for just about everything you want to put in there. But the really hard stuff to deal with get put on the bottom shelf and shoved back behind other things thought to be more important to be dealt with at a late time. It is that stuff that rots in your soul, only to fester and eat away at you until you deal with it.
When I was writing my Book Becoming Bigger Than Our Pain, I talked about how I thought I needed to feel the pain of my grief to be “loyal” to my sons. I held that pain for so long, it was on the top shelf of that refrigerator, I used it daily, kept it within reach at all times. It was a part of me, and I felt if I lost it; then I would have nothing. Looking back I can see how toxic that was for me, but at that time it was what was in the fridge. I kept other things in there, I had my goodwill casseroles, some were quite tasty and nourished me with love, but some came with bitter words and harsh comments, they got pushed to the back. I kept my “what could have been” in the door for easy reach, so as I watched other children grow while missing mine. I could grab a quick slug of regrets. I had a full gallon of guilt juice in the door; I needed at least a full glass daily. My eggs were my protection, as long as I kept my heart nestled snugly in the carton I was safe, but when they fell out or cracked, my heart and soul were vulnerable to others. I didn’t like that; it was not safe to let my eggs out! If they rolled on the floor, as eggs roll in uneven manner, my emotions would roll, I wanted to open my heart to others, but it was much safer to just keep it in the carton. When my heart was cracked open I seemed to pull in more pain than I let out. I had anger jam also in the door, it was for special occasions when my pain threshold was too high and I just had to blow off some toast. It was right next to my fear mustard. When grief demanded I grow, I needed the mustard to dip the meat of pain in so I would not repeat that meal.
Gradually I learned to transform my items in my fridge. The quick spill wipe up was only temporary. The entire fridge at once was overwhelming. So I started cleaning and throwing out one thing at a time and replacing it with a new fresh ingredient in my new life. This took years of learning about my grief, and my journey in this life. Sometimes when I did not listen to the voices in my heart and soul I would drop things on the floor and they would splash their way back into the fridge, and I would have to start over at cleaning them again, but with more wisdom and the strength to grow.
Advice from the Grief Refrigerator:
Keep me cool – getting hot and bothered spoils everything.
Keep the top shelf for the important things to use daily. If you have pain stored up there, transform it to love. Visualize removing the old cracked glass pitcher of pain out with your left hand, replacing it with a sparkling crystal pitcher of love with your right hand. The pain pitcher is hot and does not belong here. The love pitcher is cool and refreshing and is always full for you to use daily.
Keep the center shelf full of goodwill casseroles. Replace these often. Remove the bittersweet ones to the trash. There is no room for the clutter of harshness, bitter words, and mean spirited goods.
Keep the bottom shelf clean. Do not stuff the hard to chew foods here. If something migrates here deal with it in a timely manner. Do not allow it to grow and rot your soul.
Keep some room in the door for new directions. Remove the anger jam replacing it with joy jelly. This is hard to find for the grief refrigerator, but well worth the time spent searching.
Throw out the fear mustard, it has become outdated, and replace with enlightenment catch-up. Step back into life by dipping the meat of the problem into this special sauce to see things clearly.
Spill the jug of regrets all over the floor, wiping it up with towels of happy memories, and thankfulness of what was.
Remove the guilt juice, there is no place in this fridge for that. It serves no purpose, only spoils and rots; pour it out onto the ground to be dispelled into the earth and reborn as hope.
Free the eggs. Crack them and scramble them to allow your heart to be free again. Now you are open to love and to be loved without the fear of breaking.
Clean me daily to avoid emotional buildup!