During my shift at the deli today, a lady in maybe her late 50s asked me for a quarter-pound of ham off the bone. She could barely get the words out, and I could see she was really close to tears. I asked her if she was OK.
“No,” she swallowed and shook her head.
“You seem really upset.”
Just a nod and a swallow this time. I asked her what was wrong.
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“My husband just died,” she said.
As I finished packing up her meat, thoughts raced through my head. I wondered what she was doing at the store. A quarter-pound of meat isn’t enough for much more than one sandwich. Did she go out to the store to do something normal, then realize in the middle of it that she was shopping for one? Or that she would be alone at Christmas? The way she said it, it was like she had just found out 10 minutes before.
She looked so lost, and I didn’t know what to do. “Have a nice day” wasn’t going to work here. I thought about what my mom would do, and I came around the counter. Her arms were full with small items – she should have grabbed a basket. Could I get her one?
“No, thank you.”
I gave her a hug and told her I hoped she would be OK. She thanked me and shuffled away.
Maybe I might have done it anyway, but the Connecticut shootings have been on my mind. It just seems like we need to connect with people even when they’re horribly sad, even when it’s uncomfortable.
Before the tragedy, who knows how isolated the shooter felt? I’m not pitying him; I’m just wondering, what chances might have been missed to avert the tragedy? After the shootings, so many people are feeling a grief that few can fathom.
Don’t be afraid to connect with people. Bad, horrific, catastrophic things happen sometimes, but we’ve got to be there to pick up the pieces for one another.
Laurel Bennett, a Tacoma deli clerk, is also a writer for a Seattle public relations firm. Email her at email@example.com.