Grief Finds You in the Card Aisle

It hit me hard in the card aisle. Grief. Such a sneaky emotion. Tricking you and then hiding behind obstacles in the open. Like a thief hiding behind doors and in alleys waiting to pounce out and holler.

Friday was my Mom’s birthday. The first birthday we haven’t spent together and also the first birthday since she passed away. It rained a lot here and it was, without doubt, the hardest day I have had since she left us. Way harder than Christmas.

Grief Finds You in the Card Aisle

One week ago I was standing in the grocery store when it hit me. I stopped to buy a card for my niece’s birthday and then I realized the date. Stupefied and frozen, I stood there. Paralysis at Food Basics. Grief starts somewhere near your stomach and curls up around your heart squeezing so hard that your muscles are lead.

It comes at you like a ball hurled angrily through the air. That schoolyard game of dodgeball when you are distracted and a classmate catches you square in the side of the jaw. Sucker punched. She doesn’t get birthday cards this year, I thought. She doesn’t get to buy them for my brother’s kids, or for my girls. How unfair for everyone. For her, for them, for me, for my kids. I bit my cheek so hard I tasted blood and swore inside my head like a sailor. It’s a trick I do so I don’t cry in public. A crying lady in the card aisle of Food Basics is creepy and sad.


The Cards

Oh my God, she loved cards, I thought. We were a Hallmark and Carlton Cards family. I kept a box with all the cards she gave me over the years. Every single time I see them or read them I realize how deep and constant her love for me, her daughter. Unconditional love feels like that.

Missing You

OH But I miss a lot about her. I miss buying her a present, although I never knew what to get. In the last few years we realized tickets for skating always worked. The last year we bought her a birthday present it was tickets to a beautiful skating event at Budweiser Gardens. She told me: “hold onto the tickets so I don’t lose them.” The month before the show she asked a dozen times if it was time yet. “Don’t forget,” she warned. “Don’t let me forget.”

I miss taking her to those events. I miss her phone calls and the way she called both of her kids: Love. That was ours. Hugs, how I miss her hugs, her pride, her eyes, her smile. In the last two years she visited often. I miss how it felt to hold her arthritic hand loosely as I guided her into a theatre to watch her granddaughter sing. When I close my eyes I can still remember how it felt in mine.

Shopping, Chocolate and other Triggers

Sears – how I miss taking her there. Sears was her favourite store. I miss driving her to get her hair set, and permed and I miss the hairdresser, a kind woman who called her Norma and went at the right speed explaining everything patiently. I miss the routine of it all and the appreciation after. The window shopping. Chocolate cake makes me miss her. It reminds me of all those times baking her a cake and the number of times she requested chocolate.

And all of it comes rushing at me in the card aisle. Finally, I miss her telling me how they celebrated all the March birthdays in her retirement home.

Before we moved I found a bag of her scarves. Ainsley and I opened it and out wafted that scent, the perfume and baby power so familiar. Her. Perfectly preserved. The bag moved with us. It hangs in my closet and we visit sometimes to check if her scent is still there.


I feel her sometimes still nearby guiding us, supporting us and even just saying hello. The day we moved into our new home there was a magical heart on the rooftop of the neighbour’s house, written in the snow, and my daughter yelled to me: “Look, Mom, it’s grandma.”

Every rainbow we spy my kids say the same thing. Sometimes I take comfort in telling my kids: Your grandma would be so proud of you grading to black belt/ performing/getting an award at school. My youngest daughter occasionally says – sometimes when I think what I should do at school I ask myself what would Grandma do and it helps. She has had an amazing year at school. That’s no accident.

The First Days After the Funeral

Days get longer and life is faster each year, sometimes each week. Those first weeks after her death were filled with so much activity. Empty the retirement home room. Plan funeral. Pick her clothes. Sign papers. Attend funeral. Thank everyone. Pay bills. Thank everyone. Lawyers. Forms. Visit the cemetery and choose the saddest gift ever. Decide what to do with the furniture stacked inside my garage. Sell a few things, donate others. Sort, pack away, stop and sniff the clothing. Cry. Explain all of this to my girls. Discuss why sad things happen. Try to make the words take the right shape for an eight-year-old. Hug my girls every time they cried and assure them it was okay. Move forward. Breathe.

Time Moves Quickly Even Through Grief

Time marches fast and you think it’s been the longest time since I have felt any of that. Is it slipping, fading? You permit your heart to ask – is she okay? Is she somewhere being sad missing us. Is she worried? Hurt? You are a child again wishing for a dream of that toy you covet more than anything. The thing that makes your heart light and brave and bright. You will it to appear in your dreams so you hold it close, hug it.

And Then it Finds You in the Card Aisle

Then you hope so hard for a sign in the card aisle of the grocery store and close your eyes. Make a wish. You whisper Happy Birthday Mom! Hope she hears it, then you pay for the groceries and leave.

Mom of two beautiful active girls, traveller, fitness junkie, social media consultant, and keeper of the sanity.


  • Jennifer

    Oh, Paula, I’m so very sorry for your loss. I can’t imagine how hard this is for you. And it really is the little things that you miss when they are gone… Take care of yourself.

  • Lindsey

    What a heartfelt post. Your writing literally brought tears to my eyes because I can’t imagine feeling that much loss. I’m so close with my own mother and your post really makes me want to tell her just how much she means to me.

  • Kristen @ My 3 Little Kittens

    Even after all these years, the card aisle still breaks my heart. It is like a sudden wind that grabs you and for a few seconds, it reminds you how alone you feel standing there. I wish I could say it will get easier, but I can’t. It will just get more manageable, more tolerable. I love you Paula and I know without a doubt that your mother is in Heaven. She isn’t cold, or hurting, or alone. She is young again, more beautiful than ever. She spends her days in glorious song and teaching …. you KNOW she is teaching. After all, there are many sweet little ones that have gone before their parents that will need her strength and wisdom until the time their family comes for them. Big hugs ……

  • mamawee

    what a wonderful post Paula. I have been in the grocery store when a song came on that reminded me of my father and I had to try every trick up my sleeve to stop from crying. Big hugs to you and your family

  • Brandi Yee

    Thinking of you Paula….my heart goes out to you. I can’t even begin to imagine how difficult it must be, especially during birthdays and holidays. Sending you big, big hugs!! <3 <3

  • Sandy A

    Such a great tribute to your mom, Paula. You have me in tears right now. So many things you mention in your post remind me of my mum. The only difference is that I get to see my mum tomorrow when I go visit her. I will give my mum a hug and think of you and you mom when I do. I’m so sorry for your loss. The loss of a mother is one of the biggest losses, if not THE biggest, we face in our lifetimes. (((HUGS))) my friend.

  • MyBitsandBleeps

    I’m so sorry Paula. I dread going through the motions with my mom right now but fear that day (it will come) when I too will feel like you do now. I’m here if you want to chat.

    • Paula Schuck

      Jeanine: I thank you for lending an ear. Know that I am here for you also. It wasn’t easy at the end with the diagnosis my mom had but it brought us closer.

  • Deanna T.

    You know I lost a parent this year too. It’s damn hard, and it doesn’t go away. I feel like I owe a written apology to everyone who ever lost a parent before me, yourself included. Like I read your posts, and I cried, and I felt great empathy for what you were going through, what others have gone through, but then it happens, you experience it yourself, and you realize it’s ten thousand times worse then you could ever imagine. It’s like a giant hole, a hole in your life, like someone stole away part of your childhood and your future and everything in between. So, so sorry for your loss Paula.

    • Paula Schuck

      Deanna: when I read of your father’s passing I was heartbroken for you. I feel exactly as you said also but the lovely community of people who lost parents before I did responded to tell me what to expect and to offer a hug or an ear and that has helped a great deal. I am always around if you ever want to talk.

  • Mommy Moment

    Hugs Paula. My grandma was like my mom, my best friend and my grandma all wrapped into one. We talked every day on the phone and enjoyed supper with her every Monday night. May 31 will mark my 1 year without her. My girls still talk about grammy regularly – We live in the house that her and my grandpa lived in for 38 years so the memories always surround me. I take comfort in knowing that I will always have my memories but there are still many days that the tears get the best of me.
    I wish I had the right words that would comfort you, but sadly there are no words that are good enough – losing a loved one is so very difficult.
    May you find some comfort in the memories.
    Lots of love and warm thoughts…

    • Paula Schuck

      Thank you Jody, so sorry for your loss as well. It’s strange how a person can miss those phone calls so much. My maternal grandma lived to 95 years old. I took for granted my mom would too.

  • Christine

    Paula, I just want to give you a big hug!! Your Mom sounded like an absolutely wonderful woman… no wonder you are as wonderful as you are! xoxo

  • Darlene Demell

    I am so sorry Paula for your loss. I can relate to your feelings and what you are going through as my mother was my best friend and is now gone too. She has been for 12 years in November. Just know your mother is with you always. As Kristen says, its doesn’t get easier it just gets more tolerable. Hugs…

  • Jenna Em

    Paula, I’m so sorry about your mom’s passing. We lost my father-in-law in 2010, and it is still very hard to process. Whenever I feel especially sad about it, I think of all the times that my FIL made me smile. He was an immigrant, and never got the word “watermelon” right: it was always “waterlemon”. Try to reach for the memories that fill your heart and make you feel full.

  • Suzanne Michele

    I am so sorry for your loss! It’s strange when the grief can take you over, sometimes the card isle at the grocery store, sometimes a comment from someone at work. I’m thinking of you during this time.

  • Jenn

    Wow… what a powerful, beautiful picture of grief. I am so sorry for your loss and hope those beautiful memories never fade.

  • Journeys of The Zoo

    For a while, I thought that I would forget about my son if I wasn’t constantly thinking about him. Mourning him. But then, one day, I realized that I wouldn’t forget him. Couldn’t forget him. He’s everywhere.

    Just like Grandma. That woman left quite a legacy. Happy Birthday.

    Besos, Sarah
    Blogger at Journeys of The Zoo

  • Suzanne

    Your love, and your loss, is so very evident Paula. Your mama is surely so proud of her incredible daughter and the children you are raising. What you are missing has given us a glimpse of the wonderful woman Norma was. Hugs to you my friend and Happy Birthday to your mama <3


  • Barb Marshall

    It’s completely ok to cry buckets and buckets of tears in the card aisle. I think your Mom would have found it fitting given she loved cards so much. What memories in your box of cards. Thanks for sharing from your heart.

  • Tasha

    I’m so sorry that you have to go through this Paula. I can’t imagine how hard this must be to deal with. My thoughts are with you. Stay strong lady and a Happy Birthday to your beautiful mama 🙂 Hugs xo

  • Raina

    My condolences on your loss. I lost my Mother tragically coming up on 8 years in June. Holidays and special days are always the worst for me too!

  • Daniela Duriavig

    Such a beautiful post Paula, so heartfelt. I still have my mom, but probably don’t appreciate her every day like I should. Thanks for the reminder. Your mom sounds like a special lady.

  • koala_tea

    Yes This. Exactly this. For me, Sunday was hard as it was mothering Sunday in the UK and we always celebrated both it and Mother’s day. Your description of grief is perfect. Thank you.