Blurred grocery store for blog by DC widow writer Marjorie Brimley Hale
Things That Suck

Dog Poop at the Grocery Store: A Widow Metaphor

Last week I went to the grocery store to get some mid-week groceries. I’d just finished up a long day of teaching and I realized that I didn’t have some key ingredients for dinner so I decided to pop into my usual supermarket. It’s been hit hard by Covid absences of staff, supply chain issues, and the consistent snowstorms we are getting in January – and thus, the shelves are often a bit bare. But I figured I could get enough food for at least a few meals.

The produce aisle was bleak. I stood next to an older man while we both looked at the one sad-looking head of cabbage left. “I don’t want it,” the man said to me, and I laughed. “I’m not sure I want it either!” I said, before picking it up. Then he laughed and we chatted for a second about the sad-looking shelves. It could be worse, we both figured.

It was a funny interaction, one that made me smile. There we both were, dismayed over the cabbage section, but still able to have a moment with a stranger. “Good luck,” he said as I left.

I turned down the next aisle, looking for some oatmeal, and almost ran into a couple with their dog. I was taken aback. It was definitely not a service dog, and it was wildly pulling at the leash the owner held. I didn’t quite know what to make of it, but I just decided there must be a reason for someone to do something so obviously against the rules. I mean, there must be a rule about this sort of thing, right?

But whatever. I just needed to get a few more things. I shopped in silence for a few more minutes before getting some eggs. I was done, so I headed towards the checkout.

Behind me, I heard commotion. I turned around and saw the people with the dog. It took me a moment to realize what was happening, but then I saw it: the dog had just pooped on the floor! The owner was cleaning it up with a poop bag like it was the park, and I just stood there, transfixed by the scene in front of me. In about 10 seconds he cleaned most of it up and then kinda ran away, leaving a slight smear of dog poop running all down the aisle by the eggs.

I looked around. Did anyone else see this?! I got a few raised eyebrows, but no one seemed to know what else to do. I decided to try and find an employee, but I only succeeded in finding a grown man shopping with a blanket on his head like he was 5 years old. He also had a coat on. Was this just what people were doing these days?

What was going on?!

Eventually, I gave up. There were only a few overstretched employees checking people out and I figured the mess wasn’t that bad. I didn’t need to cause even more stress on their days. Someone would mop at the end of the night, right?

I went home, made dinner, and sat down with my family. We said grace, and began eating. And for some reason, I started telling the story of the grocery store.

I embellished a little, because (as my dad likes to say) “our family never lets facts get in the way of a good story!” I re-enacted the guy trying to quickly clean up the dog poop and run away, and the kids laughed so hard that Tommy almost fell out of his chair.

Later that night, I was reading over some old blog posts from back in the early days of widowhood. Yes, most of them were just sad. Some were about how I was trying to overcome something, and those posts were basically about me cheering myself on. But a few were about what daily life was like.

And honestly, daily life in widowhood can be a lot like that grocery store.

Like the empty shelves, life can seem quite bleak. It can be hard to feel good about the world. But a random two-minute conversation with a stranger can sometimes add just the tiniest bit of happiness to your day when it seems like everything else is bad.

Truly wild things can happen, too. I mean, that was the first time I saw a dog poop in a grocery store, but widowed life is often one big (bad) surprise after another. Thought you’d paid the mortgage correctly? Wrong! Imagined you could take your kids on an easy trip? Wrong! Hoped you’d be able to easily interact with the online dating community? Wrong!

And at the end of it, when you’re looking for someone to save you, you start to realize that there’s no one to save you. There’s just other people wandering around, many just as lost as you. You have to save yourself.

Maybe I’m overdoing this “dog pooping in the grocery store” metaphor. Maybe I just wanted to tell a wild story and this was how I managed to work it into my blog. Maybe this is a stupid way to think about widowhood.

But still, it works, even the ending.

Because in widowhood, and in life, you have to laugh at the truly absurd parts. Even if it makes you fall out of your chair.


  • John O'Flynn

    “You have to save yourself”. Such true words. For three years after my wife Louise passed away, I kind of retreated into my own head and really just lived for my three kids. With a little push from my teenage daughter, I decided maybe ill try and live a little again so I tried online dating. I have met the most wonderful person I could have imagined and think I have fallen in love again. I often say my new girlfriend has saved me but she says no, you saved yourself by putting yourself out there again. I’m glad I got that little push and decided to save myself.

    • M Brimley

      I love this story. And yes, your girlfriend is right – no matter how you do it, it’s widows and widowers who save ourselves. That’s just how it works. I’m happy you’ve found love again.