I just ate a Slim Jim and started to cry. How can eating a dried meat stick bring back painful memories? How do the most innocuous acts trigger grief and pain and sadness?
Is there anything that won’t remind me of what I’ve lost?
A few short weeks after my husband’s small cell lung cancer diagnosis, we began chemotherapy. I say “we,” although I never had toxins injected into my body. I say “we,” but I never experienced the unrelieving series of tests and scans, or having a PICC line inserted into my vein, or nausea, or injections, or blood transfusions, or radiation therapies to my lung and brain.
I say “we” because I was there, watching, enduring, trying to be supportive and strong every step of the way as the man I loved attempted, in vain, to beat an insidious foe.
What does this have to do with a Slim Jim?
When Rick and I spent hours in the infusion center during his months of chemo, I packed snacks for us to eat during the long days. For Rick: anything and everything he desired or his chemo-sensitized stomach could tolerate. For myself: low-carb treats like string cheese, almond packets, and Slim Jims.
Today, eight months after his death and more than a year since his last chemo session, I pulled out a Slim Jim for a quick snack at work. As I wrestled with the stubborn packaging, the memories came back in a rush… sitting across from him in the quiet, dimly lit room, watching as the toxic chemicals dripped into his system, staring at him for hours as he reclined under a blanket, snoring softly.
But then I also recalled his stoicism and his valiant attempts to alleviate my sadness as we visited the basement level of the medical center each day for his 37 lung radiation treatments: him joking and pinching or poking me every time we boarded the elevator and me chiding him and telling him we were on camera and that security would report him for abuse – then reaching to tickle him and both of us laughing and kissing.
In the midst of the most difficult days of his too-short life, he often tried to ease my suffering with laughter, and now that he’s gone, the simple act of riding in an elevator brings back those bittersweet memories, too.
An innocuous Slim Jim transported me back to those painful, yet hopeful, times. Days when we both clung to the tiny fragment of hope that Rick would live. Days that were awful, yet better than the empty days I now endure without him.
Days that I thought were the worst of my life, but that I’d live through again if I could, just to see him one more time, hold him once more, hear his voice, once again.
Yes, in an instant, opening a Slim Jim brought all those emotions back in a rush: sadness and tears, hope and longing, pain and fear, laughter and love, leaving me to wonder how I will endure a future in a world filled with so many unexpected triggers.
And knowing I have no choice.