The Weight of a Life in a Reusable Grocery Bag

I followed the middle-aged couple out of the coffee shop and across the parking lot. The sun was bright, one of the first warm days of spring. We stopped behind their car, and the mom opened the trunk. She reached in and pulled out a large, reusable grocery bag. The handles stretched tight against the weight of the contents.

“Here they are,” she said.

“I really hate taking these from you,” I said. “I try to never take original photographs or journals from people.”

“You need to read these,” she said. “You need to see inside of her.”

I paused. The bag was heavy.

“I don’t accept these lightly. I will take very good care of them,” I said.

“I know you will,” she said.

* * * * *

There are many things that I love about what I do for a living. I love the life style it affords me and my family. I enjoy working at home, in close proximity to my wife and kids. I am fascinated by the people I get to meet.

But most of all, it’s the stories. It’s the lives that capture me, capture my imagination. Right now, I’m writing the story of a 95-year-old woman who was hugely successful in property. Her husband died in 1958, and she, a single woman, made her way in the business world through the 60s and 70s. She took up golf at 71. She once told me, “I didn’t stop driving at 93 because I thought I was incapable – it was all those other nuts on the road.”

Last year I had the honor of sitting with a dying man in Istanbul, Turkey and writing his life story. Then a 93-yar-old business man. The story of a father whose son confessed to him that he had committed murder. Project after project, story after story, all amazing.

But I have never journeyed into a story like the one for this couple, the one where I walked away from the back of their car with the weight of an entire life in my hands. Inside the bag were over 20 journals written by a young woman named Dawn. The journals detailed her battle with depression. They talk about “the Beast” and “the Imp” and many other forces she tried to overcome, day after day. Eventually, the battle became too much, and Dawn committed suicide.

Some people see those who commit suicide and think, “What a weak choice” or “What a selfish action.” But if you read Dawn’s journals, you quickly realize there are few people stronger than her. Every day that she chose to continue living was a huge victory.

I hope that entering into Dawn’s life this fall will help me, will help all of us, better understand the mindset of those who decide to end their own lives. I hope this story will give us a peek into the heart of someone struggling with a mental illness. I think that this death can lead to some kind of resurrection, some kind of redemption.

* * * * *

The journals sit in that bag in the corner of my room. I’m not ready to go into them just yet. But soon. Soon.

6 Replies to “The Weight of a Life in a Reusable Grocery Bag”

  1. Shawn, it’s been a while since I visited your blog. You’ve made exciting changes here.

    Your storytelling has always been good, and it is getting better with practice. People are trusting you with their precious cargo, their shopping bags filled with grief and stories.

    Blessings as you write. May your words touch many others. Maybe even save some lives. Or help them become more bearable.

  2. “But if you read Dawn’s journals, you quickly realize there are few people stronger than her. Every day that she chose to continue living was a huge victory.”

    Thank you.

  3. Shawn,
    I am soon to be 59 years old. My mother committed suicide when I was 3. All these years I have wondered and questioned in my mind how she could do that. Please read Dawn’s journals and share with us what you learn – you have been entrusted with a beautiful gift. I know you will use it well.

  4. I think it is incredibly brave of you to read those journals. I was marked forever by the suicide of a friend my first year in college- and it remains one of my biggest fears for people I love. I pray your heart is protected and can step away from the dark heaviness that must exist in Dawn’s story when you need to.

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