Monday, August 30, 2010

Retail Therapy?

Give me a break! And, I don’t mean on the price. The expression ‘retail therapy’ is trotted out by anyone who needs an excuse to shop. This is just like “comfort food” is a reason to stuff our face with carbs. There. I’ve said it.

I hadn’t heard about ‘retail therapy’ until someone posted about it on Facebook recently. A flood of responses revealing purchases they made after their husband or wife died was as intense as Hurricane Earl.

Widows and widowers listed cars and clothes, furniture and ipads all bought while under the influence of grief.

I looked up “Grief therapy” on Wikipedia – the source for everything except where I left keys and glasses.

According to Wiki: Retail therapy is shopping with the primary purpose of improving the buyer’s mood or disposition. Often seen in people during periods of depression or transition, it is normally a short-lived habit. Items purchased during periods of retail therapy are sometimes referred to as “comfort buys.”

Curious about how this term came to be? “Retail therapy was first used as a term in the 1980’s with the first reference being this sentence in the Chicago Tribune of Christmas Eve 1986: “We’ve become a nation measuring out our lives in shopping bags and nursing our psychic ills through retail therapy.”

Always a healthy shopper, my shopping gene didn’t kick back in for at least six months after I lost Jimmy. That didn’t stop me from going to the mall, though. I remember wandering around watching people in twos pass by me. I felt unbearably foggy and disorientated. I couldn’t wait to get home.

My credit cards never left my wallet which is kind of the opposite of retail therapy. This is a phenomenon that only could have been caused by grief. It’s surprising that Mr. Bloomingdale himself didn’t call me at home concerned about my unusual low activity. How come he didn’t inquire if perhaps someone – one of my heirs - stole my card to curb my spending?

Like I said, this not spending phase was at the very beginning. I do remember one of the first items I bought was minor, yet intimate – pajamas. I was acutely aware that Jimmy would never see them. This was more than uncomfortable. It was surreal.

But, like a racehorse off and running with a good start I began spending much more than when Jimmy was alive. Today I could walk you through every room in my house including the backyard, garage and basement and there would be at least one new item.

My closet? Oh my. These days more clothes, more expensive clothes are hanging with the tag waving defiantly. No more need to feign “This old thing?” and I no longer have to tuck the receipt in an old shoe.

This is my point. Buying stuff after we lose our husband or wife is not unusual but is the motivation to ease our pain? Does a new sweater give us a momentary fix of well being or does it simply go perfectly with our new pants?

We slowly become conscious that we don’t have to answer to anyone anymore. Jimmy was always generous and never stingy, but what husband understands the need to have day cream, night cream, eye cream – you get my drift…And, what wife gets the importance of season tickets to Giant Stadium or a new Harley? 

Even an agreed upon purchase warrants a discussion.

"Should we get the brown carpet or the beige?"

We recoil and smile simultaneously at the realization that no one is around to veto our choices. 

So, let's not call it what it isn't.  It isn't retail therapy.  It’s sad and it’s lonely but no more negotiating and no more compromise is the therapeutic part.

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