The Citrus Peeler

This past weekend I sobbed because of a citrus peeler.

You’re right. It really wasn’t the fault of the peeler. But the sobs snuck up on me when the peeler was in my hand, so it’s a convenient excuse.

Wait, you don’t know what a citrus peeler is?

A citrus peeler is a plastic tool used to help peel citrus fruits. I know, you got that from the name. It has a sharp cutting hook on one end that can be used to slice through the skin of an orange, or in my case yesterday a grapefruit. The other end is a thin, slightly curved, flat piece of plastic which can be used to peel a section of peel away from the fruit. You use the cutting edge to make slices down the sides of the fruit, then peel the sections away with the peeler.

A blue plastic citrus peeler.
My citrus peeler.

Do you need a citrus peeler to peel an orange or grapefruit? Of course not.

However, my father used to swear by his peeler. From the first time he brought one home around the time I was ten years old, he rarely peeled an orange without it. He enjoyed his citrus peeler so much, he bought an extra just in case his trusted peeler broke.

When I was a teenager, Dad would grab his citrus peeler and an orange at night when we sat on the couch to watch Jeopardy! together. We would share the orange while I shouted out answers, trying to beat the contestants. Sometimes, mouth full of fruit, I would frantically wave my hand at the television, moaning when I knew the answer but the contestants got it wrong. Dad would laugh and shake his head.

If you ever make it on the show Neecie, don’t bring any food.

Yesterday, I sat watching a movie, a half peeled grapefruit in my lap, sticky citrus peeler in my hand, and it hit me. I eat fruit this way because of my father. Without warning, the memories of shared snacks came at me.

Grief is sneaky like that. You can be perfectly calm, doing something mundane like peeling a grapefruit, and all of a sudden you find yourself unable to breathe because your insides are being twisted by a crushing vice. I feel as if it waits for you to delude yourself into thinking you’re managing. You’re in your routine, coping as best you can, not mired in overwhelming feelings of loss, and BAM! Like a coiled cobra, grief lashes out and strikes, the venom paralyzing you in a heartbeat.

Which is how I found myself crying over a grapefruit yesterday, holding a sticky citrus peeler. And once the floodgates opened, they didn’t close.

After Dad’s death in December, I knew eventually I would have a melt down. I thought it might happen on his birthday in January. When it didn’t, I thought maybe I’d break down when I next visited his grave. I never expected it to happen on a Sunday afternoon in March while I peeled a grapefruit.

I’m sure it will happen again. I wish I could say that it won’t. But grief doesn’t work in neat, predictable patterns. Next time it may be something other than the citrus peeler. I hope it is, because I’ve cried enough tears over that!


20 thoughts on “The Citrus Peeler

  1. You know, I was having a similar moment myself when I read this. I call them sneak attacks–it’s always the most mundane thing, it seems. I think there is something profound and beautiful about this though–that something so every day makes such an impact. I think it speaks to the fact your dad was a huge part of your life, that he was more than a once-a-year presence. Hugs to you, my friend.


  2. Grief is sneaky, that’s for sure. And those for who we often feel the strongest sorrow are the same that brought us the most joy and delight. I am still figuring it out (and think maybe i will the rest of my life), but I question if that feeling ever goes away. Or does it just get covered over by the vagaries of life so that we can move on and function – a kind of human survival safety mechanism? In the process of surviving we learn to let the joyous portions push up through to the surface, and think fondly of what we shared with loved ones no longer with us…even though the roots still reach to those areas that are painful and become exposed lest we remain vigilant. Yours was a thought-provoking post this morning. I am glad I read it, and glad you took the energy to be vulnerable and share. Thank you for the gift of being you, Denise.


    • Thank you for such a thoughtful response as well. I appreciate you taking the time to share your thoughts. I’ve spent a lot of time thinking about how we process grief. You’ve made me think this morning too.


  3. Aww, Denise, I can see him at the table with it in his hand. My first one was in church the Sunday we got home. The memory of all of us in church through the years just hit me.


    • I almost cried after Christmas at church, when they had the reading about children honoring their parents. He always used to jab me in the ribs whenever that was read.


  4. Your Dad sounds like such a dear. I used to think grief was very unfair, assaulting innocent citizens as they just tried to get on with life. Now, I tend to think its surprise visits are better in that they keep us from getting frozen somewhere in time. This is such a beautiful story. I felt like I was watching you and your Dad eating oranges and watching Jeopardy.


  5. My friend and co-worker gave me a citrus peeler as a thank you for my recent Tupperware order. When I just held it in my hand for an extra minute, she said, “You don’t know what it is.” “Oh, yes I do”, I replied. “My dad always used one.”
    Just as you, I’ve been having more of these moments lately, with one in the middle of a mini-conference as we were watching a short video clip on relationships just this past Friday. Thanks for verbalizing for me. It helps. Love you.


  6. Those sneak attacks may often get triggered by the most memorable and treasured times with loved ones. I’m glad you have such wonderful memories.


    • Thank you. Anyone touched by grief will understand the sneak attacks come when they do, and we can’t avoid them forever. My life is blessed by those who have created those memories.


  7. This was very moving, Denise, and very real. Yes, indeed, grief is very sneaky and can suddenly be triggered by an apparently ordinary object. It’s not always a big overarching drama but the little things of everyday.


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