Cashiers and Aging

by | Sep 8, 2021

The things I think of while waiting in line at the grocery store.

I was waiting in a very long line to checkout at the grocery store the other day. Since I didn’t have much else to do, I took the opportunity to people watch. I have come to that point in my life where I actually enjoy grocery shopping, if I get to do it alone. I become annoyed when they rearrange the aisles in the store and have even picked out my favorite cashiers.  This particular day, the store was slammed and each line was at least 3 carts deep.  My family eats a lot, leaving me with a very full cart every week. Most of the time, I have items still in my cart, a full conveyor belt and a full carousel of filled grocery bags. This is the moment when you learn the different types of cashiers. 

I believe they fall into a few different buckets based on their style. There’s Speedy, the cashier who quickly and vigorously scans and slides your items into bags, really not paying attention to what is going where.  You know who I’m talking about, he put the raw chicken in with the lettuce that one time. He’s fast and moves the line along. However, you may be surprised by smashed bread or broken eggs when you get home. Next is The Double Bagger, she puts everything in 2 bags regardless of what is coming next. Marshmallows, a taco seasoning packet and cotton balls; in two bags just to be sure it can hold the weight. Poor thing must have had a horrific accident with a bag tearing and vowed never to allow that to happen again. After all is done unpacking, I am left with two huge grocery bag balls that will come apart in the back of my car as I repeatedly forget to put them in the recycle box at the store.  

The last one is Mrs. Methodical.  If you get in her line, you may be deep into scrolling social media before it is your turn. She carefully selects which items she is going to put in each bag. She has mastered the art of grocery bag Tetris and will pull an item from halfway down the belt to get it in that perfect spot. I have become highly annoyed in her line. Most of those moments consisted of my children asking for each and every piece of candy while waiting for me to pay. Frustration waves over me and I try with all of my might not to say something snarky. Lately, I have noticed how much easier it is put groceries away Mrs. Methodical has bagged. Refrigerated items are all together, items for my pantry are in the same bag, and frozen items collectively stay cool. Now I am pretty happy to see her and enjoy watching her do her hyper-organized packing. 

On this last pass through her checkout line, I was struck with how similar her process is to my own professional process.  As a geriatric care manager, much of my time is spent fixing problems when they are at their absolute worst. In the metaphor of packed groceries, the bag broke and the milk and eggs crashed to the floor. While I am happy to help these families in these hard times, I much prefer teaching them how to prevent them from happening. Often, we go through life without a plan only to have to make hasty decisions in times of a crisis. Planning for the future can be an uncomfortable process. In an effort to have a plan for tough times, we need to talk through and make decision on upsetting topics. These conversations can be challenging and initially may cause frustration and many hard emotions, hence why so many avoid them. Much like enduring Mrs. Methodical’s line, this exercise is well worth the initial drawbacks. For example, talking about your end-of-life wishes will prepare you for having the conversation with others. This in turn will prepare you to have this conversation with your parents, which ultimately provides clarity for the real thing. I have enjoyed guiding families through these discussions: setting expectations, establishing a support system and understanding limitations. There are many topics to discuss as we age and we should work towards being as prepared as possible. I encourage you to start having these conversations with your family, the more we are like Mrs. Methodical, the better we will be set up in the future.