7 Ways of Coping with Traumatic Loss

While there are many forms of  loss such as divorce, unemployment, estranged relatives, the death of another human being cannot be compared to any other experience on this earth. It is a totally unique experience. When it’s unexpected, there’s a whole other set of challenges that present themselves.

Everything is cyclical. You will have dark periods that cycle out and return, and with time and healing, the dark periods grow shorter. Do not expect them to disappear completely though. We loved that person; And it’s because we loved that person that there will always be sadness associated with their absence.

I’m not an expert (I don’t know who would want to be an expert in this). These are all things I’ve learned and observed through the last two years. 35985576_10214767892245350_7557907341509656576_n

My long time friend and fellow writer, Trisha Lynn, and I did a FB Live this week to
discuss some ways we cope with the losses that we’ve experienced. (*to see a replay of this go to www.facebook.com/31MainStreet ) Here, I briefly recap those suggestions, as well as discuss some other tools that weren’t mentioned in our Facebook Live:

Music – PURPOSE: Creating new pathways and associations in your brain. Music can understand you in a way that people can’t some times. When talking to others who are grieving, I’ve noticed a commonality. A lot of us have songs or entire genres associated with our loved one. In the beginning, it can be painful to listen to a song that feels like it belongs to someone else who is no longer here. So until then, I highly recommend finding an artist or genre that you never considered before. It could be EDM, Classical, or Jazz. For me, there was a whole other world of music that I never knew about (*for more on this see my post: How Music Worked With Me this Year )

Journaling – PURPOSE: Our minds race. Thoughts can build up and intertwine with one another, binding us, making it impossible to function. Many times, our thoughts can get so tightly wound up. It can be hard to make a decision as simple as what to do first in our day, so we go back to bed. Journaling (first thing in the morning or last thing at night in particular) can be a wonderful tool to rid ourselves of the useless thoughts. There’s a book to reference for this. It’s called The Artist’s Way by Julia Cameron. In the book, Cameron offers a means of decluttering one’s mind. She calls it “Brain Dump”, and I think that’s the perfect term. Get rid of all of the crap bouncing around in there, close your journal, and be one step closer to clarity.

Learning Something New – PURPOSE: Creating new neuro pathways within our brains. Learning something new will build your confidence in this foreign world. It will give you a sense of control that you feel you’ve lost. Some skills that I’ve learned over the past two years are real estate and shooting. Both of these areas have served different purposes for me personally, but the world is boundless with possible new careers, skills, or hobbies you could develop.

Reading – PURPOSE: This serves as a great escape from reality and can be incredibly comfortable and relaxing. It also serves another purpose. It goes along with the suggestion above: learning something new. I highly recommend reading books that feed you in a positive manner. Books like, The Slight Edge by Jeff Olson and 7 Habits of Highly Effective People by Stephen Covey, come to my mind. As Olson states in his book, reading just 10 pages a day will still move you in a positive direction forward. This fosters both patience in the process of learning, and also, it’s effective in the absorption of content.

Faith – PURPOSE: It’s my ‘why’. The promise that I will be reunited with loved ones some day is what keeps me going. While I don’t push my beliefs on another, I will say that believing in something bigger than myself has gotten me through some extremely dark times. (If you ever want to have a respectful conversation about it separately, I’ll gladly discuss my beliefs.)

Exercise – PURPOSE: Get rid of toxins. The enzymes in a sad tear have a different make up than the enzymes in a happy tear. These are toxins being released. Exercise elevates the heart rate, getting blood cycling throughout your body, but also, helping you to literally sweat out bad feelings. There’s so much already written about this, and I invite you to research it on your own, but endorphins have been way more powerful in my life than any other outside substance.

Physiological Exercises: PURPOSE: These are calming activities done for severe panic disorders as well as Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD). The sudden death of a loved one brings trauma. Traumatic memories are stored differently than other memories. Our brain boxes them up tightly, so we can function in other aspects of our lives. The problem is that the mind takes this tightly packaged memory and puts it in the emotional section of our brain, so if we have a trigger, a stimulus that pops the top off of this memory, we experience the emotions as if the event is happening all over again. This is overwhelming. Here are some recommended activities that one can use to calm his or her self down from a panic situation. While Trisha and I explain it in the context of PTSD, it is applicable to many other situations. Parents use this for children with intense emotions or who may fall on the spectrum. With the demands of our world nowadays, these activities are beneficial to anyone who feels like they are overwhelmed with panic. The first step before any of these recommendations is to recognize the rising feeling of panic, then proceed with any of the following exercises…

  1. The A-B-C Trick – Trisha explains this as first, choosing a category. The example she gives is “Animals”, but you could decide on any category (i.e. food, cars, TV shows). Once your category is selected, go through each letter of the alphabet and name an item within that category. So for Trisha’s category, “Animals”, one could say, “A – Alligator; B – Baracuda; C – Chamillion…” And so on. Do not stop until you’ve reached ‘Z’. Repeat as desired.
  2. Shoulder Tapping – This was recommended to me by a fellow widower, who experienced intense trauma in his life. Here, the individual takes his or her arms and crosses them over their chest, each hand on his or her shoulders. Then, just lightly tap their shoulders with their hands, remaining silent while tapping. (I was also told that one could tap their own sinuses to alleviate stress. This is depicted in my blog: Panic Attacks: 5 Quick ‘In-the-Moment’ Exercises to Alleviate Them)

While I know most of these are fairly simple recommendations, I also know that adding them into your life, when you’re under mental stress and emotional pain, is easier said than done. Here, I reference the book “The Slight Edge” again. Jeff Olson, the writer, points out that this “…path can be uncomfortable…scary. Especially if you’re the only one around who’s on it.” He also continues on to say that, despite this, if we take small baby steps forward, we will see change. Positive change. Pick one small way to cope and take your first baby step, even if it’s itty bitty.

Big Love,

Megan

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Lovely Days

mornings3

Happy Anniversary.

When we talked about it a few months ago, it’s not the one that either of us thought we’d be having . I was looking forward to the ‘surprise date’ you were planning for us, and I think of it often… what was it?

What would we be doing right now? This morning?

That, I do know …

You would pop up to the first sound of your phone alarm – set to the song “Lovely Day” by Bill Withers, and I would pull the covers tighter, with my eyes still closed and listen as you opened drawers and selected a shirt from its hanger. On special days like Fridays (or anniversaries), I could hear you dancing or singing as you chose your ensemble. The creaking of the floor boards as you walked back and forth from the bathroom to our bedroom were like an extra blanket to me. Pure comfort.

Then, once your shower was finished, you were dressed and cleaned shaved. You always came and sat at the foot of the bed on my side, tucked into my little nook of blankets and the grumbled mess that I am in the morning. You would sit there, with your socks in your hand, and I would feel you thinking.

That’s when I would open my eyes.

This was our time to discuss plans for the day. See, it was the same thing every weekday morning:

6:45 a.m. Bill Withers’ Lovely Day

6:47a.m. Choose a shirt. Take a shower.

7a.m. Sit by Meg with socks and think.

My mornings are different now. They’re still the exact same replica of the one previous to itself, but the routine, itself, changed overnight. Mornings are difficult for me. You’re probably laughing because they always were, but this isn’t the “hit snooze 12 times” type of difficult.

I wake up every morning, sore from head to toe. The therapist tells me it’s because I’m a person who “internalizes” my emotions. I lay in bed and subconsciously beg God every morning that this isn’t true. Please tell me how to undo this. Immediately, I become angry with myself for even asking that.

Then there’s fear…

How am I going to get our babies and I through the day today? Do I have the strength to get up and make them breakfast? Get them to school?

Usually by this time, one of the kids has woken up, and I’m reminded that there is no questioning. There’s only doing.

And I’m doing my best.

6:45a.m. Lay in bed, awake.

6:47a.m. Pain, begging, fear..

7a.m. Get on with the day.

I know you’d be in awe of the way others have supported us. It makes me sad to know that some of these kind faces will never get the pleasure of hearing your enthusiastic voice. My God, do I miss your voice.

These are the things I miss the most. I miss my morning guy. I miss acting like you annoyed me, when secretly I admired your cheerful disposition and your energy. I’m really pissed at myself for not telling you every second of your beautiful life that I felt this way.

I’m sure our date would’ve been perfect, but it’s not the dates that I miss. It’s things like ordinary mornings and the sound of your voice.

mornings

Painting in a Tidal Wave: Finding Enjoyment After Loss

Grief.
Contrary to what I thought prior, it’s not an emotion. It’s a condition. An illness. 

 I am ‘fine’ for several minutes strung together at a time. I can even carry on a light conversation without losing “it”. Once again, I can do this for several minutes. 

Then the wave washes over me.

And that’s when I lose the “it” I mentioned above. 

Yesterday, my best friend of over 20 years, Lisa,  took me out for the first time since Scott passed away. It was a painting event during the day, and the proceeds went to the American Cancer Society. We even signed a petition while we were there. It was to get a law passed, making it more affordable for everyone to receive the pill form of chemo therapy. 

I was nervous about going, but I, like my kids, have “safe” people who are tender in my situation. Lee* is one of these people. 


When we were there, I met some of her coworkers. I shook their hands and said “hi”. I was working hard to hide my shattered heart. Mimicking my old ways, I wondered if the act was working or if my face betrayed me. No real way of knowing, I felt it was best to get lost in the art project at hand. 

Painting pallets. 

The highlight: We were able to beat the crap out of our pallets. They had hammers, mallets, and chains, and safety glasses. It was very official stuff, and I was into it.

So into it, that at one point I realized I was the last person, whaling on my pallet. To say it was a release would be an understatement.

I proceeded to paint my piece of wood, appreciating its knots, experimenting with different colors. Once we were finished with that, the art teacher told us to wait. It needed to dry.

We sat for a few minutes. Waited. We laughed at the spelling error on my stencil.


 I waited some more. We all waited. 

Then it came.

Your husband is dead.

It, just a thought, a whisper, a reminder from nowhere, washed over me like an ocean filled with the weight of 60 years of memories. Lost. 

It struck me so concretely, I spoke aloud, “What the hell?!” 

I rushed to the bathroom, locked the door, and stood in the dark and sobbed.

 What was happening? I don’t know. I really don’t. Here I was in the dark at 2 o’clock in the afternoon on a Sunday. 

Then came something else – a different thought, whisper, reminder…

It’s going to be ok.

I cried more, refusing to accept this.

It’s going to be ok.

It persisted. I was silenced.

I turned the lights on, wiped my tears, and turned them back off. I stood in the dark, holding the handle of the door. You can do this. 

I remembered to breath, then I opened the door.

As for my project, here it is: 


Lullabies and Lessons

* This was written before Lydia and Jax entered our lives, and before Scott left this earth. *

Last Wednesday was like any other Wednesday afternoon for a while there, then my life changed a little bit, and I was given a window of insight into the true meaning of motherhood.

It was a gift.

A woman, of about 60 years, came through the vestibule, wheeling her son into the restaurant. They had visited The Country Inn before, and it was always my assumption that he was born with a disability of some sorts.

It’s the kind of disability that makes one uncomfortable no matter how kind of heart you are. For this poor soul, this grown boy had no voice. No speech. He wailed out once in a while, his tiny arms coiled under, tucked into his frail white body. He had a head brace and flailed about every so often. For me it was difficult to see. I wondered if he suffered.

So Wednesday they came in, and Wednesday this boy (We would later learn his name: Chris) was in a particular disarray. He grunted loudly, wailed, and flailed his wrists. We even had another couple stop us to ask if we’d box their meals up, “We can’t eat with all this noise.” (As servers, we granted their request. As human beings, we wanted to tell them to grow a heart.)

Approaching the table of Chris and his mother, I saw a woman caring for her child. I saw myself in her, “Why are you so unhappy today, baby? What can Mommy do to calm you down?” She looked at me, “Maybe some ice cream?” She was directing her thoughts aloud to me.

“That sounds good,” I said, “We have vanilla, chocolate, or strawberry.”

“Mommy’s going to get you some ice cream. Ok?” She said, cupping his head in her hand, “We’ll take a little bit of vanilla please.” She was sure to smile warmly at me, but her eyes looked tired.

I brought the ice cream out to her, while holding my own tears back. My heart swelled to see such love between a mother and a child. I left them to their dessert, watching from afar in pure admiration and awe as she spooned the ice cream into his mouth to the tune of a lullaby.

You are my sunshine, my only sunshine.

You make me happy, when skies are grey.

Coming by to take her order, she spoke before I could ask if she was ready, “He wasn’t always like this. You know.” I didn’t say a word. What would I say? I was just called upon to listen, “When Christopher was six, we lived on the canal. He was outside tagging along with his uncles when he fell through the ice.” My eyes flooded, “but they rescued him. They sure did. He would have died. It took them 20 minutes to get him out from under there, but they got him.”

“Oh my goodness.” They were the only words I could manage to get out.

“Yes, when they rescued him, his lips were blue. He aspirated. That’s actually what cut the oxygen supply to his brain. He hasn’t grown since then,” She spooned another bite of vanilla into his mouth, and I looked into his brown eyes, wondering what his thoughts were. Was he that six year old little boy trapped in a completely disabled body, unable to talk, walk, or smile? “He’s actually 31. Believe it or not. It happened 25 years ago, and he’s been my little boy all this time.”

“Bless you.” I said and quickly walked away so I could cry and pray.

And she sang on…

You’ll never know dear.

How much I love you.

Please don’t take

my sunshine away.

———————————————————————————————————————————-

I kissed my daughters about a hundred times that evening. Since then, I’ve snuggled with her to the very second she’s fallen asleep at night. If she wants to read a second, third, fourth book, I’ve done it.

Because it’s more time with her. Precious time.

I don’t want to generalize everyone, so I will only speak for myself. I know I tend to take life for granted. I make plans around growing old and complain about happenings that are outside of my control; Petty things that won’t matter five years from now, next year, or tomorrow.

What I’ve never known though…

What Chris’ mom taught me is…

I am not guaranteed to grow old.

Everything I’ve been blessed with in this life…

it isn’t mine forever.

So I kiss my daughter a few extra times before I leave her, and I tell the ones I love that I am happy to see them because I am. I don’t take for granted that everyone knows how I feel any more. I tell them.

Sophie and I have a thing we like to do at night. We take turns telling God what we are thankful for that day. My wish for her is that she grows up, knowing how precious life is and how lucky we all are to experience it.

Chris’ mom has a remarkable love for her son and her inspiration will have a warm place in my heart forever.

————————————————————————————————————-

Big love.

Then and Now: a Confused Woman

“As much as you’ve wanted to, you can’t control the future, Megan,”

A notion I heard countless times before, yet never was able to wrap my heart and soul around its concept. Even still. Now. I remind myself that it is not a concept. It is a truth.

The future is out of my control.

Me: comfortably mediocre since I was an adolescent. In my own way, I thought by never doing much, I could never lose much either. I’ve been in limbo for years. Quietly panicking about the future, I’ve slept in a constant state of ordinary, not knowing what else to do. Throughout my life, if I couldn’t control it, I put no effort into it…

He awoke someone who had lived within me, dormant for so long. The woman who does what’s good for herself, who believes in herself… a woman who is happy… I couldn’t understand her before. Someone, once frightening, is now here and alive.

She is me.

He awakened the woman who puts the effort in…

And this is the point where I cry.

For years, I’ve been trying to put into words what Scott does for me. It’s like everyone else talks to the mediocre me. Scott speaks to that sleeping woman within me.

And she listens.

December 1, 2007. I will become Mrs. Megan Bajorek, but it’s more than that. It’s the day that I embrace that sleeping woman who he sees. It’s the day that I deny the girl who is fine with ordinary.

“…you can’t control the future, and neither can I! But I have you here, and I want you to be there in my future, by my side. That’s what I do have control over.” ~Scott, 2006

 

*EDIT– I wrote this by hand, before blogging and social media were gigantic. It was later posted to my MySpace, but I thought I would share it here.

Scott passed away in a car accident last month and reading this brings me both pain and gratitude. I wish I could have one without the other, but apparently, all good things come with a price.

The pain needs no explanation. He was the love of my life.

The gratitude is to him…

Leaving the school parking lot today, two moms power walked past my van. Sweet ladies, laughing and carrying on… I smiled, while wondering what they were gabbing about.

They’re probably talking about their diets, or the shape of their butts, or recipes they’ll be trying this week. They’re probably complaining about their picky eaters at home. These thoughts streamed through my mind and then one floated to the top. They’re probably complaining about their husbands.

I used to complain about my husband.

“He didn’t…” “He forgot…”  “He’s so…”  “He’s too…”

I look back now on these statements and see how oblivious and spoiled I was.

Me. Me. Me.

I was given such a gift. My person. Someone who not only understood me in a world that couldn’t, but he also asked me to be brave. He encouraged, almost demanded, that I be myself. He loved the ‘me’ I worked so hard to hide. All of that, and he gave me three babies.

Why would I ever pretend that it wasn’t enough? It was everything.
I don’t pray to turn back time. 

I miss being the sweet, spoiled, oblivious wife, but I know that’s just a distant fantasy now. My prayer is different. I pray to God for one statement: thank you.

I want to give all those mindless complaints back to speak those two words to him.

I plead for it daily.