Coping with PTSD in December

Well, here we are. It’s the end of Christmas break (hallelujah!).

Weeks ago, I was so looking forward to the “busyness” of December to slow down.

Before grief, I knew that December was a demanding month for parents; Take away one parent, add intense emotional pain and the demands of every activity my children are involved in, and you’ve got me: someone who was just pushing through the tunnel to get to the light:

Christmas Break.

Little did I realize that once the “busyness” stopped, then other things would come to take its place. Things like reality.

My current reality (and just going to put it out there): I’m living with PTSD because my husband was killed on his way home from work, while we were in the middle of a conversation. I am now left to make a new life for our three babies without him. I attended a funeral without him for the first time ever as an adult (my sweet grandpa, RIP). Other glaring firsts: My first wedding anniversary since his death. My first house signing. This was also our first Christmas without him. It was our first New Year too. We were forced to leave him in 2016. And it’s because of all of those reasons, that I find myself using the eff word a lot these days.

When my therapist told me that I have PTSD, I thought she was being dramatic. I’m not suppose to have PTSD. That’s something that men and women who serve our country get. People in uniform who run into burning buildings and kick down doors. Fighters. Defenders. Not a mother of 3.

Sure. If I hear sirens when my kids are not with me, where I know they are safe, I fall to my knees. Sirens. It’s always the fucking sirens.

Then, the other day, while driving on the way home, the red lights of a state trooper filled my rear view mirror. My heart sank as I pulled my car to the shoulder of the expressway.

I was speeding.

My heart sank and guilt and grief turned into curdled lumps. Sirens again. And they’re my fault.

To my surprise, I watched the trooper  zoom past me. It wasn’t me that he was heading towards. My heart sank again, and I knew to where he was going before I even looked ahead, but I looked anyway.

Up ahead there were dozens of flashing lights…and I bawled. Traffic came to a stand still. And I had to fight the urge not to get out of my car and run.

I wanted to run up to the scene. I wanted to find my husband, drag him out of his stupid car myself, and hold him in my arms. I wanted to beg God to please grant me a miracle. It’s something I’ve longed for since hearing his accident.

We were rerouted around this fatal accident. And as we passed, I didn’t see any other person… I saw my husband. Let me be clear here, I’m not speaking figuratively. My emotional reaction was so strong to seeing this other car that my mind thought it was my husband.

So that was new. Hey, I guess that’s another “first” to add to my list of this December.

December is a month where all of us, by nature, reflect on the past. Family traditions, etc. This is so bad for the grief process. I repeatedly say that in order to survive this grief, I have to be present. December took me by my face and shoved my nose in the mess of my recent past. It forebode me from being in the moment. Ok, I feel the need to say the eff word again, so I’m going to: Fuck December. Seriously, fuck it.

All sarcasm and negativity aside — I am now looking to January and February… and every other month for that matter. My goal: Focus on that which gives me hope.

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Lovely Days

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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.

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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: 


A Baseball Story: That One Time I Said, “Sure.”

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It was last Summer (2015). It was dusk, and the kids were asleep. The heat of the day had broken, yet there was still a big, fiery sun lying low in the sky.

Scott was outside straightening up the yard, while I was doing the dishes or checking Facebook or something completely ordinary. He popped his head in and with a very loud whisper said, “Meg, come on out here.”

And I did.

When I got out, we discussed plans for our yard, while picking up children’s toys from the grass. He used a baseball bat to point at a tree that needed to be trimmed. Then with his other hand, he tossed a ball in the air and gave a good swing at it with the bat. I watched the ball as it flew to the other side of our yard, landing and rolling toward the back corner of the fence. I took a deep breath through my nose and sighed with contentment.

“Wanna play?” He looked at me and asked. After spending all day with our three little ones, I truly just wanted three little things: wine, sweatpants, and junky TV; the last thing I wanted to partake in was physical activity. I looked at him. His eyes were playful and filled with hope.

My reply surprised me,

 “Sure.”

Once I decided I was going to play, I was all in. We proceeded to set up the bases. We went over the rules, and I could feel his excitement. I hope he felt mine too. It was like we were twelve again, riding our bikes to the neighbor’s house and playing baseball until the sun set. We ran and laughed until our lungs hurt, and we very well could have played all night if it weren’t for the interruption.

“I see you over there,” Said a small, squeaky voice from our back door. We were busted. Our 6 year old daughter got out of bed for water and saw us playing baseball outside. She laughed, and I made a note to myself at the gratitude that I felt. My daughter got to see her parents having fun together. My daughter would know her mommy and her daddy loved each other.

And what was my gratitude is now my hope…that somehow this remains the same. Please, sweet girl, know: Mommy and Daddy loved each other: then, now, always.

The Fantasy of a New Widow

I wish I could take up a drinking habit. I fantasize about it often these days.

Not the kind of habit where I go out with friends, get hammered, and hit the drive thru on the way home; All of us laughing, listening to Rihanna songs.

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No.

I want the nastiest most painful vodka. I want to be alone with my misery. I want to be alone and lose my mind. My eyes smeared of mascara, my hair greasy and unwashed… This is the fantasy I have for myself. A drinking habit.

It can’t happen though.

I have little people looking to me for guidance through this confusing time. I have dear loved ones watching me, ready to catch me… and I really don’t want anyone to have to catch me.

I also have a belated husband who took great pride in my happiness. So I have to be happy. I have to wash my hair and drink coffee. I have to cry into a glass of good wine before going to bed early because the kids wake up for school in the morning. For him, I have to find happy.

But I really want vodka.

 

My Guy – A Tribute to my late Husband

          Scott and I were two children pretending to be adults when we met. The sense of relief we felt upon meeting one another was instant. We recognized something familiar in the other, and from that moment on, we didn’t have to pretend any more, and we became inseparable. I’ve been asked what it’s like to fall in love – for me, it was like I spent my whole life holding my breath and upon meeting him, I could finally exhale.

          When we became engaged, we told our priest: this is what God wants for us. This decision to get married did not come from a place of ration, reason, or even emotion. It was a deeply spiritual ”knowing”. Scott and I were going to build a life together, and together, we would protect the other’s childlike heart.

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           Things he loved: He loved music and dancing. He loved comfy clothing and fresh white tee shirts, but he also took great pride in wearing a suit. He loved playing video games, board games, all sports, and pretty much anything else that involved strategizing. He was a true “gamer”, and his approach to life reflected that. He would tell you that he likes the basics though: good food and spending time with his family. And boy, did I love to cook for him and boy, did we make the most of our time together.

         We talked about Heaven. He imagined it as a place where, upon arriving, all of your loved ones from the past are waiting to shower you with their love and encouragement, and you just feel the overwhelming warmth of God.

          There has always been so much to love about Scott. Initially for me, it was his smile and how generous he was with it; but there was so much more. He was incredibly focused, hardworking, and wicked smart. He was goofy and thoughtful and knew the true meaning of family. Family. Was his number one priority. He never missed a tee ball game or recital. He truly believed that we work to live and not the opposite. Work hard. Play hard. Family comes first. He was just the best. The best husband to me and the best father to our children.
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         While Scott would tell you that he was living his dream, he and I enjoyed talking about our future together. He really looked forward to retirement. He wanted to build a sweet tiny house and live the simple life somewhere spectacular. He knew that life isn’t about fast cars, designer homes, or large bank accounts – although those things are fun, they are just ‘things’. He said: life is about the bonds you form with others. It’s people. People: family and friends are what make life. And he loved you all. 

Thank you.

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