I suddenly have a lucid moment.
What would he say? What would he do? What would he think?
I think he would be extremely worried about the state of me. I think he might even be getting a little irritated with me by now. I know that if he were here, he would have physically picked me up and carried me upstairs and put me in a bath. Then he would have made me egg and soldiers to eat. With the eggs just right.
I know what I have to do. I have to stand up, empty the overflowing ashtrays on the coffee table, throw away the empty coke cans and air the room. I have to brush my teeth, wash and put on some clean clothes. I have to phone Vern and get him to come and fix the heating and hot water.
Before I do this I walk in the garden with the dogs and start crying when I look at shrubs he has planted, the lawn that he grew from seed and the hot tub house and decking that he built from scratch.
I'm suddenly aware of the sun shining on my face and sharply tilt my head back to face it. WTF are you doing shining in MY GARDEN. Fuck off. How DARE you shine on me or my garden. WTF are you DOING??
Right, I've dealt with THAT, off to get washed.
I drive down to pick up Vern who gets the hot water and heating on within a few minutes, and this brings home to me how USELESS I am without Cliff. I feel like a child, yet I am mourning more than ever, the fact that I could never have his child.
Panic grips me and I have to run upstairs. I grab the first photo album that I find and frantically search for photos of him. I have to reassure myself that he actually existed, and yes, there I am with him, and look, there we are HAPPY TOGETHER. I am NOT losing my mind.
Vern appears and announces that he thinks he will stay the night. There is no food in so perhaps a takeaway is in order. There is however, plentiful coke, cigarettes, cookies, milk and vodka, so that's ok. This will turn into a weekend routine - on Saturday nights. I like that we can sit and talk about Cliff, about anything, but initially it will be about my favourite subject - CLIFF.
I drive Vern back the next day, and go to visit Dad and Jenny, then Vicki. Jenny asks if I have collected the ashes. I have NOT. Would I like her to collect them? Yes please. It will be two further weeks before I am strong enough to bring them home with me.
When home again, I cry and wail and practically ululate, working myself up into a frenzy until I am completely spent, saying the same things over and over again. I flit from bargaining (I would do anything, ANYTHING for you to come back) to the darker (I don't want to be here anymore) to pure unadulterated crying and raging about the unfairness of it all (you deserved better, you shouldn't have died, it's not RIGHT) to sobs that rack my entire body until I am exhausted. I wander around the house without purpose and the tiniest things will set me off. I cannot last longer than 5 minutes without crying for the next week.
I finally return calls, texts, Facebook. My boss suggests that I take a further week off but begs me to get help. I tell her that I have joined a Forum, a Discussion Board, but she wants me to get some counselling as well. She makes me promise.
So I do it. I make the phone call and book a session. The counsellor's name is Frances and she lives at the bottom of my road. My first session is booked for March 16th which would have been Cliff's 53rd birthday. I decide that my birthday present to him this year will be to go to the session.
Having made this phone call, I attempt some others. I also open my mail and put it into actionable piles: PHONE, PAY, EMAIL, LATER (NOT YET). I am still delaying those things that are emotionally difficult for me to do.
Then I remember others that have hurt him, right back to when he was three years old and one home where he was fostered, they beat the shit out of him, and RIGHT NOW ALL I WANT TO DO IS SOMEHOW FIND THESE EVIL FOSTER PARENTS AND HURT THEM BACK or maybe just tell them what arseholes they are.
I'm sorry but I'm not strong enough now.
The next day I manage to cry, eat cereal and stay relatively balanced emotionally. I screen my calls and only answer the ones that I know will be supportive.
At least I am now:
making the bed
cleaning the kitchen and bathroom
showering, getting dressed, brushing my hair and teeth
going to the small convenience store to buy:
figrolls (that my Mom used to buy when I was small)
canned ravioli (once a week)
Vodka (if people have visited and I need to replenish my stock)
Kellogg’s multi-packs of cereal (that you buy for kids)
I find it hard to eat more than this. When I initially returned to work, I’d eat lunch there, and cereal at night, so at the moment I am surviving on cereal. At one point I wrestle with myself over a packet of soup. HE bought those and there is only one left. Am I hungry or do I want to KEEP that?
I am dreaming more about Cliff now. I like this because it seems to be alright. Right from the beginning I was terrified that I would wake up thinking that he was still here, and something is protecting me. Is it him or my own mind? In any event, I am aware that he is gone, even when I dream.
I am exhausted and go to bed at 8 every night. The dogs don’t seem to mind.
The few friends that are still calling soon learn to ring me before then if they want an answer.
One day this week, I start working out my finances, because I know I absolutely will NOT have the energy to do this when I’ve returned to work. It takes me SEVEN WHOLE HOURS to do this. I have to hunt for the calculator because my brain will NOT add up properly. I can’t seem to find all the information that I need. Information that he would have known automatically. It used to take him seconds to work stuff out, and it takes me seven long, frustrating and exhausting hours.
I do this for him. I do this because he’d be worried sick that I wouldn’t bother. I am so proud of myself that I smile.
FINALLY! My lips are no longer cracked and sore. I wasn’t aware of it, but I had been licking them constantly, perhaps with nerves, until they’d bleed when a rare smile stretched them across my face. So, I’d been making a conscious effort not to lick them, and kept applying Vaseline.
Then I wonder if I have done it properly, if I have omitted anything and have to email it to Karen, a friend in Savannah, and she duly checks through it for me. Hurrah! It appears that I haven’t forgotten anything.
Then I worry about Cliff’s tax return, immediately remembering that a friend’s husband has taken this off my hands and will deal with it when I am ready to do so. This makes me cry with gratitude and I think about the support I am getting.
An old school-friend calls me from Singapore. She lost her two year old son on February 14th 2000 and is therefore over-qualified, if anything, to talk about grieving and bereavement. We talk for an hour and 20 minutes and she recommends that I read, “Companion through the Darkness” and promises to email me “the NOVA piece” which details the different emotions and behaviours I can expect to encounter along my journey through widowhood.
She does this straightaway, and adds:
“I didn’t know I could feel such levels of emotion, that my heart was that big, that devastation could be so expansive and complete … over time, that huge vast bottomless hole just fills up with love and then the feeling is almost sublime … but it takes a good long while and oceans of tears to get to that point.”
I love this because it is in language that I can understand at the moment.
The NOVA Piece that she sent it pasted below. When I initially read this, I cry with relief because I now know that I AM NOT GOING MAD. EVERYTHING I AM FEELING, DOING, SAYING AND THINKING IS NORMAL IN THE GRIEVING PROCESS. I keep reading this over and over and it occurs to me that when people die, instead of giving you information about Funeral Directors (which you can find in the Yellow Pages in two seconds) they should give you a copy of this.
This spurs me on to go down to the Coast the following day to see Dad and Jenny, Vicki, Gaynor, and Roy. It is so good to see Roy but it is also so hard. We both struggle to keep our emotions under control, but we do it even if it is done with a huge amount of facial “leakage” to the point that I’m sure I look as though I am gurning.
I bring Cliff’s ashes and the flower cards back with me, along with two of the red roses, now dried, from his wreath. I speak to him all the way home, as usual, but this time, I really do feel like he is with me. Hilariously, I strap him into the back seat with a seat belt AS IF THAT MATTERS but it does to me ENORMOUSLY at the time. I like having his ashes with me at home, and kiss him goodnight each day. I decide:
Steve and I will spread some in Stockbury, where they were fostered by a lovely older couple.
I will spread some in my garden, so that he and Hammer are together.
Some of the pallbearers and I will spread some on the beach where he ran his pedaloes all those years ago
His family and some close friends will send the rest up in a mo-fo firework at the end of this summer, from my garden.
THEN HE WILL BE FREE JUST LIKE HIS SPIRIT WAS.
My mind is still not functioning properly so I can’t remember where people live, half of my vocabulary has disappeared, and I have to ask colleagues what people’s surnames are. Everything is taking at least three times as long as it normally does. I start to learn to be gentle with myself and not push myself too hard.
It occurs to me that I lived an entire lifetime with Cliff in fifteen years. Most people don’t experience what I did with him in an entire lifetime.
Then I remember what one friend at work had said to me:
Just because the person dies, doesn’t mean that the love dies with them.
And I find myself agreeing.
Stress and Trauma
Your Day-to-Day Life
Individuals exist in a normal state of "equilibrium" or balance. That emotional balance involves everyday stress, both positive and negative - like being late to work, getting a promotion, having a flat tire, getting ready for a date, or putting the children to bed.
Occasionally, stress will be severe enough to move an individual out of his or her normal state of equilibrium, and into a state of depression or anxiety, as examples.
But most people most of the time stay in a familiar range of equilibrium.
When Trauma Occurs
Trauma throws people so far out of their range of equilibrium that it is difficult for them to restore a sense of balance in life. Both "acute" and "chronic" trauma may be precipitated by stress:
1. Acute stress is usually caused by a sudden, arbitrary, often random event.
2. Chronic stress is one that occurs over and over again - each time pushing the individual
toward the edge of his state of equilibrium, or beyond.
Trauma can come from acute, unexpected stressors such as violent crime, natural disasters, accidents or acts of war. But it can also be caused by quite predictable stressors such as the chronic abuse of a child, spouse or elder.
The Crisis Reaction
The normal human response to trauma follows a similar pattern called the crisis reaction. It
occurs in all of us.
The physical response to trauma is based on our animal instincts. It includes:
1. Physical shock, disorientation, immobilization and numbness: "Frozen Fright."
2. "Fight-or-Flight" reaction (when the body begins to mobilize):
· Adrenaline begins to pump through the body: heart beat increases, perspiration starts, hyperventilation and hyper-alertness
· Increased sensory perception
3. Exhaustion: physical arousal associated with fight-or-flight cannot be prolonged
indefinitely. Eventually, it will result in exhaustion.
Our emotional reactions are heightened by our physical responses.
1. Shock, disbelief, denial accompanies by regression
2. Cataclysm of emotions
· anger, rage or outrage
· fear, terror or horror
· confusion and frustration
· guilt or self-blame
· shame and humiliation
· grief and sorrow
3. Reconstruction of equilibrium - emotional roller-coaster that eventually becomes balanced,
but never goes back to what it was before the crisis - a new sense of equilibrium will be
Trauma and Loss
Trauma is accompanied by a multitude of losses:
1. Loss of control over one's life
2. Loss of faith in one's God or other people
3. Loss of a sense of fairness or justice
4. Loss of personally-significant property, self or loved ones
5. Loss of a sense of immortality and invulnerability
6. Loss of future
Because of the losses, trauma response involves grief and bereavement. One can grieve over
the loss of loved things as well as loved people.
Trauma and Regression
Trauma is often accompanied by regression - mentally and physically.
1. Individuals may do things that seem childish later. Examples include:
· Singing nursery rhymes
· Assuming a fetal position or crawling instead of walking
· Calling a law enforcement officer or other authority figure "mommy" or "daddy" – or at least thinking of them that way
2. Individuals may feel childish. Examples include:
· Feeling "little"
· Wanting "mommy" or "daddy" to come and take care of you
· Feeling "weak"
· Feeling like you did when you were a child and something went terribly wrong
Recovery from Immediate Trauma
Many people live through a trauma and are able to reconstruct their lives without outside
help. Most people find some type of benign outside intervention useful in dealing with
Recovery from immediate trauma is often affected by:
1. Severity of crisis reaction
2. Ability to understand what happened
3. Stability of victim's/survivor's equilibrium after event
4. Supportive environment
5. Validation of experience
Reconstruction issues for survivors include:
1. Getting control of the event in the victim's/survivor's mind
2. Working out an understanding of the event and, as needed, a redefinition of values
3. Re-establishing a new equilibrium/life
4. Re-establishing trust
5. Re-establishing a future
6. Re-establishing meaning
Long-Term Crisis Reactions
Not all victims/survivors suffer from long-term stress reactions. Many victims continue to re-experience crisis reactions over long periods of time. Such crisis reactions are normally in
response to "trigger events" that remind the victim of the trauma. "Trigger events" will vary
with different victims/survivors, but may include:
Sensing (seeing, hearing, touching, smelling, tasting) something similar to something
that one was acutely aware of during the trauma
"Remembrance dates" of the event
Holidays or significant "life events"
News reports about a similar event
When recounting one’s story (e.g. to a therapist, social worker or judge)
Long-term stress or crisis reactions may be made better or worse by the actions of others.
When such reactions are sensed to be negative (whether or not they were intentional), the
actions of others are called the "second assault" and the feelings are often described as a
"second injury." Sources of the second assault may include:
· the criminal or civil justice system
· the media
· family, friends, acquaintances
· health and mental health professionals
· social service workers
The intensity of long-term stress reactions usually decreases over time, as does the frequency
of the re-experienced crisis. However, the effects of a catastrophic trauma cannot be "cured."
Even survivors of trauma who reconstruct new lives and who have achieved a degree of
normality and happiness in their lives - and who can honestly say they prefer the new,
"sadder-but-wiser" person they have become - will find that new life events will trigger the
memories and reactions to the trauma in the future.
Long-Term Traumatic Stress Reaction
When someone survives a catastrophe, they often experience stress reactions for years. Long-term stress reactions are natural responses of people who have survived a traumatic event. Long-term stress reactions are most often a result of imprinted sensory perceptions and
reactions in the brain and body. The most common types of long-term stress reactions
1. Re-experiencing the event both psychologically and with physiological reactivity.
Nightmares and distressing dreams
2. Numbing, avoidance, and isolation
avoidance of thoughts or activities that remind one of the event
avoidance of previous habits or pleasurable activities that the individual engaged in
before the event
estrangement and isolation
reduced affect or feelings of "emotional anesthesia"
a sense of foreshortened future
3. Behavioral arousal
inability to concentrate
insomnia or interrupted sleep patterns
flashes of anger or irritability
startle reactions or hyper alertness
It is not important to know all the symptoms for the stress reactions mentioned above. If you
become concerned about your reactions or how long they last, it is useful to talk to a mental
health professional who is a specialist in working with people who have experienced
© 2002 National Organization for Victim Assistance, Washington, D.C., USA.