Tuesday, October 20, 2015

What You Can't Know

This post is for the several people this week who have said to me, "It's been 6 years since the accident?  It must be not as bad after all that time."  Or for good measure, "The girls are doing so well and seem so happy.  They must be over their parents dying."  To those people, this is how this week feels.

As irrational as it sounds, it feels like we are going to live the accident and the aftermath all over again.  The anticipation is physically and emotionally draining.  The trauma of that night is permanently imprinted in my mind.  As the memories come back in spurts throughout the day, I have an anxious feeling in my stomach, my chest feels tight like a heavy weight is sitting on it and I get hives.  I feel sleepy and tired. The only way to escape this feeling is to close my eyes and try to take a quick nap.  20 minutes sleep can often reset my body and mind.  This is all after years of therapy which have helped with my day-to-day, but can't stop the tide of feelings this week.

6 years is actually a very difficult number.  The accident happened on a Saturday and the anniversary this year also falls on a Saturday.  This means that the accident day and all the days following will fall exactly on the same days.  You may think that it sounds silly, but that makes it even worse.

Triggers for the trauma come in all forms. Sunday night we ordered Chinese for dinner because we had a crazy day.  I didn't think anything of it, until I sat down to eat and was transported back to a Saturday night 6 years ago when the Chinese food arrived minutes before I got a phone call from my sister that there had been an accident.  I couldn't eat.  In general, I'm having problems eating (see above paragraph about the anxious stomach).

Grieving while parenting grieving children is hard.  E and M are both struggling.  Thank goodness I was able to get M into an extra therapy session last night. The boys are worried about her and have been giving her extra hugs and attention.  L is very clingy and wants to make sure everyone in his family is alive.  A is worried that he is going to miss balloon day because he's running varsity in the championship cross country meet this Saturday. He knows how important it is for him to be there for M.  I think my physical symptoms are worse because I bottle up my own grief in order to support the kids.

The accident suddenly took away two people in our family.  We miss them terribly, but it also was absolutely devastating to the fabric of our family.  The decisions surrounding who was going to take the girls and ultimately splitting them up were gut wrenching.  Those decisions have had permanent negative impacts on our relationships.  My parents have never been the same.  Guilt, hurt, jealousy, and anger have seeped into our family bonds.  It's hard to handle at times.

I've documented for years here in this space how our immediate family has been affected.  In many ways, we have been defined by our trauma.

Grief can be very isolating.  There are often feelings of an "otherness" that you can't understand unless you have experienced it. Empty statements of support or canned phrases like "it will get better with time" only make me think something is wrong with me for feeling this way.  It sometimes feels like we're living in an alternate universe.

So for those people who think we've "gotten over it" that is definitely not the case.  Other people may not have the same reactions, but this is my reality.  A reality I wouldn't wish for anybody, let alone my children.  Unless you've been through something similar, you can't know how this feels.  So rather than offering platitudes or, as a friend did last night when I told her I was struggling, text me stupid pictures of kittens hoping I have a better day, simply say, "I'm sorry."  "I'm thinking of you." "I love you."

Anything else just makes an already awful situation worse.


  1. I'm sorry there are people in your life who don't understand the depths of your family's trauma. In Jewish tradition, the anniversary of a death (the "yartzeit") is an important day and it's traditional to make donations to charity in honor of the departed. Could you ritualize these terrible days leading up to the anniversary? Maybe light a candle each night, share a memory of Mike and Jeannie, and make a donation to a cause they supported? Maybe coming together as a family each night, acknowledging how hard these days are, would be helpful.

    Wishing you strength and comfort,

    1. thanks as usual Davidah . We get together as a family the morning of the anniversary, have breakfast together, and have a balloon release. The kids love to write messages on the balloons and send them to heaven. I like the idea of doing something charitable and lighting a candle each night.

  2. I'm sorry. Thinking of you all.

  3. It's 13 years today for me. And it's awful. I guess I'm now better at handling the day to day, but the actual anniversary? Ugh... This is the extent of my "progress": Over and over again today, I've caught myself being short-tempered and reacting way over the top with every little offense. And each time I've actually asked myself "what the hell is up with you?" before remembering what day it is and duh-ing myself. Over and over and over again. I guess it's progress that my conscious mind kept on forgetting the significance of the day? But oy, it's 9pm where I am, and I'm so glad the day is almost over.
    Much much love to you and yours. I think it helps a little to be with family -- I didn't travel "home" this year, so I didn't partake in any of our rituals. Hence the added frustration today...
    Thinking of you,

  4. Thinking of you. Hope balloon day goes well.

  5. I'm so sorry that people think that there is a time limit on grief and triggers. Continuing to think of you as this year's anniversary approaches.