Shattered

In the kitchen I reach for a glass from a high shelf. I glance at the cat who is staring at the counter. He twitches, betraying his intent to jump up onto forbidden territory. I am distracted and my fingers lose grip on the glass. It falls to the floor, shattering into a thousand pieces. The alarmed cat escapes as fast as he can.

The floor is covered with sharp, tiny fragments. It will be difficult getting out of the kitchen without cutting my unprotected feet. Tears fill my eyes at my carelessness. My self-esteem is as fragile as the glass these days, and it doesn’t take much for it to crumble into pieces too. As I stand there it occurs to me that this is what it’s like to grieve a child. 

Life shatters. My family and heart have shattered. I stare at the pieces. I don’t have the energy to clean it all up, to put it back together. I don’t think it will fit back together anyway. There are important parts missing. And it’s so, so broken.

Pieces of glass get everywhere. There are shards under the rug, behind the cat bowl, under the dishwasher. Some have flown all the way to the dining room. Little slivers slice deep into your feet if you step on them unaware. Razor edges cut your fingers even if you handle them gently, just trying to pick them up. 

This is grief.

Life, family, self, faith, relationships, peace, meaning, motivation, safely…all shattered.

I’m always cutting myself on slivers unexpectedly. They hide, blending in, until I put my fingers on them and suddenly I’m in pain and bleeding. 

Junk mail addressed to Samuel. Offering some deal he will never be old enough to need.

Reaching under the sofa and finding his sock.

A friend posting photos of her kids, smiling and happy. 

A red crayon.  

A baby.

A thunderstorm. 

Noodles.  

Bleeding again.

When you break something on the floor, you tell everyone to stay away so they don’t step on the glass.  

In the same way people stay out of my life. It’s dangerous to walk too close, they might get cut. My grief is sharp. My thoughts and words and responses can be sharp these days too.

It seems strange, but I make myself a spot in the middle of the broken pieces and settle in. It was precious to me, all that was destroyed, and I don’t want to let it go. My child, of course, is irreplaceable. I feel the loss of everything he is, of the future he will never have, and the emptiness in my own life because of his absence. I also miss the old me, and the carefree way I could move through a day. I didn’t appreciate how easy it was to talk to others until it became awkward and hard. I no longer feel purpose and significance in life through my relationship with God. I’ve lost the joy of worship. My confidence is gone. My ability to laugh whole-heartedly is gone. I can’t pick up toys in the living room or fix afternoon snacks without feeling sad. Peace, patience, energy, fun, all gone.

Life will not return to the way it used to be. Some things are broken beyond repair, yet I hold on to them like they were part of a beloved heirloom and I’m not ready to throw them away.

This is bigger than me. The only solution is divine.

But the Divine seems in no hurry to soften the edges, repair or replace some of what I’ve lost, or at the very least, whisper peace into my broken heart. 

So I wait, surrounded by the remnants of things I treasured.

Moving carefully, trying to minimize more injury. 

Exhausted because of the mental energy it takes to tiptoe through brokenness.

Crying, missing my beautiful son.

Afraid of the memories that come, unwanted, of the moment it all smashed apart.

Wondering if I will sit here forever.

Floating on Time

I used to move through life anticipating the future. 

Now I find myself drifting through my days looking backwards.

Looking forward is disheartening. Ahead I see obstacles to overcome, hard times waiting. I will soon have to grieve the start of a new school year without Samuel. On back-to-school night I won’t have a reason to go into the 1st grade classrooms, but I should. I’ll grieve the fall season without him, farm field trips, costumes and candy. The annual school sock hop. Thanksgiving, and the first anniversary of his death. Then Christmas, which…I don’t even know how to face that. It was hard last year, but we were in shock. Then a long, cold winter. How will we make it? The future feels insurmountable.  

So I look back. I count the days since Samuel was here with us. I can still look back to “this day last year” and remember what we were doing as a family of five. In a few months I won’t be able to do that anymore, as time is moving us towards the one-year mark. Each day takes us farther from him.

I have a strong sensation of floating on time. I don’t strive towards the future, and I’m learning that it doesn’t do any good to grasp onto the present or the past. Time is a slogging river that moves slowly across my life, and I am carried along. The things I am reluctant to face, they will come. And then they will go. When a day is particularly bad because I’m dealing with something stressful, I no longer look ahead, hoping for things to get better tomorrow. I just float on. Time will bear me past whatever crisis is in my path. I watch things dwindle into the distance behind me.  

The only thing that doesn’t disappear into the past is Samuel’s death.  I must grapple with the reality of his absence every day.

Life is moving, but I don’t direct it.

My days are aimless.

Floating.

Sneezes

Jeremy sneezes out the car window when we’re driving. He insists that this is normal, but I’ve never seen anyone else do it. His sneezes come without warning, and in the car they seem ridiculously loud and amusing. Maybe they amplify in the confined space, I don’t know. We’ll be driving along, and suddenly he thrusts his head out the window with an aggressive sneeze that would knock over a backyard full of small children. Every time I dissolve into a fit of giggles.  

One time, after such a sneeze, Samuel sincerely asked from the back seat, “Daddy, why are you mad at the trees?”  

We all laughed. A content family, enjoying each other. I remember wishing the moment would last forever. 

Samuel was pleased with himself for adding to the occasion. In typical little-boy fashion he repeated his joke at every opportunity. Daddy would sneeze, I giggle uncontrollably, and Samuel proudly states that daddy is mad at the trees. Our family joke.

Now when Jeremy sneezes in the car, I smile, but there isn’t any laughter. We share a glance, then stare vacantly out the windows, trying again to absorb the loss of the little voice that is supposed to deliver the punch line.

Sunday morning we headed to church. Jeremy sneezed. I startled like it was a gunshot and almost jumped out of my skin. Jeremy felt terrible, but it wasn’t his fault. I tried to calm down my panic the rest of the way to church.

Apparently my trauma in the car is not limited to reacting to other drivers on the road.  

Those satisfied moments I wanted to last forever seem so long ago.  

Shaken

It’s common to struggle with anxiety after a child dies. Melanie DeSimone does a great job of talking about it in Why Anxiety Is A Part Of Child Loss. It makes sense if you think about it. The unimaginable, the “it won’t happen to me” happens to you. Many, many pieces of life have to be reevaluated with this new awareness. The world feels unpredictable, maybe even cruel. The result is anxiety.

I am fighting a monumental battle against fears right now. I am fighting, I am not winning. I have the normal (don’t misunderstand that to mean easy) child-loss anxiety, plus worsening PTSD. They feed off each other and intensify. I’m trying to hang on for the next few weeks until I can get help (it’s been impossible to find a PTSD-experienced therapist who has any current openings).  

My fears are focused on two things. The first is a fear about the general safety of my children. Terrible thoughts come to me with the tiniest trigger. The second is much stronger, and that is a fear of accidents while driving. I am hyper focused in the car, aware of dangers that don’t even exist, and not able to turn it off. I practice breathing, grounding myself, trying to distract myself with music or my children. These things help, but the problem has gotten out-of-control. I’m actually doing a decent job of not dwelling on these fears throughout the day. This is not a lingering storm of anxiety. It’s lightning flashes. The thoughts flash through my mind like lightning bolts, leaving me stressed, shaken, or worse. 

Every time a truck approaches me on a two lane road, I wonder if it’s the truck that’s going to kill us. 

I think the same thing when I make a turn and notice whatever vehicle is now behind me. Is that the car that is going to kill the rest of my children?

Last month I left Jana at the pool with a friend. As I drove away, I couldn’t stop imagining her body being found in the pool, floating face down. I reminded myself that she is a good swimmer, and the lifeguards are excellent, but the thought left me shaken and teary until she came home. We haven’t gone back to the pool all summer.

When the kids run across the street to the neighbors house, I cringe and listen with my shoulders tight for screeching breaks. I can’t relax until a minute has passed and they’ve had time to get safely across the cul-de-sac.

Michael and I drove by a pond on the side of the road. For the next few minutes an unbidden movie played in my mind, and I didn’t even realize I was doing it. Our car had crashed into the pond and sunk. I helped Michael out of his seat belt, shaking as I tried to calm him down (which was an exact replay of what happened in our actual accident). Water leaked into the car and we made plans to smash through the sunroof. I told him to take a deep breath, assured him it wasn’t that deep and we were going to make it out, and protected him with my body as I broke the roof. I felt the shattering glass cut my back, the water and slimy tangle of roots pour over us… 

I noticed what I was doing, tried to shake it off and pay attention to the road. Deep breaths. Feel my fingers on the steering wheel, the seat at my back. I was not going to panic because of invented trauma in my head.

These thoughts intrude all day long. This is in addition to a full PTSD outburst if another car is irresponsible, distracted, or anywhere close behind me. Last week I turned around (while at a stop sign) and yelled (silently…I gestured and mouthed words) at the driver behind me, texting on her phone. I didn’t wait to see if she responded. The only reason I didn’t descend into complete meltdown was because the kids were in the car with me.

Instead, I turned around and kept driving, the tears coming. “Mommy, what happened?” It scares them every time I lose control. I cried harder. I noticed the song on the radio, 

“When did I forget that you’ve always been the king of the world? I try to take life back right out of the hands of the king of the world.”

For the last two weeks, I end up in a rage or in tears at least once every time I drive, so I’m driving as little as possible now. I’m not sure if this is wisdom, or if I’m giving in to the PTSD and making things worse. I feel ashamed either way. We finished Jana’s commitments last week, and are staying home the rest of the summer. We are going to eat everything in the pantry so I don’t have to go to the grocery store. The kids might get bored, but at least I won’t have to apologize to them for losing my temper and yelling at other cars.

The thought of not driving anywhere this week brings tears of relief.  

PTSD-ish-ness

I came to a realization yesterday. It’s both good and bad news.

It started when I was almost in another accident. The car behind me slammed on their brakes, screeched towards me, and stopped with only inches to spare. She would have hit me if I hadn’t left lots of space between myself and the car in front of me, allowing me to move forward and out of her way. The danger here wasn’t my life, just whiplash and my back bumper. But I had a meltdown. I couldn’t breathe, and I sobbed. Sobbed. Not from grief, from terror. I kept driving, sobbing, and missed my turn. I drove half an hour before I noticed I was still driving and wondered where I was, wondered how had I driven so far. That’s not good.

So, the bad news. That reaction clarified that I’ve slid into PTSD territory. I might not be diagnosable (I don’t have the objectivity to diagnose myself, teasing out what is trauma and what is grief), but I’m hanging out around there. If nothing else, I have PTSDishness. It’s been there in some form since the accident, but it’s gotten much worse in the last 2 months. I recognized that I was overreacting, but couldn’t name it.

The good news is I’m not going crazy. Now I understand why I dread leaving the house, and why I have library books that are weeks overdue and I still can’t bring myself to get in the car and drive to the library. It explains why I feel I’m among strangers even when I’m with friends. If I have PTSDishness, my angry outbursts while driving, my fears and anxieties all make a little more sense.

They feel excessive. They feel out-of-character and out-of-control.

They are.

But they are normal for PTSD.

At least now I know that when I get triggered while driving (lately that’s almost every time I get in the car), I should pull over and give myself time to calm down.