Nighttime Rituals

Every night before I went to bed I checked on the kids.  It started when I was an anxious first-time mom and I had to make sure the baby was still breathing.  It eventually became a sweet, peaceful ritual.

The boys slept in bunk beds in their room, and Jana was across the hall. I’d walk in, collect the books scattered across their beds, and move fallen stuffed bunnies and puppies back to their pillows. I’d pull covers off Jana, who bundles up so much she sweats. And I’d pull covers onto the boys, who kick their blankets and lay curled up with cold bare legs. I’d kiss them again and whisper nighttime prayers of God’s love and mine.

Since the accident I have not been checking on them. I walk past their doors and wonder why, but still don’t go in. I feel guilty for being too tired to accomplish one more thing before I collapse into bed. I’m frustrated with the defeatist attitude I’ve developed about prayer. If God wants to take them, he will, so why pray? And I’m ashamed that I struggle to be fully engaged with them, even when our story is a painful reminder that I should treasure the days. I want to look at the little faces I love and hold the moment forever. Still, every night, I walk past their doors.

Tonight I walked in, and the instant pain I felt revealed the real reason I have avoided my nighttime ritual. Samuel wasn’t there. His covers were flat and unnaturally neat. I couldn’t kiss his cheek and tuck blue bunny under his arm. There weren’t any contraband toys hidden inside his pillowcase. He wasn’t laying on the bottom bunk, skinny legs sticking every which way, stretched sideways or backwards or half off his bed. He seemed to invent new sleeping positions every week. He had personality, even in his sleep. 

Tears came as I fought for breath. He’s gone. He’s five but he doesn’t get bedtime kisses from his mommy anymore. It’s all wrong.

Grief is cold sheets. Grief is a bedspread that stays smooth, week after week. Grief is a once loved stuffed animal that sits unhugged on an empty pillow.

I am the Hulk

It’s 6 in the morning and the onslaught has been coming for hours. 

I woke up early with my heart racing. My dreams were crowded with arrogant people, smug in their selfishness, callous to the danger their recklessness created for everyone around them. Just like the careless drivers that anger me on the road. 

I tried to go back to sleep, but I was mad and couldn’t get rid of the restlessness. 

It started two days ago when I watched a woman drive through the school parking lot at dismissal time, talking on her phone. The parking lot was filled with children and parents getting out for the afternoon. I was furious. She could run into my kids! What chance do they have against a van when they are on foot? The imaginary anguished screams of parents filled my ears as I envisioned her not noticing a child stepping off the sidewalk into her path. 

I was shaking, and my heart pounded fiercely. I wanted to tell her to get off her phone. The words in my head were loud and vicious, intermixed with curses and things like, “My son died! What more does it take for people like you to pay attention? You’re going to kill someone!” We both stood in line in the school lobby, and she continued her phone conversation behind me. I glared at her, wondering if I would really voice my accusations if I caught her eye. The lobby was packed with students, parents, and school staff. It was not the place for an angry confrontation. Still, I hated her carelessness. I needed to stop her. I was ready to fight her.

I stared at the floor, aware that even my initial statement to her would be yelling and aggressive. I fought back tears. I was confused and momentarily couldn’t remember my kids names to sign them out. My hand trembled and I struggled to hold the pen. I got my kids and left. She was still on her phone. 

I hate to think what I would have done if she had hung up and looked at me. 

I’ve been agitated ever since, and can’t stop thinking about her. In my imagination she’s out there somewhere, dangerous and rash. I’ve had arguments with her in my head, ending with her cowering and me winning. I can’t shake the irritation. 

Michael comes into the living room in his pajamas. No one else is awake. We sit on the couch and he, the ultimate morning person, already has a million things to say. I relax some. He tells me stories. His imagination is filled with battles and fighting too, but he’s 7. He fights against the bad guys with lightsabers and special powers. He loves Iron Man and the Flash, and tells me all about their superhero magic. I try to ground myself in his innocence. I touch his hair and protect myself from the little elbows and knees that jab me unaware. He doesn’t stay in one spot for long. Soon he’s up and his footsteps run down the hall.

It only takes seconds to pick up where I left off. My mind is back on injustice and anger. It’s Saturday, which means my kids and neighbor kids will be in and out of the house all day. And I’m on edge, my imagination working up for a fight. I feel impatient. I hope to make it through the day without yelling at my kids for something little. 

My home is normally my safe place. I might be anxious or have nightmares, but not the intense triggers I experience in traffic or in public. I feel defeated that today it has followed me here.  

hulk-667988_640I am the Hulk.

PTSD turns me into a green monster. 

The Hulk wants to do good, but rage is blinding and hard to control.

Unfortunately, he is dangerous to everything around him. Good or bad. Friend or foe.

God help me.

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Being vulnerable about grief is easy compared to this stuff.  I read enough to know that although my experience in grief is my own, it’s normal and similar to what many other grieving moms feel.  But it’s hard to normalize PTSD.  People address combat PTSD, but there is very little that is honest about the irrational rage and fear in civilian PTSD. What does it look like to be a mom with PTSD, picking up kids from school everyday? No one seems to know. 

I am hesitant to write about my PTSD. It’s becoming accepted, or at least recognized, that Christians can struggle with depression and anxiety. However it remains an unspoken narrative in the church that christian women don’t get angry, and they certainly aren’t aggressive. I am ashamed and uncertain how to handle my experiences. I am ashamed enough that I have to write an explanation at the bottom of a blog post, hoping I come across as sympathetic instead of crazy.

In this intensified state, PTSD is as isolating as grief.