Memories, images, flashbacks, one never knows what will trigger them, what makes us recall certain images or details of an event or time. Last week was pretty eventful for my family and I, from learning of a beloved priests death, to finding out that two of my nieces are expecting, and then capping it all off with the knowledge that Rachel's gift of life, was still very much making a difference in the recipients' lives. Needless to say, a lot of thoughts and such were floating around in my mind, sadness, happiness, bitter sweetness and a host of other emotions to numerous to mention. So it came as no surprise when certain memories floated to the surface.
A couple of nights ago I had just gotten into bed, closed my eyes and suddenly I could see an image. I was in Rachel's hospital room, and everything was as it was in the early morning hours of September 10th; from the placement of my chair, to where my mother was seated, and even to how the blanket lay over Rachel's body. Her face was a peaceful as I remembered, and all the life sustaining equipment was all to the right side of her bed. It was as if someone had taken a photograph of her and the hospital room. It brought back a flood of emotions, as this particular scene was the last image I remember before they wheeled my daughter away to be taken to the operating room. The last scene before our final 'good-bye,' before I would no longer be able to hold my daughter's hand, stroke her hair, or kiss her cheek.
Grief can be funny that way, one minute we are reminiscing about the wonderful times we shared with our loved ones, the next we are recalling details that we somehow thought were locked away or forgotten. This particular aspect of grief is often lumped into Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome (PTSS). For many this can be debilitating and have many adverse affects on their lives and the lives of others around them. Once considered a syndrome attributed mostly to veterans of wars, it is now seen not only with veterans but with rescue workers, medical professionals, and almost anyone who has experienced a traumatic event. For example, natural disasters, of which we have seen and in some cases experienced in the past several months, can have many affects not only on those who actually experience the event, but anyone who is even remotely connected with the events through family or friends. There are so many more, fire, auto accidents, violent crimes, abuse, and a host of other life altering occurances that can cause PTSS.
The affects of PTSS can occur shortly after an event or years later, and can be triggered by a host of things. One can never be sure what can trigger a memory, what can cause a flashback, or what images will somehow resurface from our mental archives. In my case it was the flood of emotions, both happy and sad, for others it may be sounds, smells, locations, or even people themselves, that somehow cause a long forgotten memory, event or images to make its way into our daily lives. For me and so many, talking about it, helps us to deal with the emotions that such events bring along with them. As this image of my daughter came into focus, I found myself crying, unable to stop, missing her that much more, longing all over again, for just a few more moments with her. The next day as I shared what had happened with my husband, I felt a relief, a sense of being somehow in control, of being okay with the imagery and all it conjured up.
So, what are the symptoms, how can I tell if I may be experiencing PTSS, and what should I do if it gets worse, or interferes with my life?
According to Grief-Healing-Support.com, some of the symptoms are:
- Continued recollections and replays of the event - which can include unavoidable and vivid recollections of the event, flashbacks and nightmares. The event is often relived over and over despite attempts to avoid the memory.
- Emotional withdrawal and avoidance - emotions are often numbed and can cause people to appear unaffected, disinterested or emotionally isolated or dazed. Habits may be changed to avoid situations, people or places that trigger memories. Emotional withdrawal also dims joys, happiness and the pleasures of life.
- State of anxiousness and easily startled - along with symptoms of anxiety, rapid heart beat and shallow rapid breathing, people can also become restless, unable to concentrate, have trouble sleeping, suffer from an underlying fearfulness and find themselves being on guard for danger constantly. Panic and heart attack like symptoms, can also cause avoidance of public places. There may also be a sense of guilt in knowing that they could not stop the situation or event from occurring, with some have a distorted sense of self blame.
There are ways to help you heal from PTSS, these include talking about it, sharing your story, allowing yourself to deal with the emotions and memories that have resurfaced. For me it is talking about Rachel, the events of that fateful day, and writing in my journal and here on this blog. By doing these simple things, I allow myself to come to grips with all that has happened, helping me to gain a better understanding of all that has occurred, and even though I may not find the answers, at least I can find comfort. It also allows me to alleviate any feelings of guilt or helplessness that I felt after Rachel's death, and that sometimes find a way of pushing its way into my emotions and feelings. Yes, there is guilt, after all I am a mom, and moms should be able to protect their children, and kiss away the boo boos.
There are three general steps to recovery, these are:*
- Regain a sense of safety and security
- Regain a sense of control over what has happened and being able to bear the feelings associated with the trauma
- Retelling and reconstructing the story of the trauma to allow the emotions to gain a new and more realistic understanding. Reconstructing the story will also allow for different, and more positive, responses to the traumatic memory and its triggers.
We all need to grieve, we need to be able to mourn our losses, we need to get past our own feelings of inadequacy and guilt, and allow ourselves to 'let go' and let healing begin. If it becomes more that you can handle, find help, it is not a sign of weakness, but a sign of strength and courage. Strength in the knowledge that we can not always go it alone, and courage to stand up, reach out, and make the decision to ask for help. I did, and do not regret a single moment of my decision to do so, Karen was my counselor, and with her help, with her willingness to listen, to let me vent, and to just be an unbiased person who had no preconceived ideas of who Rachel was or who I was, helped me to be candid. My sessions with her allowed me to share what I could not share or dared not share with family or friends.
No one is required to or should try to go it alone, find someone who you can talk to, or get professional help if it has become too much for you to bear. We all go through major events in our lives, some happy and full of promise, others rock our world and leave us questioning life, full of doubts and uncertainties. We are not alone, ever, there are so many people who have traveled the road we are on, who have experienced our pain, who have seen what we see, who can take our hand and guide us through this maze called 'life;' all we have to do is reach out to them. Healing starts by letting go, but sometimes we need a hand to hold onto as we begin this process, reassuring us that we are not alone, and that someone is nearby in case things get rough.
Memories are wonderful, and can help us heal as we recall wonderful times spent with loved ones who have died. Sad memories and flashbacks, also can help us heal, as we learn to understand what they mean, why they occur, and how we can come to grips with what we have tried to forget. When we face these challenges, we begin to take control of the emotions associated with them, releasing ourselves from the very feelings that hold us back. Healing begins and we live again, more fully, more aware of who we are and what truly matters to us.
Blessings! and until we meet again.
*Post Traumatic Stress Syndrome & Grief (2008), Grief-Healing-Support.com