If you have lived through just one traumatic event in your life, you can consider yourself extremely fortunate.
Most people experience more than one trauma in a lifetime. Life moments they might not even be aware of as traumatic at that time.
I define a traumatic event as something that changes the course of your life, as you know it. It also dramatically changes you; no longer being the same person you once were. You are tasked to discover or define what your “new normal” will now look like.
Traumatic events produce within us emotions of grieve, fear, anxiety, and isolation; and others.
I have recently experienced a new traumatic event in my life; losing my mother in April. She was 85 and had been through so many medical scares, procedures, and hospital stays that I marvel at how she carried on.
But, this time, her illnesses became too strong to fight any longer. And she was being treated, yet again, in the hospital.
I got the phone call from one of her doctors early on a Monday morning to compassionately tell me there was “no more they could do” for my mom. He suggested we now think of palliative care.
Upon waking my father and us getting to the hospital as quickly as we could, we walked into my Mom’s hospital room where she had just finished speaking with two ladies from palliative care. My Mom told my father and I she had decided it was time for her to stop all these futile medical treatments and turn to hospice.
In the hall, I asked a nurse if we were talking about just a matter of days. She answered yes and that I should call my sister in Maryland.
My sister arrived early Tuesday morning and as we gathered in my Mom’s room, Mom said all she wanted to say. She told us how much she loved each of us. And we responded in kind. I wasn’t rational enough to realize we were really saying our good-byes. My mind was beginning to go numb.
Those final good-byes are all I, or my father, can remember. The rest of that day and the days that followed are a blur. I can’t remember what we said in my Mom’s room or what we, the family, talked about among ourselves at home.
The only thing I next remember is being woken at 4:10 a.m. Thursday morning by a nurse who simply said, “she’s passed.” My father and I had spent the night; he was sleeping in a recliner; me on a cot. The nurses came in each hour to check on her and at 3:00 we were told her heartbeats were slowing down. Both my Dad and I question why we didn’t stay awake. Why we allowed sleep to overtake us. I can only assume that’s what Mom preferred. I hope she knows we were there by her side. That she wasn’t alone.
I went to her, still in her hospital bed, and touched her now cold hand and caressed her face, just as cold, crying. I put my cheek next to hers, kissed her forward and told her how much I loved her.
And now the arrangements that had been made are over. The memorial was held. Now my family (from Dad to the great-grandchildren) must discover what our new normal will be without Mom’s presence in it.
And I know there is yet at least one other trauma I will face in the future; my Dad’s passing. And another new normal will then have to be defined.
I realize I have probably written this as my own catharsis, but I also want this to be directed to each reader who has already or will in their future, live through their own traumatic event(s). Don’t let anyone diminish what you go through and what you call it. Losing a beloved family pet can be traumatic. Trauma and tragedy don’t all have to be on the same scale as a terrorist attack or a national disaster.
A prolonged illness, a car accident, a broken relationship, being let go from work. Remember, anything that changes your life as you knew it can be declared a trauma.
And however long it will take for you to find your new normal will be however long it takes. There are no rules or guidelines on how to grieve or begin to heal or attempt to live your life with what you’ve lost.
Anne Lamott is one of my favorite writers and she has a quote I love. Her wise words can pertain to the loss of a person or the shattering of a life. It follows:
And I felt like my heart had been so thoroughly and irreparably broken that there could be no real joy again, that at best there might eventually be a little contentment. Everyone wanted me to get help and rejoin life, pick up the pieces and move on, and I tried to, I wanted to, but I just had to lie in the mud with my arms wrapped around myself, eyes closed, grieving until I didn’t have to anymore.
Give yourself permission to do just that.
It has been a while since I wrote a blog post. I was dealing with the trauma of having my livelihood taken away (by being laid off) in August. I had been spending too much time trying to decide “what next.”
My mother’s death has given me direction. I have been wanting to expand the book I wrote about 9/11, That Day in September, or write a new book that covers the years since 9/11; how I have tried to learn to live my life after surviving trauma.
Perhaps from time to time, I’ll submit, for your perusal, a section I’ve worked on to get your reflections or thoughts. Or perhaps not. Just know that if I’m not submitting blogs on the Huffington Post, I am somewhere on a laptop writing.