I got the call I’ll never forget on Oct. 14, 2019, at 3:22 p.m.
My husband, Scott, had been shot. That’s all I knew. I was given a hospital name but not his condition. I didn’t know whether he was dead or alive. I just knew that my world had instantly come crashing down.
The details of how I got from point A to point B are blurry. My kids had been in the car with my husband when he was shot but I was assured they were fine. I called my mother and sent her to an approximate location to pick them up because I had only been half-listening when the officer told me where they were. All I could hear was “gun” and “shot.” All I could see in my mind was blood. All I could feel was absolute panic.
When I got to the hospital I ran faster than my body had ever moved before. “My husband! My husband has been shot!” I cried as I entered the emergency department. I was quickly ushered down the hall to a room being heavily guarded by police. I could feel the lump in my throat growing as I walked in the door to see him.
He was fine. Fine! Laughing, even. He couldn’t believe how upset I was. At that point, I became enraged. How dare he smile? Didn’t he understand what I was going through? What had happened? What caused this? What had my babies seen? I couldn’t even bring myself to speak. I had to walk out of the room before I unleashed my wrath on him.
I took a deep breath, as I had instructed my children to do dozens of times when they were upset, and I walked back in. I looked at him. He was covered in bandages. There was blood on the bed. He was hooked up to monitors and machines. But, by the grace of God, he really was OK. The bullets that hit him did not cause life-threatening injuries and he was able to leave the hospital that night.
Calls and texts poured in from our family and friends. I was grateful he was OK but so unbelievably overwhelmed. I couldn’t sleep. I lay in bed playing out every scenario in my head. What if he had died? What if our children had been shot? What if I had lost them? How could I move on?
The next few days were miserable. The news continuously flashed mug shots of the two smug brothers who, on a busy street during school pickup, shot Scott at point-blank range during what has been described as a “road rage incident.” My four children were in the car. Both men were charged with multiple felonies. I wanted them in jail for life.
The attack was the talk of the town. It even made national news. Scott left town on a business trip just a few days later and I was left at home alone. I was alone with four children. I was alone with my thoughts. And I was alone with my fears. He was quickly moving forward. In his mind, the perpetrators were in jail, where they needed to be, and the rest was up to the police. It was pretty cut and dry for the man with a bullet hole in his side.
As the wife who helped to dress that wound, I couldn’t just trust the process. I kept thinking, what if they make bond and get out of jail? What if they come after us? What if this time they’re successful? It was mind-numbing. I told myself I had to keep these fears to myself as best I could. I had four children who needed a strong mother to protect them. I could not project this paralyzing fear into their sweet, innocent minds. It was ― and continues to be ― a daily struggle.
Since the day of my husband’s shooting, I have become obsessed with his death. I think about it constantly. Everything triggers me. Before the shooting, I’d wait hours for him to return a call or a text. He’s a busy guy and he always got back to me as quickly as he could. Now, that is no longer good enough for me. I need a response immediately. Even if it’s just, “I’m busy leave me alone!”
I worry about his health all of the time. I have become the most stereotypical nagging wife. “How are you feeling?” “What did you have for lunch?” “Did you take your vitamins?” My worrying is relentless. I found a new prescription in the cabinet that I had not seen before and I freaked out. It was a cholesterol medication. I immediately started Googling “heart-healthy meal ideas” and “exercises for men over 40.” I am driving him insane.
I used to be a pretty sound sleeper. Scott could come to bed hours after me and I’d never hear him. Now, unless I take melatonin, I don’t sleep at all. Instead, I monitor him all night long. If he stops snoring, I can’t catch my breath. If he doesn’t move regularly, I push him. If he doesn’t wake up at the sound of a child crying, I panic. It’s physically and emotionally exhausting.
My anxiety has taken a toll on our marriage. We are often at each other’s throats. He just wants to move on with his life and put this behind him. I am stuck wondering how my life will ever be the same. So, we’re at an impasse. Neither of us can be empathetic to the other because we are in such different places.
Weeks after the shooting, my grief and anger and anxiety got so intense that I started seeing a therapist. She assures me that I am normal and that the post-traumatic stress I am experiencing is also normal. I meet with her regularly. It’s been a challenge during a pandemic but I need that hour each week. I need to grieve the loss of my perfect, safe little life. And I need it to help me mold my new normal.
My therapist, whom I’ll call Kathryn, listens without judgment. She doesn’t tell me to just “let it go.” She doesn’t get annoyed hearing the same story 100 times. She’s not my friend ― she is the sounding board that I need and I feel totally comfortable with her. But, we haven’t fixed my problems. She hasn’t taken the pain away. She’s teaching me to work through it. I could talk to 100 Kathryns and none of them will ever be able to erase that memory. But she is helping. I’ve come so far. I can drive down the street where the attack happened and I no longer panic. I no longer get a pang in my stomach every time my husband leaves. I believe that my home is safe. I am healing.
There are still days that I not only resent the shooter but I also resent my husband. I want him to feel my pain. I want him to know the depth of my love for him and the intense void that I would feel if he had died that day. The thought of him not being with me hurts. Who would stand beside me at our sons’ graduations? Who would walk our daughter down the aisle? How would I change the clock on the stove? How would I get to the bowls from the top shelf? From the biggest to the smallest things in life, I need him here with me.
The PTSD that I am grappling with has caused a profound paradigm shift in my home. When you’re that close to losing someone you love, it really does make you appreciate the little things. Kathryn has helped me to embrace this shift and to revel in the mundane. I truly look forward to my husband coming home after a business trip. I love to sit as a family and eat dinner around a loud and messy table. I don’t even mind occasionally tripping over my husband’s shoes. If they’re there, so is he.
The shooting took place before the pandemic and my feelings of thankfulness and appreciation for my family have grown immensely throughout this past year as we’ve collectively gone through so much loss and trauma. Knowing how close I was to losing Scott, I am struck by those who have lost their loved ones to COVID and I feel an intense degree of empathy for those who have watched their loved ones suffer. It is so easy to get caught up in just getting through the day and all that is required of us, from working from home, to remote learning, to just figuring out what you’re having for dinner. It’s so important not to lose sight of what is truly important: the people we love and the moments we share with them.
It’s been almost 18 months. The shooter sits in jail waiting. COVID-19 has backed up the judicial system tremendously and our case isn’t high priority. I feel no sympathy for the man who brandished a weapon and unloaded on a car filled with a father and his four innocent children.
I read this piece aloud to my husband before I sent it to my editor. While crying, I expressed to him just how deeply this continues to affect me. He nodded his head, gave me a hug and said, “Coll, have a little faith.” He understands that I struggle and he allows me my space and my time to work through this. He is not one to dwell. He moves on quickly and relies on his faith in God. I asked him how he thinks about things nearly 18 months later and he simply said, “What replays in my mind about that day is what a nurse said to me, ‘With the placement of that bullet wound in your chest, I don’t know what God has planned for you, but He isn’t done with you yet.’” For him, that’s all he needs to know. I want to have that kind of faith.
Scott was wearing a Superman T-shirt when he was shot. Just like the superhero, the bullets didn’t kill him and that is what I have to continually remind myself. He escaped death. He is alive. I am grateful. And each day I am trying a little bit harder to worry less about death and enjoy life.
Colleen Dilthey Thomas is a sister to three brothers, a mother to three sons, a wife to one husband, and an expert on absolutely nothing to do with boys. She also has a daughter she’s not quite sure what to do with either. Colleen is a “Listen to Your Mother” alum and her writing has appeared on BLUNTmoms, POPSUGAR, and Scary Mommy. She’s married to the Grillin’ Fool, but she’s not wild about BBQ. She chronicles her life at her blog, Come On Colleen. Follow her on Facebook and Instagram.