Friday, May 15, 2015


Trigger warning: This post is about having flashbacks. It includes descriptions of hospitals and illness. If that would be difficult for you then please pass this one by,

I am in a hospital room, keeping my parents company while my father waits for heart surgery. As heart surgery goes it's not too bad and I wouldn't be anywhere else but, as you can imagine, it's complex.

The new images of my father in the hospital bed (doing quite well at the moment) overlay the images of my husband in his hospital bed. Each sound I hear in this cardiac critical care unit sends me back to another critical care room. Each time I hold my father's hand I feel another. I watch his monitor and remember another. I remember when we shut it off.

As I sit here waiting, listening to his airbed inflate and deflate I slow my breath and close my eyes so I am not overwhelmed with the feelings and memories of my beloved in his last days. I want to be present with my parents in this moment, though the pull of the other moments is strong.

Grief is multi-faceted. There is sorrow and guilt and unexpected light. There is the struggle for connection and the ever-changing understanding of what "loss" means. There is the trauma of Kevin's illness and of his death. And there are flashbacks.

Just about everyone I know who has experienced a significant loss has had flashbacks. Those sharp, intrusive memories triggered by a sight or a smell or nothing at all. For months after Kevin died I couldn't walk by a hospital without starting to shake. I would lie in bed and be sent back to the uncomfortable bed in the hospital, to waking in the middle of the night to see if he was still breathing. Now, in another hospital for another loved one, everything sends me back. If I blink it smells and sounds the same; I half-expect to open my eyes and see Kevin, in pain and dying, in front of me. I kiss my father good morning and remember the scrape of Kevin's beard on my cheek. I remember helping him shift. I remember the smell of disinfectant and sweat and oxygen. It is all in front of me again. I'm lucky in that the flashbacks are not overwhelming for the most part. But they are demanding and a challenge to balance while I want to be present in this moment.

I am grateful that I at least understand what's going on. These triggers are big and obvious, not like the ones that send me back to a hard moment and I scarcely understand why. This circumstance is manageable, thought it will have a cost. I expect rough nights and some turbulent days once I am in a situation where I have the leisure to react. It's an acceptable cost to being here now, with my parents when they need me.

I wish it were different. I wish I didn't know these smells and sounds so intimately. I wish there were no associations and I could call Kevin on his cell, tell his about this day and know I was returning to his comfort. As it is, I will tell him in my own way. I will take what comfort I can. And when the images become overwhelming I close my eyes, breath, and remind myself that, while I would undo his illness if I could, these flashbacks are an acceptable cost to loving him so well.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License

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True Stories, Honest Lies by Laura S. Packer is licensed under a Creative Commons Attribution-Noncommercial-No Derivative Works 3.0 United States License.
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