Friday, June 19, 2015

Triggers, triggers everywhere

Sometime in the middle of 2014, when it had been maybe six months since Kevin died, a widowed friend commented to me that she found the second year of grief to be harder than the first. I listened but couldn't imagine anything worse. Well, here I am, almost 3 months into the second year after Kevin's death and, yup, I get it now.

The first year is almost unbearably painful. Every new thing, every first anniversary of every life event, every reminder is a traumatic insult to the system. It is a physical thing, physically painful and immensely, indescribably hard. The second year, at least the bit I've experienced so far, is less physically painful, less a state of constant shock, but there is a monotony to it that is profoundly wearing. He is still gone and nothing I do can change that. I understand that on a deeper level than I did this time last year. The first year had all of the resistance and numbing shock you feel after a massive trauma. The second year, it seems is when you begin to adapt to the constant pain, the constant sense of there being something wrong with the world and there is not a damned thing you can do about it. What's more, I am beginning to breath again, so when I am slammed by grief, when something drives home that the love of my life is dead, it is literally breathtaking.

I will write more about this, I'm sure, but for today I wanted to talk about triggers, in the context of this second year when, even though I am still deeply damaged, I am learning to breath again.

Those triggers are everywhere. Some of them I can predict and I am grateful for that knowledge. I know to not drive certain routes because they remind of something too sweet and lost to bear. I know that I won't go back to what was my favorite supermarket any time soon because I sob in the parking lot every time. I know that when I see a tall, broad, goateed black man of a certain age with a certain kind of walk or riding a bike, my breath will catch in my throat. I know better than to watch certain movies or television shows, know better than to listen to certain music, unless I want to cry. And sometimes I do.

I know all of that.

It's the unexpected triggers that are, well, unexpected. The things I think will be comforting but somehow BAM! slam me back into that place of intense longing and pain. They. Are. Everywhere. Some of them are petty, some immense. And some of them, quite honestly, are kind of ridiculous.

Two things in particular have been triggering in the last few days. One is the horror of the shootings in Charleston SC just a few days. The victims were members of an AME church. Kevin attended an AME church and I often went with him. I'm not Christian but I enjoyed the community and welcome I found there. I enjoyed worshipping with Kevin. And I want nothing more now than to talk with him about what has happened, to cry with him for the lost and the fear and the hatred that brought this about. I want us to hold each other talk about the barriers between black and white and feel connected. I can't. This is one of those immense triggers.

The other that springs to mind is ridiculous. Last night, in an attempt to shut down my racing mind and to think about something other than those murders, I turned on a junky horror movie from the 1950s. I love those kinds of movies, my mother taught me to, though Kevin didn't particularly like them. He would watch it with me and roll his eyes. What harm, I thought, could come from watching The Fly? Fifteen minutes in I was crying, not over the pathos of a man turned into a fly and his own lost humanity, but because of a woman who lost her husband, as I did. Who helped him die, as I did (not in a literal way but I was with him every moment of the way). And the scene where Andre writes for the last time that he loves his wife, before his death, crushed me. Grief came pouring out of me, yet I was at the same time aware of how ridiculous it was that this movie triggered it.

So it goes. Triggers are everywhere. I'm learning to deal with them; many now are just a flinch. Some are far more. There are a few I can even roll my eyes at while holding back tears, come one, The Fly? As more time passes I expect I will smile more often when I encounter one of these memories made real, and eventually I may even be able to go back to my favorite supermarket. But not today.

(c)2015 Laura S. Packer Creative Commons License


  1. Sending gentle hugs your way. And lots of wishes for bits of comfort inbetween the triggers.

    It was a long time before I could go to Mississippi where my daughter lived (and I did for many years) to visit my other children. It felt like at every turn I'd be slammed down with triggers. When I finally went, the triggers didn't slam me down but there were many bouts of tears.

    1. I have gotten to the point where I am willing to venture into some situations I know will be triggering. But not all. It's the unexpected ones that are the hardest to manage, unsurprisingly.
      Many gentle hugs back to you. I hope someday to hug you in person!


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