Reactions to Trauma, or Feeling the Feelings

A conversation yesterday plunged me back twelve years, bringing to mind something that I still feel pressing at me today.  Some of the backstory:  Twelve years ago, I was recently divorced, living with my seven year-old daughter in an apartment.  We had moved from our house to an apartment near her school, because I was quite ill from lupus and having difficulty caring for the house and doing all the necessary daily activities for the two of us.  Many days I woke, showered and dressed, prepared breakfast, and took my daughter the half-mile to school.  I’d return to the house and lie on the couch until time to pick her up.  Having conserved my energy during the day, I could sometimes play games with her, or watch her play outside, or perform my duties as Girl Scout leader (with the help of another leader) during those after-school hours. 


Two years before my lupus diagnosis my best friend, Lorri, was found to have a huge malignant brain tumor.  A pediatrician in an east coast practice, she had a sudden seizure during a staff meeting.  We spent the first days being grateful that she was among colleagues and could be rushed into treatment and surgery, a life-saving miracle for all of us.  Soon she was involved in complicated treatment that involved commuting from the east coast to a specialty center in California.  We stayed close, continuing to visit and vacation together, our girls forming a fast friendship.  When I learned that I had lupus, Lorri helped me with everything from acceptance of the changes in my abilities to practical advice about treatment.  While she related her advice back to her experiences with being a patient, she never made me feel guilty that I had the better prognosis. 


Lorri continued to decline, this is where my long back story ends, because the event that filled my mind yesterday was her death.  The January Sunday that she died, I awakened at 3 a.m., screaming.  I sat up and looked around, and knew that Lorri was dying.  Somehow I became calm and fell asleep, waking to a normal morning.  At 3 p.m. her husband called to tell me that she had just died.  She had been having problems which had worsened in the early morning hours, and died peacefully in the afternoon. 


I felt too ill to travel, and I beseeched my sister in New Jersey to attend the funeral and represent our family.  Days passed, and I cried very little, feeling calm and numb, continuing to follow my routine at home, returning to work after some improvement in the lupus.  Life became more normal.


One day in June I awakened in a panic.  I was anxious, shaking, obviously not myself but without a clue as to why.  I called my former therapist, and as she probed gently into my symptoms I found myself blurting “Lorri is dead!”  It had taken more than five months for the emotions to surface.  A few sessions of grief counseling helped to steady me, and I became “okay”.  Now the emotion is appropriately accessible.  I cannot relate this story without tears.


All this because of a conversation yesterday.  A young, intelligent woman was talking about an event in her life, several years ago.  She remarked that she was not traumatized, and had to keep reassuring the people around her that she was alright.  I know this much to be true:  nothing we go through leaves us untouched.  The painful and frightening events we experience leave their mark.  No matter how good we are at covering them, there are consequences.  I hope that she has nurturing and support around her when the other shoe drops.


One Response

  1. Today (Nov 15) is the day I always remember one of my family members who passed… 16 years now. Feels weird. I always get a taste for Minute Maid Fruit Punch around this time because it was that person’s favorite.

    Sometimes you think you are over something, and it pops back in, sometimes making you smile, sometimes bringing you to tears.

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