Shock and Awe refer military tactics to overwhelm an adversary and to paralyze it, to “seize control of the environment and overload perception and understanding of events so the enemy is incapable of resistance,” Wikipedia. This is a definition of straight up grief. It is a paralyzing, overwhelming, stimulation and perceptual overload. The shock is from the aftershocks that come after the first wave of mass destruction in your life.
I grew up in Ohio. Where I grew up we had tornado watches and warnings. We were taught where to run and hide at a young age. When I was in fourth grade, I was in a tornado. I was walking across the street and the weather was turning. I was a safety crossing guard and I grabbed my little safety sash and went out to cross the kindergarteners into safety. The warning alarms were going off as we all piled in the gymnasium. I am thankful everyone made it into school, within minutes of us filing into the gym part of our school roof was torn off. The sound was like a freight train running through the gymnasium.
To me, the first sign of a tornado is the weather change like God turned on a light switch. It would be raining or hailing and then instantly the wind would stop and everything would be quiet. Not a leaf moving or a bird chirping. The sky would turn an off shade of blue like someone in the sky was teaching an intro to painting class. I love the comparison here for those that have never been in a tornado, to those that have never experienced a loss. I can explain the feeling to the reader, but until you have been in it yourself, you will never fully understand.
This has brought such awareness to me about empathy. I think about people who have been in hurricanes or wars, have lived in poverty, have survived cancer. There is a reason that they seek support groups and people to talk to that have been through the same thing. Does this mean we should ignore their pain because we don’t understand it? How many people in pain have I ignored or not given my time because I couldn’t quite relate to their experience? Or it didn’t impact my immediate and very busy world? My own grief has changed my perspective on life really. If we tried to understand each other, we might not ever fully know what the other person has been through, but we could change the world with empathy for each other. Support groups are great, but I cannot live in a support group every day. I need my friends and family to empathize so they can not only learn from my experience but also understand how to still be a part of my life.
I moved to California at age 21. I drove across the country by myself in my little Ford hatchback. I had just rejoined the military as Army National Guard and had just finished surgical tech school. Part of being in the California National Guard is to mobilize for earthquakes. I must have missed that connection as I was signing my forms. I had only been in the two-story apartment weeks when the earthquake hit. I was asleep. I woke with the second story rocking over the first. For whatever reason, I called my Dad. He told me it was an earthquake, I had already figured that part out. I was extremely irritated there was no warning like with a tornado I told him. The phone rang after I hung up and it was the National Guard, I had been activated to come into the unit. I ran out the door and I started driving towards headquarters. As I was driving the aftershocks started happening. I was driving straight and the road was moving. It was the weirdest feeling. Since I was new to Cali, I was also new to the concept of aftershocks. How long would they last? How many could I expect? My control freak brain did not like the fact these answers were unknown.
Last week was a crummy week. All three of my daughters here with me were in tears at one point or another. Their world has been blown apart, and though they are trying to move forward, aftershocks from grief keep coming at them. Sleeping has been insanely difficult for everyone. One of my girls was taking melatonin in the middle of the night and then falling asleep at school. Another of my daughters, a bit like her mama, has developed anxiety over not being able to control her world, classes that might have just stressed her out before have her now panicked and in tears. My oldest finds herself quickly angered, and the lack of empathy she sees in others now frustrates her to no end. My youngest also has an ankle injury that hasn’t quite healed yet. Injuries are a normal part of sports, but it now has her feeling like she has done something wrong, that even though she plays club and is a starting player on a winning team, she somehow isn’t good enough while recovering. As a mama, I cannot stand to see my children hurting, I didn’t realize the aftershocks that would come at us, depression, insomnia, anger, and anxiety. I slowly sort through the wreckage to see how I can help them navigate this new world, to use their grief to become strong and kind adults someday.
The loss of a loved one does not just mean they are gone and we figure out how to move on. It leaves minefields to navigate, and wreckage to sort through. This weapon of mass destruction leaves traces of itself that will come at us like aftershocks from an earthquake that we will have to navigate. There will be collateral damage that I cannot foresee, that I can’t anticipate. My hope is that when they come we are somewhat prepared, that someday as survivors we are stronger and more empathetic for it.