“Hold on tight a little longer, What doesn’t kill ya makes ya stronger. Get back up, Cause it’s a hard love. You can’t change without a fallout. It’s gonna hurt, but don’t you slow down. Get back up, cause it’s a hard love.” Hard Love by NeedtoBreathe
This song has been playing in my head all night thinking about this past week. I used to enjoy Holidays and Birthdays. Now getting through them gives me the same feeling as Freedy Krueger’s nails on a chalkboard. To be honest, I just didn’t see the difficulty this week coming. Saturday was my daughter’s 17th birthday party and I was proud of myself, I was prepared. She had it just the way she wanted. Even with me flying in from a nursing conference Friday. Monday I had to work and it was her actual birthday and probably the beginning to some of my fallout.
We always have a family birthday at my inlaws. Of course, there was someone missing, but we all soldiered on and it was as nice as it could be. No one had to say anything, but there were some watery eyes in the room. My oldest daughter is at her college she just graduated from, doing an externship of sorts, so its easy to make yourself believe my other daughter is with her, but honestly it was just a knowing and an emptiness. I have gone over it in my head and there is no way to make it better. I think it was helpful just to acknowledge her missing presence with a hug. I bought an extra gift for my daughter, one her sister would have given her and that gave my heart a little squeeze. My youngest daughter created a huge mess making a card and I found it frustrating but also endearing since my daughter that passed made a huge mess crafting for every family members birthday.
Wednesday was Halloween, and I had also mentally mulled this day over ahead of time. Her M.O. was to watch scary movies on Halloween so that was the plan. My daughter, had she been still with us, would have been in full costume, she was a dress-up queen. It didn’t matter if she had somewhere to go or not, she had a costume and would be wearing it while watching scary movies and eating junk food. Thankfully to break up the day we had a soccer game. I was also grateful we didn’t have to look at all the kids dressed in their adorable outfits. Just looking at a few of them had me picturing my girls all dressed up and hitting the streets to score truckloads of candy. It might be a few years before I can enjoy looking at other sweet kids dressed in their princess dresses and unicorn horns without tearing up.
She loved fall and everything pumpkin. In her honor, I’ve been drinking everything pumpkin spice and trying to make her pumpkin muffins. I even finally bought a new oven and though that is somewhat ridiculous since she can’t bake in heaven, I did it for her. She loved to bake. I kinda suck at baking, so I’m sure she is giggling at me trying to bake biscotti from my husbands family friend’s recipe and oh, by the way, she’s a retired chemist, everything she makes tastes like liquid gold, so thanks for setting the bar where I could reach it!
Thursday was the first of the month and this is the anniversary of her passing. 9 months, like the time it took to bake her in my belly, as Beverley Goldberg would say, from the Goldburgs. I love that mom, I’m pretty sure she’s my alter ego. I had planned to see Hillsong, a Christian group, after work, with my friend. We got to the concert and it was lovely, but by the end, my two youngest had called me extremely upset with each other. My husband wasn’t home and my phone was at two percent. I called my mother-in-law to go over and see what was up. The PTSD of getting calls with people crying left me feeling nauseated.
By the time I got home all was somewhat fine, but I was feeling burnt out. By the time Friday morning rolled around my autoimmune had kicked in and I could barely move. It was just all too much. I can only describe it as feeling flu-like. My eyes dried out, my joints were hurting and I felt like a bear was sitting on top of me. I decided to rest and give myself a break. I didn’t go into work, I didn’t go anywhere. Today I still feel slightly flu-like but better. I am always amazed at how severe stress can affect your body.
Yesterday I read about Broken Heart Syndrome. I wondered if it really was a thing. Apparently, large amounts of cortisol can affect your heart rhythm making you feel like you can’t breathe. I remember feeling that way on and off for days right after I got the news of my daughters passing. I kept saying, “I can’t breathe, I can’t breathe.”
It’s not the same stress-like experience on a hectic day at work. I am an operating room nurse, I can handle stress. This type of stress manifest in a physical way is severe emotional stress. Being distraught over something you cannot change or fix. For whatever reason, it causes an immune system response. I am not saying it causes everyone to develop an autoimmune disease or is the reason that I have one but In the online groups for parents that have lost children, I am finding many of then have autoimmune issues. The scientist in me is very curious about this what came first? The emotional stress or physical disabilities. Of course, the genetic make-up would have to be there before either.
How do we protect ourselves from the fallout of loss of severe emotional stress? There is plenty of evidence to say ignoring your pain, your grief, your loss, isn’t the way to go. It always seems to come out in some horrible coping skill or life deficiency later it seems. Even though it is the more difficult path, I believe you give your pain a voice. It can be writing it down, finding someone who will let you talk, uninterrupted, without trying to “fix” you with platitudes. For some, it might be less of an actual voice, but doing something like building a memorial garden or planting a tree. The most healing action for me so far has been the action of participating in a walk in my daughter’s honor where the funds raised go to help others fighting mental health issues and survivors. I believe some of the most healing actions are doing things for others. It at least gives you a reprieve from your own hurts. Someone else to focus on for a little while.
Next year I may feel the same way during this week and it may end the same way. I will, however, be more aware of its effect on me. Maybe I’ll plan to do less, actually take the vacation day. I sit now and watch the sun come up and I am reminded that I still have a future to be thankful for. There are reasons to keep trying, to keep fighting and healing and moving. I feel these Hillsong lyrics come to mind from the song Oceans, “You called me out upon the waters. The great unknown where my feet may fail…….. I will call upon Your name, and keep my eyes above the waves.
I give myself permission to be out of commission for a couple days. I give myself permission to rest. The hardest person to give love to is yourself. I tell myself you have permission to cry in the line at Costco, feel it, own it and don’t feel sorry for it. If someone inquires why I’m balling I can just say I had to renew my membership.