Isolation, the result, and the enemy of most of us, is also sort of a commodity. To not have to answer questions about how you are feeling, what you plan on doing or what you did over the weekend. The truth is that my feelings changes from day to day, hour to hour and minute to minute. For instance, over mother’s day, I couldn’t stand to talk to anyone, only to then regret not making plans later that day.
Did I isolate myself, by not having the energy for small talk, by sitting alone at lunch, (if I even took my lunch)? Did I isolate myself by not reaching out to relationships that weren’t in my immediate small circle or was I isolated by being softly pushed away by those around me that felt uncomfortable with my loss, my trauma? It has been 16 months, but the first few months, I wasn’t really up for lunches and coffee dates but I was asked. I realized recently that unless I reach out, I am no longer being asked to social engagements. I am not complaining, I am just noticing the results of going through something traumatic. Honestly, I don’t really mind not doing things for the most part, things that now can seem meaningless, at times. Like I used to go to every event I felt obligated to go, versus only going to things I really want to go to. I used to care more about what I wore, now I wear only what makes me feel comfortable. Things that I used to not make time for, now seem extremely important like walking, writing, and working on my projects. Worrying about what others think of me, if I was invited to go to a social gathering or not, seems unimportant now, though it would be nice to be asked and to at least consider the event. Oh well, as my husband says, “I know who loves me,” and that’s all that matters. (Sometimes he’s so smart.)
The other day, my nurse anesthetist and I had a case cancel and had downtime. (I work in the operating room at a nearby hospital) She started talking to me about the trauma she has been in over her daughter’s critical health condition. The condition was life-threatening and her young child had to undergo intense surgeries. During the process she realized she felt somewhat alienated from others, She also felt co-workers might not understand the ongoing stress of the condition. I completely related. The PTSD I still battle with over the loss of my daughter has had me miss random days, including therapy for myself and my other children. I have stepped down from many of my leadership positions, I don’t pick up extra shifts or take others shifts. After a while, the feeling of guilt tends to make us trauma mammas feel like we are supposed to soldier on, pretend everything is fine, we don’t want to be viewed as a slacker, pitied and avoided.
I was thankful for the conversation. It was like a sense of relief to talk to another mom about how stress affects your career, your family life, and your relationships. She has written about her experience through online journalling and I am thankful for people like her that aren’t afraid to be open and to share their experiences. We cannot empathize or help each other if we have no idea what others are going through.
Loss, grief and trauma does strange things to people. We in some ways become the most empathetic people in the world, but in other ways we are so engulfed in our own stuff, that we have a difficult time seeing someone else’s circumstances. For example, my neighbor just had a baby. My old self would have made something for her. In the aftermath of loosing my daughter, I’ve had a difficult time paying attention to what’s going on next door. Another example being my friends child was recently diagnosed with a severe learning disability. I know that’s difficult and I empathize having a child that has some learning challenges myself, but I haven’t been able to reach out yet, and I’m not sure why.
One connection that I have to other parents that have also lost children, is that many of my online friends in the support groups, look for signs. It is a common understandable thing to do when your heart has been ripped to pieces. They look for signs from God, for comfort, messages from their children or loved one, anything to ease some of the stabbing pains of loss. Sometimes I read about the most amazing signs, and I have found myself feeling happy for them but down for myself, that I wasn’t getting the same types of signs. Looking back on my blog posts, I have been given many moments of comfort (signs) and I am thankful, I’m not sure why we instantly forget them. I realized that all of our Spiritual relationships are different, and all of our relationships with our loved ones were different, so any messages, thoughts, or feelings of comfort, will also be different.
Last week I was waking with one of my daughter’s best friends and I looked down and there were four purple flowers along our path. It gave me a little heart squeeze. It could be Coincidence that I have four girls and my daughter’s color was purple, or not, it still made me smile. As we were walking I had just finished telling him about going to get my nails done the day earlier, for the event we were having for her birthday, and telling the nail guy to choose any color out of his 100 different colors. He chose purple.
Sometimes I think that the types of signs I get are ways to encourage me to keep going, messages to keep working towards reaching out to others no matter how difficult it might be. Sunday I got a call from a friend of mine that someone posted in the Portland and neighboring cities neighborhood news that they were selling their daughter’s dresses and donating the money towards the American Foundation for suicide prevention. This is the same group we have been working with and donating to also. My friend said I should reach out to her. I did so at first reluctantly, wondering if this was now my mission, reaching out to other parents that were dealing with loss. (I didn’t really ask for it) I sent her a message and then my youngest daughter and friends wanted to go get tea in the neighboring city so I decided to take them forgetting about the message I had sent.
As we were leaving the tea shop, I remembered messaging the gal with the dresses and looked at my phone to see what the address was, what city it was in and how long it would take to get there. I realized we weren’t driving distance, we were actually 300 feet walking distance. How crazy that the obscure tea shop was a stones throw from the sale address. We walked to her sale and when I saw the mom, she instantly hugged me with tears in her eyes. She told me about her daughter, her love of unique dresses, her love of vintage items, her passion for teaching. She also told me that her daughter graduated from the same college as my oldest daughter and had lived in the same city. I wondered how often she was given the chance to talk about her, to say her name, to show her picture. I thought this was the best sign of love I could have been given on this day. To witness a mother fighting to survive and give back after loosing her precious daughter. That is what inspires me I thought to myself, maybe I don’t need small talk and coffee shops anymore. Wouldn’t it be wonderful if we all could just be real, vulnerable, and open? Imagine the things we could learn from each other.
One of my few and closest friends joined me on my walk today. For some reason I found where I walk so much more beautiful today with all of the wildflowers blooming. I felt like the purple flowers bloomed just for me. I know that I may not feel this way tomorrow. Tomorrow I might not like being around anyone, something might make me feel extremely sad, or maybe it won’t, I never know. For today though I appreciate the beauty around me, and for now, I can just breathe.
Kora Vanek, Mikenna Vanek Project