The world is in a pandemic. Duh, you say. Well for some of us you are experiencing just a glimpse of what many people have already been feeing, fighting and struggling with. For two months now I have been struggling to figure out this weird emotion I have towards hearing people complain about not being able to keep track of what day it is, to have any structure to their day. They are becoming forgetful, unmotivated and isolated. People struggle with being able to focus long enough to read a book or lack energy to go back to work even with being gone for so weeks. Reading and hearing these words irritated me, and at first I couldn’t quite put my finger on it. Oh yeah, welcome to my life, my husband’s life, my mother-in-laws life, my surviving daughter’s lives, as they tried to navigated high school feeling this way, along with all the other people I have met in this club of traumatic loss. People that have suffered and unexpected tragedy such as the loss of a child, sibling or spouse unexpectedly, usually deal with complicated grief, or PTSD, or prolonged bereavement.
(Here is an explanation of the cycle of isolation from The Center for Growth website, “isolation is kept in place by the PTSD symptoms themselves, the person’s coping mechanism’s to these symptoms, and other’s responses to the trauma survivor. The person with PTSD is not the only person impacted by the PTSD symptoms. Family, friends, co-workers, even strangers will respond to the behavior that the trauma survivor is engaging in. Without understanding and explanation, there is a lot of room for misinterpretation on both sides. Sadly, the negative experiences that the trauma survivor have in interacting with others, and the experiences that others have interacting with the trauma survivor, can reinforce the desire or need for isolation.” https://www.therapyinphiladelphia.com/tips/understanding-the-role-of-ptsd-symptoms-in-the-cycle-of-isolation)
The last two years has changed my behavior to the point where I no longer consider myself an extreme extrovert. I am considering retaking the 16 personality test and seeing if I am still the Protagonist. https://www.16personalities.com/. Spending time socializing takes more effort, and though I still can enjoy it, I don’t seek it out. That makes it difficult when we are trying to reach out to our isolated friends.
The only thing I miss now is the ability to go where I want and to plan where I want to go in the future. To be honest, nothing for me at home has changed except I get to actually spend more time with my young adult daughter, teens and husband. Honestly it is a mother’s dream to have her child have to actually spend time with her.
Speaking of mourning a loss, I have a high school senior. She should be graduating with honors, walking across a stage, showing all her haters through the worst period in her life what she managed to accomplish, 4.0 GPA, an academic and sports scholarship while struggling with the death of her sister, anxiety, and depression. The last two years were sometimes torturous as she navigated it all and alongside her was her younger sister struggling with similar issues and a rare learning disability. Their oldest sister, then losing her boyfriend, only a year later traumatically. Somehow through the grace of God, they have managed to keep it together and now my child number three should be graduating. Yes, it is a loss.
But it’s not the same. Am I disappointed at the turn of events? Yep. Most likely they will be doing a drive-through graduation. It is unconventional. It is not optimal, but it will be remembered that is for sure. One of my friends recently posted about how Covid-19 is sad, the deaths are sad, and the economic issues are sad, but she is mourning the loss of her daughter’s graduation. It was like fingers on a chalk board reading her statement. I am sure she didn’t mean to, but she had put the loss of her daughter’s graduation right up there with the deaths from Covid-19. Loss has a hierarchy. Mourning has a hierarchy. The loss of my husband’s grandmother was sad. She will be missed. She lived until she was in her 90s. The unexpected loss of my 19-year-old is not the same. The loss of a beloved pet, is not the same. The loss of my daughter’s graduation is very sad, but it doesn’t. even. compare. If you asked her, she would say she is bummed, but it doesn’t compare to the last two years of hell she has navigated, not in the least. For that I would give her an award if I could. I would call it the Overcomer Award.
I’ve had a couple of recent difficult days at work related to my loss. There are days I struggle with different emotions attached to what I have gone through, but I consider myself a decent operating room nurse, so I usually just march through it most days. Last week I had a patient about 18 years old. Something about the way the young adult talked reminded me of Mikenna, my daughter. There was talk of bipolar and eating disorder issues, but you wouldn’t know it hearing the silly bantering between my patient and the friend that had come along side. I wondered where the parents were? Did they disapprove of the kind of surgery, did the patient not want any parent in the waiting area. All I could think of is how I would do anything to have my girl next to me and how I would have been there no matter what kind of surgery she was having. Luckily I was able to shake and set aside those thoughts until later, an unexpected ability I have mastered. Then Mother’s day came and went and it was pleasant. Of course I had more than a few moments of missing my sweet girl, but it was ok. I hope that someday I can feel true joy without a touch of sadness, but I am not sure if that will be possible.
Yesterday, back at work. I opened Facebook while drinking my coffee before the day was to begin. My heart sinks. My childhood friend, one that was in GirlScouts with me, played Barbies with me, and my neighbor for 18 years, lost her 24-year-old son unexpectedly. It didn’t matter how. Tears filled my eyes and nausea filled my stomach with the thought of someone I cared about ever feeling this kind of grief. I remembered those initial days and how they were a blur. I remembered when all the food and family left how I felt. How could people during Covid help? Would there be a funeral or memorial? Maybe an unconventional later date memorial? I wanted to fly across the country and hold my childhood friend. I was irrationally mad at myself for not somehow preventing it. What about my newfound cause of wanting to prevent mental health related deaths in our youths? I just want to know of one thing, anything that can help. I will keep trying though my heart aches. It doesn’t matter if mental health was related in this situation, It makes me feel helpless. I don’t want anyone else to ever feel this pain, no matter how it happens, I wouldn’t wish it on my worst enemy, and I have a bit of a vengeful side, trust me.
I still believe in signs, or gifts from heaven or messages or synchronicities. I went on to set up for my cases as the anesthesiologist came in the room, I hadn’t met him before. I looked at the name on his badge. Dr. McKenna. My heart did a little leap. I had never heard of it as a last name. I introduced myself. I said I had a daughter Mikenna was his last name by chance Irish? Yes he responded. I felt like it was a little hug to me. It’s ok mama was what I felt, real or not.
What can we do? What can we do for those hurting during a pandemic from loss, depression, isolation, PTSD? We can do the awkward things. We can make a phone call (yes I am the worst at this). Not a text. Sending a text instead of making a call is like the difference between instant coffee and french press, or drinking coffee from styrofoam or a ceramic mug, or the difference of watching a movie in SD instead of HD. You get my point. We can check in on each other, we can just listen (also something I struggle with a problem-solver).
Go for a social distance walk with someone struggling, six feet apart of course. One of the only things that got me through the most difficult days of isolation after my loss was walking. I had a couple people make me walk long after the flowers had dried. They still make me walk or get out, because we don’t give up on those we care about even if we have to be unconventional.