Death is a traumatic event that, unfortunately, we will all encounter at some point in our lives. Traumatic events are also, unfortunately, events that will touch each and every one of us and change the pattern of our existence in one way or another. Now, everyone's trauma is defined by how they experience it - no less or more than another, simply because it is measured by the individual response to trauma that makes it traumatic. The thing about trauma is, that it comes with biological responses that our body goes through meant to keep us safe. Believe it or not, the body responds to trauma, and holds on to the experience of that trauma to ensure our survival. Fight or flight kicks in, and sometimes takes over.
In this post, I'm going to get a bit personal. I've experienced a few traumatic events in my life - combat, car accidents, and some others. What I want to talk about here is one trauma that has deeply impacted me and has dramatically shifted the course of my life - the death of my mom. I found myself hesitant to even write the word "death" in conjunction with the word "mom", but that's what happened. She died... I started with the term "loss of my mom" but that didn't feel as genuine. She died, and that's the sad reality of life moving forward, it seems. The act of her dying - the visuals, the scents, the sounds - has become a memory that has been difficult to get rid of. It was consistently the only memory I had of her for the first year after her death. I would try so hard to bring up a visual of her at a football game or at one of my sister's plays, and as soon as I could see her beautiful smile, it would immediately be replaced by the memory of her death. It was maddening and infuriating! Part of me thought that my other memories would never return. Luckily, I was wrong.
After talking with my counselor, I learned that this is a neurological response to trauma - specifically the loss of a loved one. Your brain literally won't release those other visuals, because the thought of that person brings you back to the trauma. It's just too fresh for your fight or flight reflex to NOT respond. Therefore, when you try and bring up a memory of your loved one, the first one you see is the last, and often most traumatic one. This was my reality at the time.
Over the last 6 months, the "death visual" is slowly fading into the cortex of my brain that stores all of my other memories. It isn't wreaking havoc on my frontal lobe any longer, and I am starting to hear her laugh again. I remember the acts of kindness, discipline, love, laughter, and everything else she did for me. I remember the countless baseball games she attended, the smell of her clothes, the jewelry she wore, and the way that she danced. I see her in my parenting, how I try and treat others, how I love my wife and kids, and how I try and live my life to make her proud. I see her in my sister and how she is thriving! My mom’s strength comes out in a big way in her. I remember her as "Grammy" to her grandchildren whom she adored. I remember her interactions with her friends, family, and everyone else she came into contact with. I see her in my grandmother's smile and hear her in the way she talks. She is everywhere and in everything.
She is no longer in that hospital bed. She is no longer sick. She is no longer in pain. She is in a place where joy, happiness, love, and health are never in short supply. I write this to give people some good news. Those painful memories will fade. The happiest of memories will come back. There will be a time when all you can remember are the good times, smells, and sounds. It doesn't diminish the pain or make the fact that they are gone easy. It just helps you remember the life that they lived and not the death that they died!