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Revisiting Grief

Revisiting Grief

Triggers That Call Their Name

On the day my son died Dec.1st 1987, something shifted in my soul, something deep inside my being got rewired. As a newly bereaved parent you anticipate that the affects and symptoms of shock will eventually wear off as reality arm wrestles for control of our conscious thought. Shock eventually turns to a functioning numbness and we struggle to survive each day knowing that our child is dead, and that this is for real. The first year anniversary date looms in the future like threatening clouds in the distance. It seems every thought is imbued with thoughts of our child. How will I ever I survive this?

More anniversary dates, holidays, birthdays, special days will come and pass, each with their sting of pain. As we move through the years, our directed conscious thought eventually does seem to return to a somewhat functional level and for all intents and purposes it appears we have healed and moved on (He is doing so much better; I am so glad he is moving on with his life; I don’t know how he does it). Fortunate people that have never lost a child, have no idea of the turbidity of emotions that lay roiling beneath the surface of our everyday persona that we wear. The emotions are always there and can be activated by our own directed thought or by unconscious reaction of stimuli that I call ‘sense triggers’. Every one of our 6 senses can trigger thoughts of our child.

Since the day my son Kelly died I have felt a mili-second off with the rest of the world. I feel at a subconscious level in my interaction with the world, like I am continually watching a movie with dubbed in dialogue, my mind often wandering to thoughts of my son. It has been 17 years and I am feeling joy again in my life but my thoughts always stray to Kelly. This is not directed thought nor is it subconscious thought either, his name, his image, our journey, and the pain of his loss all flashes by in a mili-second of time through my conscious thought… even at I write these words.

To others we may appear normal and even be engaged in intent conversation, driving, walking, at work, at play, in line at the movies. We carry on our normal routine day as best we can the rest of our lives. We do our jobs and pay the bills. But underneath that ‘normal routine’ persona there are still receptors for hundreds of triggers that bombard our psyche forever more; a part of the nature of our new universe. Unnoticeable to most, people have no idea how often our thoughts stray to our child. It’s a wonder we have short term memory loss and depend on Post-it notes to survive. Right beneath the surface of our external expression we have thoughts of our child hundreds of times a day. From the moment we wake up there will be triggers that bring to mind our children.

I have not kept my son’s name hidden away like some dark secret, nor have I built a shrine in his memory. I always keep him by my side. Even though we are in two different spheres of existence we still experience a common journey together. I strive to keep Kelly in my conscious thought by the way I live my life. That is by choice.

I also feel it is important to recognize how often we do think of our child without conscious directed thought. I feel all of our 6 senses have been reprogrammed and sensitized to recognize anything of our child’s life and death. Immediately our thought synapses start firing thoughts of our child into our active consciousness. In the early years of our grief journey these “triggers” are hair triggers and they can initiate tears, anger and even gut wrenching agony in seconds. The first few years are raw survival and everything is a trigger.

What are these triggers?

Almost everything in life.

  • The sense of touch: Touching the silky hem of a baby blanket, the rough leather feel of hunting boots, Terri cloth jammies, the slimy skin of a frog, the warm forehead of a sick child, the cold wind of winter storm, the hard feel of vinyl on a tightly clenched steering wheel, the scalding burn of cocoa too hot, and endless more can evoke their name.
  • The sense of smell: The smell of a child coming it out of the cold, the smell of hard work emitted off an old denim jacket, the scent of hairspray , strong perfume or baby powder in the air, their favorite meal cooking from someone else’s stove, the smell of a fresh cut Christmas tree, bananas, chocolate, bubblegum, car grease, burning popcorn, burning leaves, drifting sulphur from fireworks, fresh caught fish, fragrant flowers, zillions of olfactory triggers that can evoke our child’s name.
  • The sense of sight: The sight of any child or person their age or that resembles them at anytime in their life, or even how they might appear if they would have aged. The sight of a hospital, driving by a cemetery, sighting a hearse, a funeral procession, a flower spray, a sunset, a sunrise, a road side marker, a billboard, a red Volkswagen, a Harley, or a school bus. Television shows, movies, a lunch box on the counter, a puppy, a tabby cat, a turkey, a penny on the sidewalk, again countless triggers launched when our eyes are open.
  • The sense of hearing: Hearing a siren, a telephone ring late at night, a baby’s cry, brakes screeching, the ding-ding of heart monitor, the overhead announcement of a Code Blue. Pomp and Circumstance played in June, the Pacheobel Canon in D, Amazing grace, My Country Tis of Thee. “Good night sweetie”, “I love you pumpkin”, “get home early”,” is dinner ready?”, “where are my shoes”? Hearing terms such cancer, malignant, SIDS, SADS, AIDS, tumor, aneurism, blood work, test results, MRI, CT scan, Spinal tap, prednisone, police report, overdose, suicide, and murder. Hearing "there’s been a bad accident”, “good evening it’s the 6 o’clock news, Christmas carols at the mall, or someone whistling down the hall. Every word, every sound you hear can be a trigger.
  • The sense of taste: A Dairy Queen blizzard, the taste of tears, warm Kool-Aid, soggy cheerios, the taste of fear, hamburgers, lasagna, grilled cheese sandwiches dipped in tomato soup, Spaghettios, movie theater popcorn, Chicken Mcnuggets, or cherry Jell-O. Every taste a potential to trigger a memory of your child.
  • The 6th sense or psychic sense: You may have vivid dreams of your child, you hear your child, you smell your child, you feel your child, and you can even taste their tears. Call it a dream, a vision, a hallucination, a visitation, a psychic connection, a messenger, connecting experience, ADC, or an Angel hug. For you they are a valid experience. When you hear your porch chimes and feel the breeze caress your warm face on an unusually calm and hot summer day, or hear on the radio Neil Diamond singing Turn on your Heartlight, our soul hears their name. When your see the dragonfly land on your shoulder, the butterfly on your hand, or smell her perfume in the car, or his cologne on the breeze, our soul hears their name. We feel and experience a brief moment of our child. And we relish the visit and thank God for the gift.

We shall all experience the triggers of the 5 senses unless physical limitations prevent us from doing, and our child will always be in our thoughts without our real control. Not everyone will have a profound experience of the sixth sense but it is rather unusual if you do not. Sometime the signs are just not recognized, trivialized, hidden or ignored. But our children do reach out to us. They reach out to us not out of fear or loneliness, but out of compassion for our aching heart, they feel its anguish, they taste our tears and hear our screams, and they comfort us when we need it the most.

We have we been taught by our society to be afraid of ghosts and to be frightened of things we cannot explain. Society has mystified and carnivalized experiences of the supernatural into a Hollywood experience to entertain and frighten little children. The reality of a true experience of the supernatural is scoffed at, yet every major religion of the world is based on experiences of the supernatural.

A connection to our loved one who has died is real, how it happens, as varied as we are. Seemingly real manifestations of our child can be discernable to one or all of our senses courtesy of our 6th sense and our profound love. Our senses have been heightened to an increased level of awareness to the presence of our beloved child around us. Thoughts of our child who has died will bombard our brain 24/7 for the rest of our lives. Is that really a bad thing?

As you move through the years in your bereavement process you find out there is no pat answers in processing grief, especially in child loss. The journey is as individual as we are and, you do not get over it, you learn to live with it. I accept that, as well as accepting every trigger no matter how painful, that keeps me closer to my son. We cannot run from our thoughts so we learn to live with them, even encourage them, and that’s fine with me. I will just buy lots of Post-it notes and the world will just have to get used to me being just a mili-second off…

Love and light,
Mitch Carmody 12-12-04