I have many draft blog posts that I haven’t completed… But this one has to make way.
What I experienced on January 31st through now is not really secondary loss or secondary traumatic stress … But it’s hard to describe what it is…
It was the first major trauma in my life since Tim’s.
You may read this and say… it’s a broken bone… its not comparable to cancer and death after 26 days in the ICU. And yes, that is true. However, for me… living it… there was so much “again.”
It started out like a regular Thursday. A and R have play therapy for grief on Thursdays, so I always pick them up from school and take them. I got to school, and headed into their aftercare and chatted with teachers, while they took their usual forever to get backpacks, jackets, projects, water bottles, etc… when we got to the car, I glanced at my phone while they were buckling up. I had a message from my au pair that she and D were at Target, he fell down and he tells her his leg hurts so she is taking him home… he was pushing the cart and he jumped up on it and half fell on his leg, thank God she held the other part… I really didn’t know how to interpret this so I responded with a crying emoji! Like the kind with the big tears! And then the girls call out her name! And there she is next to my car. So I jump out. (The school is on the way home from the Target.) And she says he is still crying. So I run over to that car. I look in his eyes, and I know right away something is wrong. He’s not really hysterical but he’s crying, nose running, and he touches his thigh and says “my leg hurts, Mama!” But it was his eyes. His eyes told me something was very wrong. I said “OK! Let’s switch – let me grab my bag, take the girls to Ms Paige’s, and I’ll take D to the Doctor. I ran to my car. The girls started crying, that they wanted to be with me. I said no, firmly, D needs me right now. The car next to us was complaining they couldn’t get out, because the car D was in (Tim’s car) was blocking them in, so E moved it while I got my bag and then we switched, and D and I were off. I actually considered going to the pediatrician, but I knew they’d be closing as it was 5:00 pm.
So I took him to the closest ER. The off-shoot ER near us. The place where I took his father on May 16, 2017. I walked him in as quickly and safely as I could. Everyone was calm. They don’t say this to you, but both times I felt like they thought I was overreacting. First, with a perfectly healthy looking 6’4″ tall, 37-year-old man, while I did all the talking, then, less than 2 years later holding my 2.5 year old son. I had been to this ER with R. And I had been there myself when I had severe dehydration, with step throat and a stomach bug when pregnant with D. But those times, I drove us home.
As they took D back for his x-ray, I passed the ambulance bay and I realized for the first time – this is where they took him to load onto the ambulance after I left with A, to pick up R and D. They had told me they didn’t think D’s leg was broken but they would x-ray it just in case. I was confused at the confidence. Why? Just because he wasn’t screaming bloody murder? He wouldn’t put any weight on it, he certainly wouldn’t walk (or even stand on his own) when the Dr. made me make him try to walk. So off we went to xray together, me holding his hand. He was not excited to move into all different angles for the x-ray but he handled it pretty well, truthfully. And then we walked slowly back to his little room, past the ambulance bay again.
When the Doctor (who told me she didn’t think it was broken) returned she said “so you heard the news?” to which I said, well I OVERheard you guys ordering “transport” so….” And she confirmed it was broken and that he’d be getting some stronger pain meds. (Went from tylenol to morphine!!)
As I should know well by now there is a lot of hurry up and waiting in medical situations. No matter how much I might will things to go faster. He started to doze with the morphine though so I could text and get things in motion, let people know what was going on. My amazing OT friend who works at the hospital that the ambulance would soon be taking us to showed up, then once transport arrived, left with my keys to get another friend so they could move my car (Tim’s car to be honest) to the hospital.
I was there. I was 100% with my boy then as they moved him to the stretcher and started to wheel him to the ambulance bay…. he looked so small. Too small to be broken. And then we were in the ambulance. He was cheerful (maybe it was the morphine).. he called the ambulance the white bus. Every day he watches his sisters get on the school bus and he wants on that yellow bus so badly. Here he was, getting his own special bus ride. (Spoiler alert – the school bus is way cheaper!)
And then we were driving in the ambulance and I was holding his hand. Talking to him… looking into those baby blues. His father’s blue eyes… and all I could think was how I should have been in that ambulance with Tim. I had never thought that thought before. I did what I had to do. I simply executed. I wasn’t a hysterical mess. I calmly got Annabelle out and got the other 2, and got all 3 home for dinner with my friend who showed up to help… then I drove to the hospital in my car, met him in his room. I did not let myself feel, cry or worry; I executed. It’s one of my greatest strengths. A cool head in crisis. It’s something Tim loved about me. I never doubted that he would have wanted it any other way. Always – the kids first. But there I was in that ambulance with my son, holding his hand, looking into those blue eyes, making that exact same drive that Tim’s ambulance had made, the last time Tim was ever outside. I thought about what we might have talked about. Certainly not anything intimate in front of the paramedic, but just the idea of one more conversation with him, the missed opportunity. My eyes filled with tears. Then I scolded myself. D. He is here now, he is the one who needs you. Look at this tiny little person on this stretcher. You are what he has in the world, you make all decisions for his well-being, you CAN NOT FALL APART.
And so I didn’t. I did not fall apart. However much I may have wanted to… I told the paramedic his father also broke his leg at 2 years old (a fact I knew but confirmed with Tim’s parents while I was waiting)… but I didn’t tell the paramedic that this little boy’s father was now dead. Sometimes, I just can’t… My two amazing friends showed up at the hospital ER and when they hugged me… how I wanted to fall apart. When my in-laws called me (when I was in that Emergency room with D and my two friends waiting for Dr.’s and trying to entertain him with television) and they told me my father-in-law (who happened to be arriving the next day for a scheduled trip) could stay as long as I needed help, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When I was told we had to wait for the morning for an OR and I didn’t even let the Orthopedic guy in scrubs finish talking before I handed D some water (which he had desperately wanted but I could not give him in case they could take him into the OR that night.) I simply executed what was best for my boy. When my friends left and we were transported to a children’s room for the night… when I “slept” the worst night I think I’ve ever had in bed beside him, where he would doze, then wake himself with a start and burst into tears… I held him, and soothed him, and I did not fall apart in the darkness. When they finally got him in the OR the next day and for the first time, I was alone… alone with the exact same color-coded paper in my hands they had given me when they sent Tim into surgery to get the ECMO set on May 17, 2017. And I sat in that waiting room alone… alone where I should have been waiting with my husband for our son with the broken femur to get out of the OR. I did not fall apart. When one of my friends’ friend who is a Pediatric surgeon in that hospital came to see me in the morning, filled with so much kindness, intelligence, knowledge and compassion, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. When a good friend showed up with her son (a friend of A’s) and Dunkin donuts coffee and a wake up wrap, I teared up, but I did not fall apart. I executed. When I saw the full extent of the Spica cast he was in, when I had the thought “my baby is broken,” when the OT explained to me diapering, clothing, getting in and out of the car seat, no baths, no putting any pressure on his leg, that the pain reliever they had for him was a narcotic, that it could cause constipation, that he would need 24×7 care in this cast…. any of these things that made me want to burst into tears… I did not. I listened, and I did. I did whatever needed to be done for my boy. Because that’s what I do. Because its what widows with small children do. We do what must be done, even when reliving the trauma feels like more than we can possibly bear.
These past 6 weeks… there was darkness. There were many difficult nights. There were times when the light at the end of the tunnel was too dim to see.
Someone asked me yesterday at an impromptu St. Patrick’s day and “cast off” party “So what’s your secret? How did you survive?”
I said “I don’t have one… well, I had a lot of help. I guess that’s it ” – and I proceeded to describe the help I had – people flying in from LA and Chicago and New York, family and friends driving long distances to come and help, my au pair, local friends supporting us.. and on and on.
And that is the truth. That is how I survived the logistics of this situation that felt impossible to survive. I had so much help. From people I can probably never repay. And my heart explodes with gratitude just thinking about it.
But here’s my secret.. in so many ways, the logistics were not the hardest part. That is a fact that maybe unless you UNDERSTAND, you can not understand. And I am truly happy for you if you can not UNDERSTAND. The parallels, the reliving, the questions that come in the dark, the longing for the one person who was supposed to be here to help you through all these hard times, in sickness and in health. He should be here. For me, for D, for himself. One morning after several without sleep, I woke up, looked at Tim’s dad and told him, “I just feel so confused that Tim is not here.” I know that makes no sense. Its been 20 months… I know he is dead. I understand. I understand the permanence of death. Then why do I feel so confused by his absence right now? My father in law said “because it makes no sense.”
So here’s the thing. We did survive it. And we will survive the next curve ball that comes our way. I survived it thanks to an incredible village of support for which I am forever grateful. I once heard Glennon Doyle say “I created the community that I would one day need” and I so feel that way about Tim and I. We had no idea of the community we were creating.
Before bed tonight, the girls and I read a book with a shooting star, and R said she knows what she would wish for if she saw a shooting star… she would wish for Daddy to come back “that’s always at the top of my list of wishes.” She told me she had a dream that he came back for a day. A chimed in that she had those dreams too. And we sat in that moment. Me too, guys. Me too. I know without a doubt that I would give up all the help from family and friends if I could have him back – even for one day. But I also know I can not. I know I can never have him back, and I know that the grief will change in waves over time, but it will never be gone. And I know that this pain and suffering, as well as simply being the woman he loved, and the mother that my kids have, every day it is making me who I am. The person I will bring into the future. I don’t imagine that he would want anything else for me.
3 thoughts on “Secondary trauma”
I could see these thoughts in your eyes in that picture of you and Declan because when I saw you two I thought Tim should be there.
“Your strength is as the strength of ten . . .” Hugs, AK