Since we lost our daughter, I have had a knot in my stomach. It’s always there. Sometimes it tightens up. Sometimes it relaxes a bit. Sometimes it makes me feel like I am going to barf. Sometimes I know why it tightens or makes me sick, sometimes I don’t. But I always know it is there. Always. Since I have been able to open my heart and truly love my daughter again, without the ever-present crushing pain of losing her interfere, I have also noticed that I have, at times, the clarity of mind to see my grief and to feel my PTSD for what they really are.
The crushing pain of losing her, my grief, will never leave. It will only change and how it will change I don’t know. Going to therapy helped me understand that I had PTSD, but I was so lost in the storm of pain that I didn’t really understand anything other than it hurts. Now, when the tears fall from my eyes as I think of my little Bug’s chubby hand in her mouth, the few words she was able to say, her squishy little legs, her amazing blue eyes looking into mine, or what she would be doing now, I know that it is my grief that has a hold on me. I miss her so much all the time. Seeing her in my mind and feeling her in my heart is just not enough. My little baby girl is always going to be gone. The finality of that may never seem real, even though I live it each day. Complex grief is a difficult thing to live with, but it’s all we can do. There is no choice to live without it. You can’t put it down.
PTSD is seperate from grief. For some reason, there are people out there who don’t understand PTSD and think it can only happen to soldier’s who face the possibility of death while on the battlefield. That is one way for it to happen, but not the only way. Some people use the term PTSD flippantly. Oh my gosh, I totally got PTSD when I almost rear-ended that car. Um…no you didn’t. Flashbacks are not just remembering bad stuff. PTSD is serious and changes the way you live your live forever. Let’s take a look at what PTSD really means.
Post Traumitic Stress Disorder
Post – because it comes after the trauma.
Trauma (noun): Emotional shock following a stressful event or a physical injury, which may lead to long-term neurosis
Stress (noun): A state of mental or emotional strain or tension resulting from adverse or demanding circumstances.
Disorder (noun): An illness that disrupts normal physical or mental functions.
(Oxford University Press, 2017).
So if you put all of that together, it means that as someone who sufferes from PTSD, every day I experience and suffer from the emotional shock created by the stressful event of my 14-month-old daughter’s unexpected death, which causes mental and emotional strain that disrupts my mental functions. PTSD is no small thing. Here is a list of symptoms that those with PTSD may experience every day. I have highlighted the symptoms that I am very familiar with.
Symptoms of PTSD
- Inability to recall key features of the trauma
- Overly negative thoughts and assumptions about oneself or the world
- Exaggerated blame of self or others for causing the trauma
- Decreased interest in activities
- Feeling isolated
- Difficulty experiencing positive affect
- Irritability or aggression
- Risky or destructive behavior
- Heightened startle reaction
- Difficulty concentrating
- Difficulty sleeping
- Depersonalization. Experience of being an outside observer of or detached from oneself (e.g., feeling as if “this is not happening to me” or one were in a dream).
- Derealization. Experience of unreality, distance, or distortion (e.g., “things are not real”).
PTSD symptoms as related to Complex Grief
- Intense sorrow and pain at the thought of your loved one
- Focus on little else but your loved one’s death
- Extreme focus on reminders of the loved one or excessive avoidance of reminders
- Intense and persistent longing or pining for the deceased
- Problems accepting the death
- Numbness or detachment
- Bitterness about your loss
- Feeling that life holds no meaning or purpose
- Irritability or agitation
- Lack of trust in others
- Inability to enjoy life or think back on positive experiences with your loved one
- Have trouble carrying out normal routines
- Withdraw from social activities
- Experience depression or deep sadness
- Have thoughts of guilt or self-blame
- Believe that you did something wrong or could have prevented the death
- Have lost your sense of purpose in life
- Feel life isn’t worth living without your loved one
- Wish you had died along with your loved one
Anyone who has suffered the loss of child is suffering from any, or possibly all of the above. Many people often say oh I can’t imagine what you are going through. You are absolutely right. Forever. You are right forever. You can’t imagine, because this horror and pain and daily struggle is unimaginable. If you know someone or love someone who has lost a child, never expect them to move on, get over it, or stop it. They won’t They can’t. It’s the same as expecting someone with diabetes to just stop having it. It’s not possible. I feel like no matter how clear I try and make this, too many people just cannot accept that they can’t get it and that they just have to trust me that this is the way it is, regardless of how they feel or think about it. The experience of a grieving parent will never find a place in your belief structure or paradigm of life, unless you have lost a child. Feel blessed that you have no idea what this is like. Accept that even if I am smiling, I am living with pain and suffering all the time. Understand that the best thing you can do is listen without judgement or expectation. A grieving parent will never be fixed, get over it, or move on. It’s just impossible. The journey of child loss is ever changing, but those of us on the journey never forget the loss of our child.