One time when I was being admitted to a psych hospital, they asked me if I had ever experienced any trauma (besides the trauma of being admitted to a psych hospital...). I said, yes, my dad died unexpectedly when I was 11. She said, oh, that doesn't count as a trauma! Hmm, I thought, then you have never lost a parent at an early age, or we have very different definitions of trauma.
In the years before my dad died he was a pretty intense alcoholic. I loved him, but I was scared of him. In fact, I was scared of all men. It wasn't until many years later that I learned men could be kind and gentle and funny. It happened when I was 23 and I spent some time living with the family of a good friend. All of a sudden, I was living in a house with a dad for the first time in 12 years. But the thing was, he was so kind. He was so loving. He was a stay at home dad and was so involved in the lives of his children. It took some time, but I learned to trust him, and to feel much safer about men.
This week he died unexpectedly. A few weeks ago he was totally fine, doing things around the house, wishing me well when I called his wife every evening. It just doesn't make sense. When I am suicidal, his wife always tells me "God's not finished with you yet. You have more to do." But I don't understand. Didn't he have more to do? Selfishly, he helped me whenever I had a problem with my house or my car. I still need help! Isn't that enough to do?? Not to mention all that he did for his family and his community. I just don't understand. It seems like God had more for him to do.
So now I'm grieving. I see pictures of him or hear stories of him and I start sobbing. I saw a colony of little ants on my floor and sprayed them with what he had taught me, and I felt like I'd been stabbed in the gut. But there's an extra layer of grief when you lost a parent young. Everything reminds me of the trauma, I relive the moments of us discovering my dad dead in the bed and spending hours at the neighbor’s while we waited to hear if he would come back to life. I can't send flowers to my friend because just the smell of flowers brings me back to that difficult, difficult time. I can't make a lasagna, (I can't even eat lasagna) because after my dad’s death at least ten people brought us lasagna as a generous gift, and it felt like it was all we ate for months. Lasagna is equivalent with death for me. (Which is good to know if you ever want to have me over for dinner :) )
I just keep getting waves of overwhelming sadness. Sometimes for this new loss, sometimes for what our life was like before my dad died, sometimes for the experience of seeing my dad in a casket, hearing that if not enough people made donations in his name his hand could get stuck in purgatory, sometimes for hearing that they were going to burn him and we would put him in a "filing cabinet" in the cemetery.
Today we will be going to the visitation and then tomorrow the funeral. I am so grateful that my mom is able to go with me. I don't even know if I will be able to go in the room. Will the smell of the flowers, the site of the casket be too much for me? Will I be able to be strong enough to go in and support the family in the way that they deserve, or will I be hysterical and have to go back to the car?
I tried to look for advice for how to grieve when you have a mental illness, and specifically, PTSD, but I had a lot of trouble finding help, so I'm just going to be using the skills that I use to get through everyday life. 1. Limit my worrying. I tend to worry about everything, but I've learned to put what I'm worrying about in a box and give myself a specific time that I'm allowed to worry. During that time, I can worry all I want to, but the rest of the time I need to stay in the moment and just put it in the box. (I have a pretend box in my head, but some people make an actual box and write their worries down, whatever works for you.) 2. Allow the emotions to come in waves. I know that I can't turn off the sadness, this is a really difficult time, but I need to remember when I'm crying so hard and I want to give up that it is just a wave, and that shortly I will feel much better (at least for a while). 3. Take deep breaths. When the difficult waves come, it helps to breathe slowly, in through my nose out through my mouth, to help get through the moment. Sometimes I can even use the deep breathing when I feel the wave coming on and prevent it from getting as bad. 4. Lower my expectations of myself. This is a very difficult time and I need to celebrate every little thing that I get done, not get angry at myself when I'm not able to accomplish as much as I might on an easier day. Finally, 5. Do things that make me feel good. These are different for everybody, but one thing that I really love is a hot bubble bath with lavender oil and praise music in the bathroom. Don't let yourself convince yourself that you are not worth it because you're struggling, this is the time that you need it the most. Give yourself a little love.
So, I don't know how the visitation and funeral are going to go this weekend, but I know that I am going to do everything I can to take care of myself and be prepared for a difficult time. I love the family, and I want to give them the best me...but I know, if the best me is having to just go back to the car, they are going to understand. Grieving is difficult, but you will get through it, and be sure to lean on your supports. You are stronger than you think, and you can do hard things.