I recently read a chapter on secondary trauma. This occurs when professionals experience stress or symptoms of trauma when working with traumatized children and families. I experience this often as a therapist, and today I experienced it as a friend.
A very good friend of mine's family member is dying. She is currently at the same hospital that Daniel received his hernia surgery in. Today I sported Kentucky blue high heels instead of the black and white stripes that I wore the morning I was told my husband was dying. I passed the waiting room and ominously glanced toward the chair that I sat in that morning, slowly watching the clock continue to tick past the time I was promised he would be done. I rode in the large elevator silently upstairs to the fifth floor instead of the fourth. The fifth floor does in fact however mirror the fourth. I passed the chair in that lobby where I curled up and called his boss. Where I called my boss and struggled to get the words out.
The smells that assaulted my nostrils were the same. Nurses continuously went in and out to check the vitals and administer the medications, not allowing her to rest. This was the very same way we spent our night together on the fourth floor before being released into the next ten weeks of trauma. I offered a suggestion for hospice as the nurse for palliative care entered the room. I held my tears at bay knowing instinctively that tears would not help this situation, as they rarely do.
I left this afternoon holding onto every ounce of strength I possessed and walked past the very chairs where I sat with my friend who brought me dinner and clothes that first fateful night. I remember her questions. I remember her blank expression. I remember stating that things were "not good." What an understatement. Little did I know at the time, that evening would begin a tornado that I often still feel trapped inside of.
Secondary trauma shook my shoulders today. I teleported back to that life altering day and the weeks following. The emotions claimed my mood and my physical being. The same thing happened earlier this week as I met a new widow. Her husband died 30 years ago at the age of 26. I asked her if she remembered the details. She said of course, just like it was yesterday. She said she still feels the anger inside. Anger for herself and for her three children. We stared at each other longingly, not with pity but with awe. We were bonded together by our loss. Neither of us chose this.
Today was important for me on so many levels. It was about giving back. It was about being vulnerable. It was about sharing, connecting. It was about recognizing someone else's pain and suffering and acknowledging the continuation of my own. It was about telling myself it is ok to still feel sad. It is ok to still miss the father of my children. It is ok.
I was not asked to come to the hospital and honestly I don't think I spoke ten words while there. That shouldn't surprise most. Sometimes we have to do the uncomfortable. We support those around us because that's who we are. We do what we know is right. This will be a long road for this family, and their course will never be the same. My own personal feelings and emotions, a swirling mess inside me came back full force. But it is ok. We will all come together and lift each other up. That is simply what we do.
I’m curled up in the corner of my couch. Earbuds in my ears, music turned up loud mentally reviewing the past few weeks. Celebrating the successes. Worrying about the failures. Stressing with self-doubt. Doubting some of my choices. Doubting if I’m enough. Preparing for change. Telling myself to let go. Encouraging myself to not be so judgmental; not of others but of myself. To stop self-doubting and over thinking. Just be.
What a simple demand, but yet so difficult for me personally. I have come across this one word a lot lately in conversation. In what I’ve been reading. On people’s social media accounts and even in a course I’m currently tackling. Today I was reminded to use this very word myself when a man walked up to me and stated very directly, “I met your husband this week. He was so nice.” I was simply stupefied for a moment before stating my husband was deceased. The stupefied expression quickly transferred from my face to his. A stammer of apology followed and an explanation of whom he thought I was. Its fine I assured him. A statement that I often use without even thinking about it. How many of us say we aren’t “fine” when asked?
We are all one in the same. None of us set out to offend others. No one sets out to ruin people’s days. No one sets out to fail as parents. To fail in our marriages or with our partners. To make choices that may look differently that very next day or even a week later. To slack at work. To be a crappy friend. To let our family members down. I don’t believe any of us wake up each morning and say, “Yes, today my goal is to fail. Today my goal is to make someone else feel bad. Actually, I just want to disappoint myself.” No, none of us do that but we are all plagued by these feelings.
I’ve been feeling a little down. I’ve been working on several things lately that just don’t seem to be coming together as smoothly as I hoped. I have no one to blame but myself. The big part of that though is why lay blame at all? How about cutting yourself some slack? Letting go. So easy to type yet so difficult for me to feel and do. So, here I am curled in the corner of this couch and am thinking about this word that keeps gracing my presence. I have cycled through my usual “writing” songs through my earbuds and this word just keeps hanging out there waiting for me to reach out, acknowledge and grab it.
Definitions from Merriam-Webster:
· unmerited divine assistance given humans for their regeneration or sanctification
· a virtue coming from God
· approval, favor stayed in his good graces
· mercy, pardon
· a special favor
· disposition to or an act or instance of kindness, courtesy, or clemency
· a temporary exemption : reprieve
Per usual, Webster has given us an abundance of definitions for this one word, and honestly I didn’t even include statutes 3-8 as I felt one and two were plenty. I know that other people have shown me personally as well as my family an abundance of Grace over the past two years. I am so very grateful. I look at this word and really try to determine what it means. Its fine to list the definition here but different to use it. To live it. I could have easily felt offended today. I assure you it did take my breath away. As he described the man he met I did think you could be describing my husband. You would have enjoyed a conversation with him as well. However, it wasn’t and I said nothing. I tried to provide a little grace to this man that was obviously embarrassed and made an honest mistake.
Showing others kindness even if they don’t deserve it is giving grace. Letting go of those idiosyncrasies that your spouse engages in that drives you absolutely crazy. Having a little extra patience with your children even when they are talking back or throwing tantrums. Having a little extra patience with your aging parents. Assisting your co-worker, even though you feel that they don’t pull their own weight. Reaching out to others. Being present. Offering forgiveness and forgiving others.
Now I would gently say, provide some to you. Show and give to others but also provide a little grace to yourself now and again. Give yourself a break. Recognize that it’s ok to doubt. It’s ok to get bogged down but know that you are worth it. That you are more than you even realize. That these feelings are temporary. And that this too will pass.
Thank you for providing us with Grace. And showing us the meaning behind it.
Meet the Author (me)
Driven by a need to help others. I have known from a young age that this is what I wanted to do. This is my very real, somewhat sarcastic, look into my newfound widowhood. I hope this site will help you as much as it helps me.