Chapter 1: Your Immediate Survival

Your Immediate Survival

Don’t be ashamed or afraid to call your doctor.  He may prescribe something to help you for a few weeks, or he may want to discuss long term help when you are ready.  In the beginning, everyone wants to help and don’t hesitate to accept it.  If you don’t want help, say so.  Do what you have to do to survive.  Scream in the car, pound on your pillow, lie on the floor and kick, I used to watch a video of my daughter’s wedding with Dave and his family in it over and over.  In the beginning there is no escape.  Your mind won’t be able to accept or believe what has happened.  It feels like a nightmare or a horrible mistake.

The nights are excruciating.  Lying in the dark, it’s impossible not to think about your child and what happened to him or her.  Try playing soft soothing music, or, as silly as it sounds, listen to an old radio show.  There was a station where I live that played old radio dramas late at night.  In the summer I listened to baseball games (a sport my son loved).  The St. Louis Cardinal’s radio announcer, Jack Buck’s deep, calm voice, kept me company through some lonely and scary nights.    My husband and I took walks in the middle of the night talking about Dave and feeling him with us in the stillness and dark.  I would take slow deep breaths, concentrate on them, and count them.  I used to say my son’s name over and over at night – and block out everything else.  In the early days of grief you may feel like you are trapped. You wake up every morning expecting that something will have changed, but the pain and anguish is still there.

After September 11, a wonderful artist named Bronna Butler painted a picture called The Rescue for the victims’ families.  Her intention was to give us something peaceful and hopeful to look at to replace the images of burning buildings and devastation.  The picture depicts the side of one of the towers of the World Trade Center.  A woman is leaning out of the tower reaching towards an angel with outstretched arms.  I used to stare at that picture and imagine an angel reaching for my son.

The Rescue-1.90CW

Imagine your child at peace surrounded by loved ones who have passed on before.  When the heartbreaking images from your child’s death won’t let go, make up an image to replace it.  When I returned to work after the tragedy, I invented a fantasy to comfort myself.  Every day at the office I held it all inside, but by the end of the day I was on the verge of losing it.  The parking garage elevator at work had a glass wall.  I would imagine that the elevator was ascending into the clouds.

I can see through the glass in the back wall.  Floors of tall buildings are passing by.  The elevator climbs higher and higher.  I see brilliant blue sky, and the earth, a glowing blue-green marble below me.  Finally the elevator glides to a stop.  The door slowly slides open.  David, is standing there waiting for me with open arms and that amazing smile.

Make up scenarios.  Do what you can with your mind to survive.  A counselor I met and spoke to at a support group meeting led me through another visualization exercise that I’ve used when I am having trouble falling asleep.

Picture a beautiful meadow with orange and pink and yellow wildflowers and vibrant green grass.  The sky is deep azure blue. You are walking on a path across the meadow towards the woods on the other side.  The air is fresh and a soft warm breeze is blowing. You reach the sky-high fragrant evergreens and make your way down a sun-dappled path lined with ferns and moss until you come upon a clearing.  You see a sparkling, crystal clear, pond.  You walk to the edge and put one foot in the water.  A soothing peace flows through you. You are protected and comforted, cleansed of all hurt as you submerge yourself in the water.  You stay in the water as long as you like, reveling in the silent relief.   Eventually, you step out of the water and sit in the sun on a flat rock to dry yourself.  You sit there for a time feeling better than you ever believed you could feel again. You hear a rustling in the brush and sense a presence. You turn and someone is walking slowly towards you along the path through the woods. You recognize him.  He is your son.  Your heart pumps with joy.  You leap up and throw your arms around him.  You sit on the rock together as long as you want.  This is a place you can come back to again and again any time you want and stay as long as you like. Nothing can take it away.

There is no accepted or “normal” way to behave. You do what you can to survive the pain, in those first agonizing weeks and, believe it or not, survive you will.


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