When I met with my therapist on Friday, I told her that I was concerned about this weekend. I knew it was going to be a busy weekend between several events on Saturday and the addition of Eleanor’s birthday party to our already busy Sunday routines. And, while busy times can actually be good for me, I was scared how all of the social situations would play out given the significance of this weekend’s place in the calendar.
Today marks five months since we lost Emily.
I think that, if you saw me yesterday or today, you probably wouldn’t have realized the impact this date has on me each month. However, as I sit in the stillness now that the kids are asleep, I can feel the emotional weight of the weekend in every part of my body. And, although most of the weekend flew by in a fast-paced blur of tissue paper and baked goods, I was fully aware of every moment I cried or longed for Emily over the past two days.
It started Saturday morning, as I stood in the background for a moment at the bowling alley, and I wished for her presence by my side. I held back tears in the card section of Target a few hours later when the kids saw a hedgehog card and said, “This would be a great card for Emily.” As the kids and I spent the evening at a birthday party, I stepped outside in hopes the cold air would calm me down as I suddenly became very acutely aware of the fact that I was the only person in the room without a spouse.
During Sunday School, I had to reel in my emotions when a classmate brought up his wife’s gallbladder surgery happening this week. I cried during the baptism that happened in worship, and again during the final hymn (Here I am, Lord) because both of those moments made me think of Emily for very different reasons. Then there was Eleanor’s party, which came with so many emotions and moments I had to stuff down just to get through the afternoon.
It all flew by so quickly. And yet, each of these snapshots I mentioned makes me think back to the day it all ties back to: October 19.
Trauma Brain Explained
As I told someone just last weekend, much of October 19, 2022 is a blur. I don’t remember what I was wearing that day, nor can I recall a single thing I ate. I suppose part of this could be chalked up to the fact that I hadn’t slept or changed my clothes for two days prior to that since I took Emily to the emergency room the evening of October 17 and never left her side those last 48 hours minus the couple of times I ran to the cafeteria to grab food.
However, there are some very specific moments I do remember from that day. And, if you asked me to, I could describe the small snapshots I do recall in great sensory detail. And, because I spent the last half of 2020 and first few months of 2021 going through very specific trauma treatments with my therapist to process past sexual assaults, I know that these highly detailed snapshots and large bits of missing data from that day are simply my brain working as it should because Emily’s death was very much a life trauma for me.
When we experience any type of trauma, our brains do very specific things to protect us. In some instances, it stores every sensory detail it can about the traumatic event so that it can use that data later to protect us from the same trauma happening again. This is why seemingly small things, like the scent of lavender or the sound of boots on stairs, become very intense trauma triggers for people.
However, our brains will also sometimes “wash away” memories as a way of protecting us from experiencing painful emotions again when we recall a specific memory. In these instances, those same sensory memories like the smell of lavender or sound of boots may make someone panic, but they don’t understand why.
And these “protective measures” are exactly what makes trauma so hard to process or even cope with.
Pieces of a Day I Never Wanted
It’s funny, because as much as I’ve tried not to think about Emily’s death this weekend, random pieces of that day have popped into my mind. Yet, even when these snapshots appear, they’re just that — tiny fragments of time, with no connection to the moment before or after they occurred.
I remember the doctor telling me that ECMO didn’t work and Emily was gone. My entire body felt cold, and I kept saying, “No… This can’t be happening… She was fine… No…” on a loop as I wavered between crying and panicking.
Yet I don’t remember anyone calling Emily’s parents (they did), nor do I remember calling my mom or texting one of our pastors (but my phone logs clearly show it).
Time passes, a break in my memory.
I remember sitting in the room with Emily all by myself. I remember the sounds of the machines still running. Her hand felt cold as I held it, yet it was just as soft as always. My voice trembled as I talked to her, and the silence swallowed me as I asked her questions I knew she couldn’t answer. People walked in and out of the room to check on me. Time felt frozen but moved so quickly at the same time.
Silence. They still have her hooked up to machines. I hear it pumping air, but she’s not breathing. Her body is there, but she’s gone.
I don’t remember taking my mask off (I did because I realized it was missing later when I went to leave the room), nor do I remember anyone handing me her ring (it was in a plastic bag in my pocket when I got home).
I contemplate climbing in the bed with her. Maybe if I lie there long enough, I can be with her. My eyes scan the room for a way to escape life. Her lips aren’t moving, but I hear her say, “No, babe.”
Time passes, but I feel frozen, just holding her hand. I can’t tell you if more happened, but something tells me it did.
I remember hugging Emily’s mom when she arrived. The tears started all over again, and the only thing I could get out was, “I’m sorry.” The guilt and the pain hit me like a semi truck, and I kept wishing I could trade places with Emily so she could simply walk out of the hospital with her parents, alive and well. A pastor arrived, more hugs, more tears. Time continues moving but I’m still frozen in this moment, I can’t help but continue holding her hand.
I remember a brief break from the tears when someone said something funny, yet I don’t even remember who said it or what they said. People are talking, but I’m barely processing the words. In my head I keep shouting, “Wake up, Emily!” but really I’m just holding her hand that’s still cold, but soft.
Time passes. It’s a blur again.
The next thing I remember, we’re leaving the room. We go into a sort of private waiting area, and I feel like I’m watching an episode of Grey’s Anatomy, not living my own life. I become very aware of her shoes. Why she wore her Chacos, I’ll never know.
Someone is talking, but they might as well be speaking a different language. I space out and hope Emily’s parents are paying attention. I want to go back and be with her. My phone rings. I don’t remember the conversation.
I’m standing outside the hospital, still holding her shoes. My mom pulls up. Introducing my mom to her parents feels so wrong. We were going to do this over dinner soon to celebrate the engagement. This can’t be right. I pinch myself, but it’s not a nightmare.
Time passes in the car. I remember sitting at a table, texting my therapist to please fit me in today if she can. I think I ordered food. I don’t remember eating it.
Time passes. Another break in my memory.
I pull into the garage at home. I leave her shoes in my car. I don’t want to look at them. If I don’t confront the things, then she’s not really gone. I walk into the house. It’s exactly how we left it Monday night. I yell at myself for leaving dinner out, but I have zero motivation to do the dishes right now. I sit on the couch.
Time passes. I think I sleep. My phone goes off. I don’t remember texting people, but my friends know what happened. They ask me if I’m safe.
Time passes. It’s all a blur. Eventually I look at my phone, and it’s not Wednesday anymore. It’s Thursday.
Will It Ever Not Feel Like A Blur?
So many moments over the past five months have felt like a blur. I don’t always remember time passing, yet it does. And, with every minute of time, that much more distance comes between October 19, 2022 and the present day.
I don’t know if life without Emily will ever feel right. Part of me thinks it won’t, and I’m willing to live with that. Because of Emily, there’s a very specific period of time in my life that felt truly incredible. And if that’s all the time like that I’m ever given, it would be enough. Because to me, even one day in her presence is worth an entire lifetime of days that feel like blurs. And that probably doesn’t make any sense, but I think I’m to a point where I’ve realized very little about life makes sense. So, I guess it’s all par for the course.