Hope for the Holidays Show, hosted by Lynda Cheldelin Fell and Todd Nigro, is a show for grievers to share tips and coping techniques for managing the holidays without our loved one. Learn more at www.LyndaFell.com.
Memory is something I used to take for granted, at least up until Aly died. Nobody told me I would lose my memory after losing a child. It was so bad I often worried about early onset Alzheimer’s.
The good news is that we’re not alone. The better news is that there’s an explanation, and it’s not because we’re going crazy.
It turns out that when a part of the brain called the amygdala is flooded with adrenaline from fear or trauma, it anesthetizes other parts of the brain. Memory is impacted, time gets distorted, and events come back like a strobe light rather than a story.
So if nobody told you that memory loss, tunnel vision and time distortion are normal responses to emotional trauma, rest assured it’s common. I promise. Symptoms are especially pronounced after a traumatic loss.
Yes, I know—they’re still embarrassing. Especially to our kids.
Next time your kids give you the stink eye for asking the same question you did 10 minutes ago, bore them with the above explanation. With luck, they’ll never question your sanity again.
At least not out loud.
One magical moment in the summer of 1969 changed my life forever. A chance meeting. A spark. A love that was meant to be. A love that defined me. A love I will carry with me forever.
In 1964, my husband arrived as a first year teacher and basketball coach at my high school. I arrived there as an eighth grade student. No one—especially us—would have ever guessed that five years later we would fall in love and marry.
We were blessed with a son in 1976. In 1982, we moved to Las Vegas and, after a year of coaching, Vern went to work at UNLV’s sports arena. After twenty years, he retired to open the Orleans Arena. Vern was an amazing teacher, fabulous coach and inspiring mentor to many.
Vern had back issues that flared from time to time, so we weren’t initially alarmed when the pain began in 2006. However, when he got to the point where he could hardly walk, I convinced him to see a doctor. A CT scan was done but didn’t show anything, so Vern was sent to a physical therapist. And he got worse. We finally begged his primary physician to get insurance approval for an MRI. We weren’t home too long after the procedure when the doctor called and said, “My God, man, you have a tumor on your spine.” I don’t think I’ll ever forget those words.
We met with the surgeon early the next morning. A small room. Vern in a wheelchair, me on a stool, the doctor showing us the MRI scans. The tumor. The hot spots. Spinal compression fractures. And so many lytic lesions. Multiple myeloma. Cancer. Metastasized. Not a good prognosis.
And so it began, four plus years. Surgeries. Mistakes. Rehab. Physical therapy. Infections. GI bleeds. Pleural effusions. Pneumonia. Pulmonary embolism. Chemo. Radiation. So very many blood transfusions. Colostomy. Kidney failure. Dialysis. He went through so much. And then there was nothing more they could do to him. For him.
Vern’s final days were spent at Nathan Adelson Hospice. No more pricks and prods or waking him up for rounds. He was peaceful. I stayed with him twenty-four hours a day. And those final four days were a gift. He spoke very little the first two days and then was silent, but I have no doubt at all that he was able to hear my words.
When the death rattle arrived, I gently slid into his hospital bed, held him close and spoke to him until he slipped away.
Written by Dianne West in How to Help the Newly Bereaved. Dianne’s beloved 69-year-old husband Vern died from multiple myeloma in 2010.
It was a beautiful fall day. The temperature was perfect and only a few clouds hung suspended in the blue sky.
The date was November 18, 2007, a Sunday. We had been living in a hotel because our home had been flooded when Jacksonville Electric Authority did something called pipe bursting on the house behind ours. That day we were finally able to get into our home to start the cleanup. Barry asked if we would need him there all day because he needed to finish a project for school. He said he would be at Auntie’s house using her computer and then was going to help with the setup for his younger cousin’s birthday party. A couple of hours later he called to ask if we were going to make the party. We said no, because we still had more to do and no time to change. He said okay and then we exchanged, “I love you.”
We received three more phone calls from our son’s cellphone. First, he said he was back at the hotel and asked if we were going to bring something to eat. In the next call he said he was going out with friends. The third call was from his friend saying Barry had been shot and they needed to know what hospital to take him to.
We drove so fast down U.S. 17 that we saw the ambulance and followed it all the way to Shands Hospital. Barry was whisked into surgery and we were ushered into a waiting room. Hours later a minister came and asked if we’d spoken to the doctor yet. We told him we hadn’t, and he left to go get him.
We are so sorry.
Nobody likes those words at the beginning of a doctor’s statement.
Barry and his girlfriend were robbed while walking to a friend’s apartment. They stole Barry’s cross and wanted to accost the young lady. When Barry stopped one robber, the other shot Barry in the chest. The bullet pierced an artery in the heart, and they couldn’t stop the bleeding. He died in the early morning hours of Monday, November 19, 2007.
I was told by a couple of people that my wife and I wouldn’t survive the loss of a child. Not because they were being mean or spiteful, but because of what they’ve seen happen to others in our situation. And it is true, I’ve seen it also. There is no guaranteed survival after the loss of a child. There is work. You have to want to do this work. The hardest thing in life to do is bury a child. Your child. So if you work at it slowly, because it’s going to take time, you can make it through.
Burying a parent, you know you have to do that, and even your spouse. Life will not start over for you, and the majority of the people you meet won’t have a clue as to what you’re dealing with. Everything outside of you will exist as it is. Children will play in the park, people will still wave their fists in anger when someone cuts them off on the road, and you will survive. You will be a survivor.
I can’t promise you that every day from here on out will be sunshine, and you wouldn’t want me to. I can tell you it will be hard, exhausting, and it will feel like it would be easier to go your separate ways. Love tests for your heart and soul multiplied by infinity. Stay in that love, and communicate. You are a survivor!
Written by Barry Brooks, Barry’s 19-year-old son was murdered in 2007. His full story is published in Grief Diaries: Will We Survive?
The warm summer day started out just like any other. I was busy organizing the kids, planning dinner, making a mental note to fill the car with gas and pick up a gallon of milk on my way home from their soccer game. Suddenly without warning, I was engulfed by a raging fire. I suffered third degree burns over my entire body. Not an inch of me was spared.
People rushed to my side to help but there was nothing they could do. Medical care was limited and the best medications did little to ease the agony. I wasn’t sure I could survive such intense suffering. Worse, nobody could tell me how long such agony would last.
Doctors gently gave me the news that although my physical self would heal, the disfigurement would remain for life. My family, friends, and coworkers no longer recognized me. I no longer recognized myself.
At first, doing little things like sitting up in bed or standing were so excruciating they took my breath away. The mere thought of eating, bathing, and dressing left me feeling helpless and hopeless.
Pity and sadness were apparent in the eyes of everyone who came to my side. I understood the sadness but hated the pity. Why on God’s green earth was I spared the peace of death?
Learning to live with complete disfigurement and extreme pain is overwhelming. Excruciatingly slow and exhausting, it takes years of great effort to master what were once basic activities. Some days I hurt too bad to even try.
When out in public I pretend to be normal to ease the discomfort of others who are brave enough to approach me. Those who avoid me merely add further angst to my broken spirit. Pretending to be normal is exhausting and quickly depletes all my reserves. By the time I finish errands and return home, I’m utterly spent.
Worst of all, there is absolutely nothing that I nor anyone else can do about it.
For you see, that complete disfigurement and intolerable pain described above is on the inside of my body. The pain is unchanged, the disfigurement is still complete, and the scars are permanent. The new life thrust upon me that day when my child died caused a firestorm that engulfed every part of my life. The only differences between me and the patient who suffered third degree burns over her entire body is that I lived. And my pain is invisible to the world.
Welcome to the life of a grieving mother.