During the first days, weeks and months of loss everything and anything can be a trigger. Each Friday, for many weeks, I would look at the clock and think; “this is when he was supposed to come home but didn’t.” For a year, sirens made me jump and gasp even though I never saw or heard any that responded to my husband’s death. These, and many others I had, are pretty predictable triggers. The magnitude of what they evoke are as varied as they are. I have had (so far) two triggers that have sent me packing my bags. Twice, I have left my home for a week until I regained my psychic footing.
The predictability, or should I say, unpredictability of triggers is what makes it challenging. We all like to know what’s coming and when. Three weeks after my husband died, a neighbor I did not know well became a widow. Her husband had been bedridden for years. I felt compelled to take the elevator up and pay my respects. I could not bring myself to go into her catered reception, but stood in the doorway with her and expressed my sincere condolences. We hugged and as I walked back to the elevator I heard her as she stammered to the crowd; “her husband was killed just three weeks ago.” I fell against the elevator door and struggled to breathe. It was hearing how stunned she was that I had come that was the trigger, not her loss. Eighteen months later I got a message from a new and very dear friend; her son had been killed. She needed me and that was a gift. I’m sure there were moments that didn’t feel great for me, but all I recall is that my heart broke for her. It was a privilege to put my experience to some use as I held her hand and body at the funeral and for the next year, and I felt strong doing it. Triggers are unpredictable.
After months, if not years, of being tortured by my mattress I gave up the frugality fight and purchased a new one this week. The night before it was delivered I woke at 2:00 A.M., achey and thinking; “Thank G-d this will be the last night on this mattress.” The next thought (that kept me awake for hours) was; “OMG this is the last night on this mattress!!” Over the years, the mattress has seen what most mattresses see. But what kept me awake was a memory slideshow of; my rabbi sitting on my bed as I hung onto him sobbing, my friends crawling in and on me, how long it took me before I’d let anyone sit on my husband’s side. The images included happier times as well; friends sharing my bed and our confidences, and taking my neighbor baby and my neighbor kitty into that bed. Had I thought beyond the expense and practicality of the endeavor, I probably could’ve predicted the 10 hours of crying. But perhaps not.
These moments, triggered by unpredictable events, sights and sounds feel more and more productive. Yes, I had mattress induced cinematic crying on and off for 10 hours, but I wasn’t sad. I felt as if I had food poisoning (versus the flu): I knew I just had to get it out and I’d be fine. It’s important to hit the pause button from time to time. I spent the past 24-hours thinking about what I’d lost, what I’d gained, how far I’ve come and how I’ve suffered. There is no way to avoid triggers. They can appear in the form of a scent, a warm breeze, an accent, a laugh, a food, a date on the calendar, or just about anything. I don’t stay on the lookout for them, or tense up when they appear, but have learned to give into them. They teach me something and are not to be feared. Sometimes crying on the treadmill is what survival looks like.