Our anxiety does not come from thinking about the future, but from wanting to control it. ~ Kahlil Gibran
A reader writes: For the sixth night in a row I can’t sleep. Last Monday a friend of mine was killed in a car accident. Her three children were in the car, the nine and eleven year old were perfectly fine, in fact just scratched. Her four year old was severely injured and helicoptered to another hospital. She died the next day. Mother and child were buried together in one casket. She was a friend from the past, but we had parted ways over the years. She still had a close relationship with my sister and my niece and her eleven year old are close friends. This was not a death I would consider very close to me, although close enough to hurt.
Anyway, I’ve become so paranoid I can’t sleep. I can’t imagine the father of that child not having her around anymore. I can’t imagine him going to an empty bed at night. I keep imagining her little girl with her gorgeous curls and cherubic face lying in that coffin cuddled in her mother’s arms. I’m so saddened by it all I can’t breathe. I’m missing moments of the day that I don’t remember and I can’t sleep. I didn’t eat until 9pm and didn’t realize it until my husband asked if I’d eaten. I feel so crazy because as I said, we weren’t extremely close anymore, but there’s a bond among mothers, and parents. A death of a child is always close. I can’t hug my three year old without crying. I can’t sleep because of the images in my m ind. My husband has been off this week so we’ve been together. He goes back to work tomorrow and I’m so scared something will happen. My children were eating dinner and I pulled their chairs close to me for fear they’d choke. My son fell out of bed and started to cry and I had a panic attack checking him over.
I’m so scared to experience the same losses that I just watched someone else go through. I feel so selfish for thinking that way and now I have that guilt too. He and his other children were so peaceful at the wake and funeral. Solemn, but peaceful. My friend was a very “no stress allowed” type of person. Don’t stress what you can’t change. I wish I could wrap my mind around that instead. I just can’t get past this fear. This has been a week from hell. My Great Uncle died 5am Mon., my friend died 1pm Mon., my friend’s four year old daughter died Tues., a ten year old girl my niece knew died 7am Weds., and then on Saturday at that little girls funeral a policeman directing the funeral procession was killed. I’m scared to move. It’s like this town or this week or something is cursed. I know, I sound crazy. What a week to run out of Zoloft.
Thanks for the ventilation, sorry for the depression. I’m open to any advice on getting to sleep without pills. I’ve been taking a lovely mix this week and now I’m out and can’t sleep because I have nothing to stop the pictures in my mind.
My response: I’m so very sorry to learn of the multitude of losses you’ve experienced in so short a span of time, and it is no wonder to me that you are reacting the way that you are. I doubt if any one of us could go through a week like this without feeling as you do. Your reaction is not unlike what is seen in post-traumatic stress disorder (PTSD).
When a person is hit with sudden, unexpected death ~ and in one short week, you’ve experienced several ~ the stress can be overwhelming. Your capacity to cope is diminished because the world as you’ve known it is abruptly destroyed and completely shattered. All your assumptions, expectations and beliefs about whatever control, predictability and security have existed in your life up to now have been violated. Your sense of security and confidence in the world are profoundly affected, leaving you fearful of the next unexpected loss and overprotective toward your husband and your own children, as you try to defend and protect them from another sudden, unforeseen trauma. It is difficult if not impossible to make sense of the accident that killed your friend and eventually took her daughter. Because it happened so suddenly, there was no opportunity to finish whatever relationship you had with this friend, probably leaving you feeling robbed, bewildered, insecure, anxious, and hurt.
It’s important for you to know that the reactions you describe (paranoia, depression, insomnia, profound sadness, panic, anxiety, fearfulness, etc.) are normal under the circumstances. When the deaths of loved ones are this sudden, unexpected, multiple, and traumatic, such responses as you describe are typical and predictable, especially at this early point in your bereavement. It is only if these responses go on too long, and if these deaths so severely disrupt your life that your ability to function on a daily basis is seriously impaired, that there would be cause for concern.
I want to recommend some online resources that I hope you will find informative and helpful as you struggle to make some sense of all of this. I think it’s especially important for you to learn more about PTSD and how it may be affecting you. See some of the articles and resources listed in my blog post, Coping with Traumatic Loss: Suggested Resources.
I also hope you’ll do some reading about grief, bereavement and loss, so you’ll have a better idea of what is normal and what reactions you can expect. See, for example, Grief: Understanding The Process
Finally, I hope you’ll consider talking to a grief counselor or a therapist about all of this, if only to be reassured that your reactions are normal. (See Finding Grief Support That Is Right For You.) In the meantime, please know that you are not alone and we are here for you.
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