I am constantly learning new things about my new life and this new version of me. It’s difficult to describe what it feels like to relearn how to live your life and relearn who you are at 40 years old.
Now, when I stand for the National Anthem I no longer hear it the way I did before. I don’t hear it as a source of patriotism and national pride. As it plays, I now have to hang my head so people don’t see the hot tears sliding down my face. I hear a song talking about the flag flying over a battle and the men who died defending it. I hear the words “the land of the free and the home of the brave” and it guts me. I look around me and it becomes obvious that so few people understand what that flag represents, what that freedom costs. They don’t know what bravery these men and women actually have to show. The entire time the song is playing and people are standing, waiting to cheer and clap, I am waiting to be able to take a breath. Grief grips my throat so tightly that breathing is impossible. All I can do is cry.
When I leave my house, I now have to brace myself in case I happen to see police vehicles. I can handle it if I see one. But if I happen to see a group of police cars with the police standing around them, I am immediately thrown into a panic attack and flashback. It is violent. If I’m driving, I have to pull over immediately and get out of my car. I fall to my knees, gasping for breath and wailing. I sob hysterically. My heart pounds, my whole body shakes and I am taken back to the moment I pulled up to my house and realized my husband was dead. It sometimes takes hours for me to recover. This has happened 6 times since Bob died.
I now must leave post before the end of day. They play taps every day at the end of day and I cannot hear it. It rips my heart apart and guts me. It makes me weak in the knees and steals my breath. I forgot about it until, one day, I accidentally stayed too late. I now make sure I am nowhere near post at that time of day.
These are just some examples of things that are no longer the same as they were before. Every day, I find ways that my life has changed. I find new challenges and new victories. I have to adjust my behaviors and accommodate new normals. I talk about the hard things because those are the things people don’t want to look at. People want to hide the hard things and pretend life is all positive. I want to help people understand grief. I want people to understand that the pain and struggles don’t stop after the funeral. I want to share my story to change the narrative about grief and grief support.