Tag Archives: trauma

Our Grief Journey Alone…Together

29 Mar

I have been thinking a lot about grief over these past few weeks. I am certain I am not alone in that. Because the reality is that even if we don’t personally lose someone, or we don’t have a good friend who loses someone, there will be a collective grief that is shared among all of us. For those of us in epicenters like New York City, New Orleans, Wuhan Province in China, massive swaths of Italy and Spain, parts of Iran, the chance of us getting out of this unscathed is miniscule. We will all experience personal loss and we won’t be able to do it together, sharing the same space. So with that sad and depressing mood set, I am going to carry on with some of my thoughts and worries about this very topic, in hopes that some of you can relate or that, perhaps, we can have more open conversations about what this feels like and how we proceed. Maybe we can move forward as the community we are, regardless of how physically separated we all currently find ourselves.

Stay safe, stay healthy, I love you.


A few months back I listened to an episode of the podcast Terrible, Thanks for Asking that dealt with the aftermath of September 11th. The short description of this particular episode was, “A lot of people share a national tragedy. But not everyone shares it personally.” The woman being interviewed, Babs, lost her husband in the attacks on September 11th and through the episode she made this point that really stuck with me. She said that September 11th is a day when we all mourn; for her, though, it is the anniversary of the day that her husband was murdered. It’s hard for her to share that date with every other person; it’s hard for her to demand the space that she needs for her own personal grief journey when she feels a pressure to leave space for the grief journey of so many millions of people. It makes her angry. And then, in that anger, is a sense of guilt. Loss is… so much to process. I have thought about Babs a lot. And the tons of other people who are like Babs. Those who lost their loved ones on September 11th, but also those who lost their people on other dates that have, to varying degrees, become national days of mourning. I’m thinking of the Sandy Hook parents, the family members of the Oklahoma City Bombing victims, the survivors of all the mass shootings we have had over the years, the victims of hurricanes, earth quakes, wildfires. How hard it must be for those people to share their grief date with so many strangers, that day that changed their lives forever the day that catapulted them into the holding pattern that is so closely tied to loss. Yesterday, someone was here. Today, they are not.

And now, here we are, all of us alone…together. We are in the midst of a pandemic that has already killed tens of thousands of people worldwide. Those numbers are rising very, very quickly. Estimates are that in the United States alone we could lose over 100,000 people, more if we don’t contain the spread and protect our hospitals from complete collapse. New York is being pummeled. There is so much grief, so much heartbreak. And I just wonder, how do we process it all? How do we survive this? And how do we, in this time of worldwide trauma, find our own space to mourn our own losses? How do we share this trauma space with so many millions of others?

I’ve been thinking back to when my last grandparent, Bama, passed in the fall. I have been thinking about how lucky we were to lose her before all this, and how awful it must be for those people who have loved ones in old folks homes and care facilities who cannot go visit. How hard it must be if those people pass during this time – whether related to COVID-19 or not – and how they find the space for grief. I have guilt about this sense of relief that I feel, that we lucked out somehow, losing her when we did. A lot of the comfort I got when Bama died was in welcoming people into our home for Shiva. It was in hearing the stories of others who remembered her as she was, before her mind started to go, before she needed round-the-clock care. It helped me wash those last few months from my memory, even if for a moment, and remember her laugh, her humor, her giving spirit. I don’t know how I would have waded through my grief if it weren’t for that shared space, those stories. Would I set-up a zoom meeting? I am afraid that I will soon find out. That a lot of us will.

What do we do? How can we be here for one another through this when we cannot sit across a table from one another, when we can’t embrace? How do we share our stories? Mourn our loved ones? Carve out our own grief journey amidst so many others? How do we potentially take a few different grief journeys at the same time? How do we hold the pain for our friends so they can get a small bit of relief? How do we bury people? When do we bury people? How do we share our news? And how do we, in the middle of all of this, make bit of space to be happy? How do we laugh? Tell me: how are you laughing?

I keep thinking forward, into the future when all of this is over. I think about the sun shining, of all of us emerging from our homes with bleary eyes, stretching our arms above our heads looking around us and realizing the world is still here. In this vision in my mind, it is as if we have all woken from a long, terrible night sleep. It’s as if we were at war and one day, in one moment, that war is declared won. But that is not how it will be, I don’t think. There won’t be a singular moment of triumph. There will be a petering out, and then slowly, slowly we will all be forced to reckon with what is left, with who is left. We will be navigating our new reality. Getting whatever closure we can for our experiences, for our loss. We will finally be together again only now we will have this new shared trauma among us. At the same time, each of us, to varying degrees, will be carrying our own unique piece of it. We will be on our own grief journey alone…together.

It is so much. So very, very much. I am feeling helpless, afraid, sad, angry, worried about what the future looks like. And I really, really miss hugging my friends. So in this time I am doing push-ups so when see each other again I can hug you so much more tightly because we will have a lot of hurt between us, and a lot of time to make up for.


If you are enjoying my writing, and since a lot of the cafes are currently closed, consider buying me a coffee on ko-fi! It only costs $3 (or a multiple of 3 if you’re feeling frisky!) and would make my house-bound, under-socialized heart sing. To those of you who caffeinated me, I send you so much gratitude. And I send gratitude to all of you who took the time to read this piece and helped me hold some of these thoughts. 

Trauma is a Mother Fucker

30 Sep

This has been an especially rough week. Few weeks, actually. I remember a while back I read this article that summarized a study that had been carried out on Vietnam Vets. Please excuse my lapse in memory since I read this a long time ago and am a little fuzzy on the details but the gist of it is as follows:

Following the Vietnam War, some social scientists questioned a number of soldiers returning from battle. They asked them specific questions about their experiences, what happened, how they felt. They took detailed notes, took down their names and said they would follow up in a few decades time. The years passed and then, 30 or 40 years later, they tracked down the people that they could find and asked the exact same questions they had asked upon their initial return. The vets fell distinctly into two different groups: those whose memories had changed, and those whose memories had not. They had all experienced some horrible things while overseas but some of them had the distinct markers of trauma and some of them did not. Those whose memories had changed over time – who in hindsight saw their experience at war through rose-colored glasses – had not developed PTSD. It was the returnees who explained scenarios exactly as they had decades before, those who remembered all the details of specific events as if they had happened just yesterday, that were suffering the longterm psychological effects of war.

I think about that study a lot in regards to myself and my life. What do I have unwavering memory of and what has faded and changed. I’ve been thinking about it a lot these past few weeks as we have read about Christine Blasey Ford and as we watched her speak before the Senate Judicial Committee. I thought about it while she talked about her hippocampus and the fact that she installed a second front door in her home. You see, we never forget. Trauma simply does not allow for that.

But there’s more there than just that. I have been watching as the women in my life have struggled. How we have all been sad and in pain; how we have had old wounds torn open; how we have seen women on the subway, walking down the street, in cafes huddled over their phones crying. We all know why. It is because all of us, or at least most of us, have either been or almost been Christine Blasey Ford. We have either reported our experiences, not reported our experiences, or tried to report our experiences and been turned away or dissuaded. Her story is not just hers it is mine, it is yours, it is all of ours. How do I figure? I’ll tell you.

Last night I finished an especially busy shift at work and decided to sit down and have a shift drink and a chat with my coworkers. I was sitting at the bar talking to my friend to my left when I felt a quick *tap tap* on my right shoulder. I turned but no one was there. And then I saw hands and realized that the man who had tapped me had then used my distraction to place one hand on either side of me on the bar, essentially trapping me in my seat. I was immediately transported back to my senior year in college when at a frat party a “friend” of mine, upset with me for who knows what reason (he always seemed to have a reason) trapped me against a wall by placing one hand on either side of my shoulders and leaning his body towards me, making escape feel impossible. Not that it matters but I’ll say it anyway: he was drunk, I was not. And I know that because he had tricked me into driving our mutual friend to the airport at 3 in the morning because he wanted to enjoy the party; he knew me well enough to know I was too responsible, even at 21, to put my friends at risk or cause someone to miss their flight home. I don’t remember how long we stood like that, me cowering and him talking loudly at me before I broke free, he lost interest or someone came to my rescue. But I specifically remembered that feeling of knowing that anything could happen, anything could be done to me in that moment and I would have very little ability to stop it. I experienced that feeling again last night and I realized something.

The man who trapped me wasn’t trying to scare me. He wasn’t trying to make me feel powerless or intimidate me. He was just treating me the way a lot of people treat and think of women: as slightly less human than men. My personal space wasn’t his concern, nor my personal safety. He could do what he wanted because even though we are not friends and have never had more than casual conversation he owns me a little bit. He is entitled to me. And even though he might not have been actively thinking that in the moment, or been actively trying to make me feel like I had  no right to take up space, that’s exactly what he did. He reminded me in that small yet aggressive action that I, and women in general, are only permitted to taking up exactly the amount of space a man deems necessary and that amount of space is subject to change at any time depending on any specific man’s mood or level of intoxication.

Let’s bring it back a little. Back when the #MeToo movement had its second life (it was originally conceived by Tarana Burke and, surprise surprise, co-opted by wealthy white women) a lot of people were afraid of an impending sex panic. How will men ride in elevators with women? How will they hit on us? How will they interview for and secure jobs? How will they have sex? How will they do all of this when any woman at any time can accuse them of sexual misconduct, sexual assault or rape and ruin their lives? Clearly women are unhinged and it is the men who are really at risk here. But let me remind you of something:

  • Donald Trump has 16 credible accusations of sexual misconduct, assault and rape and he is the president of the United States (vomit)
  • Larry Nassar sexually assaulted 400 women and counting; he was first accused back in 1997 and nothing was done for 20 years
  • Louis C.K. jerked off in front of women, stopped performing for 9 months and then walked on stage at the Comedy Cellar here in New York City and got a standing ovation before he even opened his mouth
  • Bill Cosby was sentenced 3-10 years in prison for drugging and sexually assaulting Andrea Constand. He drugged and assaulted or raped other women as well, something he admitted to in front of a grand jury in the early 2000s
  • Brett Kavanaugh had been accused of rape by 3 women – one of whom detailed “train rapes” that he and his childhood friend Mark Judge participated in – and there is a very good chance he will be confirmed and end up with a lifetime appointment to the Supreme Court

So I guess what I am trying to tell you is this: yes, things have been changing. Yes, women are being heard now (whether or not they are being believed is still up for debate). But remind yourself which women are being heard. And remind yourself that the entire country just watched, transfixed, as a giant man baby blubbered to a group of politicians about how his life was being ruined.  And while you’re thinking about that, don’t forget about the woman who had carefully, and respectfully, testified earlier that morning about how her life had been turned upside down by actions taken by a young Brett Kavanaugh. She wasn’t just effected by this now, in 2018. She has been dealing with this, and living with it, since the early 1980s. While every one is saying that we need due process, that we cannot “just believe the victims,” that she is probably part of some conspiracy to keep the court from becoming more conservative just remember that it is Dr. Ford who was hacked, it is Dr. Ford who is being called a slut and a liar, it is Dr. Ford who had to move her family out of their home and hire protection. She is not guaranteed a right to space, to her story and to her humanity. None of us are. And trauma? Trauma doesn’t allow us to forget. That is what this is about.

Trauma is a Bitch

1 Jun

I feel as though I have been harping on this. As if it has occupied some unreasonable amount of space in my brain and my body. As if I have to apologize for referencing it, for talking about it, for allowing it to impact the way I do my job and live my life. I would say this is the last time I will bring it up here but I cannot say that for certain because I don’t know when, and if, it might come back to haunt my mind again. Trauma, as it turns out, is a strange and unpredictable thing. It winds its way into and throughout your body, it occupies the smallest crevices in your brain. It shows its face at the strangest times and leaves you standing on the street, silent tears streaming down your face, breathing through your racing heart, wondering why all the jokes you make about it can’t just force it to live in the past where it belongs. It makes you doubt your strength and your ability to will yourself to just move forward and leave that experience in the dust, a small annotation in a long life.

A few weeks ago I was informed by my coworker that the guy who physically assaulted me at work had come into the bar. Entirely unrelatedly, and by no intention of my own, I had spoken with him previously, and extremely briefly, over the phone. He told me he hoped we could move forward and become friends. I chuckled and told him not to be crazy, to take care of himself. I got off the phone and I felt good, in control, strong. I worked a shift behind the very bar where the incident occurred and then the next day I wrote him a letter. I knew he wasn’t going to read it, although I would be pleased if he did. It was just a means for me to tell him what I wanted him to know and to take back a little bit of my own power. The goal was to feel a little less helpless and it seemed like it worked. But then the news. I don’t know exactly how to put into words the feeling I got when I was told he had been in the bar the previous week. My hand immediately shot just above my left eye where there is still a pebble-sized calcification just below the skin that I find myself touching when I get nervous or uncomfortable. I looked at my friend in disbelief. My stomach dropped through the floor. I started sweating. I got the chills. So much for power and control. So much for thinking that a guy with a sizeable rap sheet who would throw a glass at the face of a girl who is half his size and two-thirds his age has even an ounce of self-control, has the capability of making reasonable decisions, gives a shit about his own future and his freedom. Joke’s on me, I guess. Seeing the best in a person is simply not possible when there is nothing good there. But beyond that I realized that I had been operating under the incorrect assumption that I was safe and that I was trusting the word of a man who I honestly believe to be a monster. He told his family he would stay away from the bar and me. He didn’t. And according to security he has tried to come into the bar when I’ve been there. Apparently booze tastes better when you get it from a place where you are unwelcome.

And then there was last night. I met up with a good friend of mine to just, I don’t know, catch-up, unload, destress. We went to our local spot which was oddly busy and, just as we decided to go somewhere better suited to our mood I heard it:  violent flesh-on-flesh contact. I grabbed my friend’s arm and just kept saying “oh god, oh god, oh god” until he headed into the mass of people trying to get the man who had struck the bartender out of the room. All of a sudden they were moving towards me. An angry, loud, testosterone-full group of people forcing the guy through the bar and out onto the street. I wedged myself between the bar and a stranger sitting on a barstool. A stranger whose sweatshirt hood I grabbed as I had visions of myself somehow being slammed into the bar or taking an errant elbow to the face. It wasn’t about me, had nothing to do with me, was likely not going to effect me and yet I couldn’t see how something like this couldn’t somehow drag me in. When I knew the coast was clear I fled through the door and leaned against the building, I concentrated on my breathing and willed my heart to just slow the fuck down. I felt weak and powerless. But even more acutely I felt like a self-indulgent asshole as I stood there having a panic attack over someone else’s experience and my proximity to it. Crazy, right?

I guess it’s just a weird thing to realize that sometimes being well-adjusted, self-reflective and emotionally even-keeled is simply not enough. And it’s infuriating to me to acknowledge that another person, a person who I actually don’t even really know and am afraid I might not recognize, has the ability to throw me into a complete and total tailspin in an entirely different neighborhood and in completely different circumstances without even doing anything. His actions didn’t change his psychology but they certainly altered mine. And then it gets me thinking about the trauma that other people deal with on the day-to-day. In the grand scheme of things, what I experienced was small potatoes. People live through wars, through violent attacks of all kinds, through fires, through abuse, through horrific accidents. I imagine those experiences creep up on them, too. Sometimes even randomly, on a Sunday night, in their own backyard. But that’s life, I guess. All we can hope to do is keep pushing forward, realize our feelings and emotions are important and worthwhile, take care of ourselves as best we can and when we can’t, reach out to others to take the pressure off. That’s what friends and family are for and I am eternally grateful for mine.

Here’s to hoping that this is the last post about this bullshit.