As we were driving out of our neighborhood the other day, an ambulance roared past. Lights flashing, sirens blaring, racing down the street honking its horn. My breathing stopped, a pain stabbed my heart, panic settled into my mind.
“Oh, I hope it’s not a child. Lord, please don’t let it be a child. Oh God, please help them. Please!” I cried out in my soul. Tears gathered in my eyes. I looked away from my husband so he wouldn’t see them…and I wouldn’t see his.
Even 10 years later, an ambulance sighting can send us for a terrible spin into that most horrible day when we lost Austin. After the 911 call, the rescue team arrived in less than 4 minutes, but it was too late. He died when he was 3-years-old (plus 10 days).
That evening, our neighbors came over and the husband confessed that he was saying “please don’t let it be a child. Just don’t let it be a child” as the ambulance came around the corner. He and his wife had lost their 2-year-old many years ago, but he told us that every time he sees an ambulance with lights and sirens, he just prays it’s not a child in danger.
I would never have guessed during that conversation so long ago that I would share my neighbors’ fear. I wasn’t even there when the ambulance was called or when it came to our home. I figured that I would be spared that particular response, but I was not. When it first happened to me soon after we lost Austin, I assumed the panic response would ebb with time. Again, that didn’t happen. Terror reigns whenever an ambulance races by me, even now, 10 years later.
Photographs also cause a strange reaction inside my soul. Whenever I see photographs, or when I am asked to smile for a picture (especially a group photo of some nature), my heart stumbles a bit and a deep sadness seeps into me. The lasting pain and never-ending loss of Austin is particularly sharp whenever I look at pictures. Yep, it can be any picture. It doesn’t have to be one of Austin. If the photo has people in it, a sad place in my heart opens up and threatens to swallow my day and send me back into the pit of grief.
I can’t explain it. It seems strange even as I write these words. I know I risk sounding a bit crazy or stuck in my grief, but a sadness overcomes me to look at pictures. As my eyes take in a picture, I automatically sort the photo into “before Austin died” or “after Austin died.” Next, I am struck with the reality that I will never have another photo of Austin. All that I’ll ever have, I have already taken. There will be no more smiles or silly giggles. No more moments captured.
Even when I get my picture taken, my heart can barely beat with the pain of it. It feels difficult to breathe…are they done taking the picture yet? I try my best to smile and hope it’s over soon. I’ll likely get a copy of the picture or see it posted on Facebook, but I’ll never have similar photos of Austin. He’ll never roll his eyes at me as I beg for him to sit still so I can get the shot. I’ll never get to say “just one more!” to Austin.
This picture phenomenon even caused me to hurt one of my greatest friends. After Austin died, and for my next birthday, she created a memory book of our friendship. She wrote sweet memories and notes beside all the pictures. It held beautiful memories and I was overwhelmed by her wonderful love for me, grateful beyond measure. But, I was overcome by grief every time I looked at it. I ended up barely looking at it or thanking her for it because it was so painful.
Until now, I couldn’t even describe to her why my reaction to her beautiful gift was so “blah.” It wasn’t until I saw that ambulance roaring through our neighborhood that I realized it myself. Photographs and getting pictures taken cause a similar reaction as an ambulance blasting its sirens, a grief response that is strong and overpowering, even now.
“Oh my goodness,” I thought as we drove on, “I’ll have to explain this to Nicolle someday!” (love you friend!) I feel sorry that it took so long to be able to process this grief response. The thing is, though, I know she’ll get it. She’s one of those friends who cries with me ~ tears her own robes, throws ashes over her own head, and sits in the dirt with me. That’s her in the picture with me above, on the steps of the United States Supreme Court, where she represented her client, Jack, and his religious freedom and freedom of speech. (so proud of you!)
My questions for you: How do you handle what “triggers” you? How do you explain to your loved ones when something mundane is a trigger for your pain? Are there responses that surprise you, even now?
When these moments trigger for me, I try my best to call out to God before full panic or an ugly cry can break out. I ask God to comfort me, to turn my sadness into joy, my mourning into dancing. What do you do?
The Lord is close to the brokenhearted and saves those who are crushed in spirit. ~ Psalm 34:18