The Thing About Triggers
Time rolls along and it seems that wounds should be healed. I think some wounds just get a thick scab over them. Some wounds are meant to be felt and revisited. Maybe they’re just too deep to disappear fully this side of heaven.
I’m a Christian, and a ministry leader. So, that sentiment, the one about walking through life with unhealed wounds, can indicate a lack of faith to those who measure such things. Likely, anyone owning that kind of measuring stick has not experienced this type of wound. But, it can be difficult, when faith is part of your identity and salvation…and prayer your greatest coping mechanism…to reconcile life when wounds still sting decades later, questions go unanswered, and it hurts too much sometimes to talk to the God with the power to heal. What does that say about your faith? After all, good Christians are not supposed to grieve without hope. And, those with faith find healing, right?
Well…here’s where it all gets a little murky. I do have hope. I have hope everyday, still, in a land where babies die, and cancer steals every ounce of life from your mother, your friend, your husband, your child, where families work too hard and run in frenzies too often, a place where a whole lot of broken lives. I hope because of my Savior. I hope because I believe the promise of eternity with those I love, unmarred from the sin and brokenness we see in this place…this place filled still with glimpses of breathtaking beauty amidst the desolation. I hope because I still breathe breaths and sing songs. I hope because I held tiny lives in my arms, and I am called their Mother. I hope because after every cold, dark winter, spring defiantly emerges from the frozen ground, covering the earth with the green of new life.
But, the hoping and the praying and the knowing of my great God, doesn’t make me exempt from suffering. Bad things can still happen to me and those I love. And, memories can still bubble up, reopening scabbed wounds. Not because I’m hopeless, but because some wounds are just too deep to fully heal this side of heaven. And, part of living is feeling…the pain and the joy. You can’t have one without the other. I can’t remember their tiny fingers and toes without also feeling the deepest of aches to hold them once more. Loving and losing co-exist together. Angie Smith rightly calls life a “sacred dance of grief and joy”. Yes.
That’s the thing about triggers. They open the wounds and the memories. They come unexpectedly. We can no more prepare for them or control the internal response to a memory than we can prepare for an unpredicted squall in the middle of the ocean. They come. In smells, in the changing of the seasons, in doctor appointments, in words we didn’t expect, filling out forms about our children, our pregnancies, in small talk, at sporting events, weddings, baptisms, baby showers, in the children’s department, in the telling of stories, in the gathering of women in kitchens. Grief triggers. There is no time limit, no expiration date on grief triggers. Opening the scabs, leaving the wounds to ooze for a bit. Tightening the chest with the familiar ache. Not because we’re forgetting to live in the land of the living. Not because we are hopeless or failing to adequately heal. But because we loved and love someone so worth loving. Because we live and feel and breath. And, that includes the desperate ache of longing for someone we miss so dearly. Someone worth the missing and the aching and the loving. Someone who lived here once, too.
For many years, I avoided the triggers. The baby girl department, baby showers, anything twin related. Although we lost a son, as well, it is often the baby girls that hold the most potent triggers for me. Now, as a birth and bereavement doula and leader of a ministry for bereaved parents, I spend my days surrounded by grief triggers. I swim willingly in the ocean, like a soldier choosing to not just live in the flashbacks from Vietnam, but to go there and make his home.
The sacredness and the insanity of that, I don’t have the words to convey, explain, or even understand, myself.
This week, I visited the hospital where my twin daughters were born still seventeen years ago. The hospital where I vomited profusely for weeks, and labored off and on, and had needles poked into so many parts of me. All to keep them alive. To give them a fighting chance. I’ve only been back a couple times in the last seventeen years. The last time, a decade ago, when I showed a nurse the first Dreams of You Memory Book, lovingly crafted with my mama hands in my basement. This time, I was going as a doula to meet with a mother and father who had said goodbye to their sweet baby girl.
I exited the highway, and every sight of each building in the rough neighborhood flooded my eyes with memories. Memories that needed to stay under the scab…because this trip was not about me. And, it wasn’t time to open the floodgates. The ache, though…no one can stop that from squeezing the chest tight. I saw the familiar statue of one of the saints. For a moment I paused, remembering being wheeled up to the main lobby, parked beside that very statue, sitting in the wheelchair with nothing but a cold vase to fill my aching arms, while Tim brought the car around. I felt my body literally shake the memory away, and headed to the elevator. I was greeted with two beautiful parents, still glowing with the peace beyond human understanding, the kind that settles in a room when heaven leans down to touch earth and take a tiny soul home.
As I left, I remembered that at this hospital, there was a cradle roll, listing the names of the babies born there. I inquired about it and was given directions. I’m not sure why I felt surprised to still see their names on the list, as if somehow with the passing of time, they would’ve become less significant, less real, less worthy to be listed…by anyone but me. Because, you know, if you’re walking here, how rarely anyone speaks their names. So, when I saw them listed securely in their place among the babies born in November of 1996, my breath…the breath I had been holding….caught in my throat, and I allowed them their moment. I can’t say what it meant to see their names on that screen. If you know this ache of missing, I don’t have to try to explain the depth of this gift. The triggers are there, yes, and the pain…but so are the gifts of their lives. We can’t have one without the other.