When something unbelievable happens to us or another person, many of us react by telling the story multiple times. We need to tell it to someone and see their reaction, maybe different reactions.
“Can you believe she cheated on him?”
“I heard he lost his job after screaming at his boss.”
“I was just driving down the road and she pulled in front of me – nearly hit me!”
Often it just takes a couple of times till we’re satisfied that we’re not the only ones feeling shocked or angered. Then the need to tell fades away a little at a time, perhaps only coming up at occasions that remind us of the incident.
We replay situations verbally to make sense of them. So much in life doesn’t make sense to us that we seek out others to help us put the pieces together:
“She had the perfect marriage.”
“He’s the nicest guy on the block.”
“She’s a driving instructor.”
It’s the same with grief, but if you’ve lost a child you know that most people put a time limit on hearing your story again. This is why therapy becomes so important for us – it allows the story and the trauma to be retold over and over with no fear of judgement or a time limit. It allows our brains to work out the confusion that happens in moments of extreme anxiety and fear.
“The doctor just barged in and told me he was dead.”
“They wouldn’t tell me what was going on with her.”
“No one let me see the monitor.”
“I close my eyes and still see that hospital room.”
Especially in the worst times of our lives, we can’t comprehend the actions of others we perceive as (and can be) uncaring, cold, angry, annoyed, or emotionless. We can’t put together the trauma of what might be a short amount of time when life completely imploded and left deep scars we can’t seem to get away from. Like a child who plays out the same traumatic situation over and over again with her animals, we do the same with talking, writing, art, etc.
I have told my therapist dozens of times during the past two years that I can’t believe my sons are gone. My third son Kaden passed away at 3 weeks old last August, and I’ve repeated my disbelief of this to her from that point in every few sessions.
Because I can’t wrap my head around it. I need to talk about it, maybe the same incidents, until I get a response that allows me to either understand it better, or know that others feel the same way as me.
We may have to repeat this process a few times, or maybe a lot of times. It’s something that has to happen for us to start to move forward. We talk, we connect, we relate on some small level. I need a connection in my trauma and grief that allows me to know this is still a normal feeling – that other people can’t understand what happened either. Then we can start to heal.