PTSD At The Most Wonderful Time Of The Year

December 24, 2016
“No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear. I am not afraid, but the sensation is like being afraid. The same fluttering in the stomach, the same restlessness, the yawning. I keep on swallowing. At other times it feels like being mildly drunk or concussed. There is a sort of invisible blanket between the world and me. I find it hard to take in what anyone says. Or perhaps, hard to want to take it in.” C.S. Lewis, A Grief Observed

My son died three days after Thanksgiving.
Three days after feeling more thankful than I had ever been in my entire life, he died.
Shockingly and traumatically, and I nearly died too.

And then…when I left the hospital, with empty arms and a desire to quit living, the world had transformed to the magical place it seems to become during the holiday season. People walked around being of good cheer and singing, ‘Joy to the world,’ while my world was over. I remember being in my bed, nearly comatose in my numb thoughts, and a Pampers diapers commercial came on. It showed pictures of babies, all over the world, sleeping sweetly while Silent Night softly played in the background.

The thought of that…remembering back to that…still feels like hot venom in my blood.

It has been seven years since that early morning he died. Seven years since that holiday season I was forced to function, literally wishing the world would just shut up and go away and instead, it was in my face with goodwill and peace on earth. Blech. I am not one bit ashamed to say that I struggled that season.

And every season since.

Post Traumatic Stress has been one of my enemies since the loss of my first son. My husband and I have both attended therapy, and I have many coping strategies for the flashbacks and panic attacks that sometimes rise to the surface every time I hear, “I’ll be home for Christmas,” or that stupid Pampers commercial comes on. Some years have been easier than others, but for the most part, through the years, I have been able to keep the symptoms of PTSD to a minimum and under control.

Until this year.
On the same day we buried my son seven years before, this year, we found out our dog had cancer. Bone cancer.
She’s older; treatment is not necessarily advisable at her age and our options? Keep her happy and as comfortable as she can be until she dies.

And once again, as the world mantra seems to be that it’s the, ‘Hap-hap-happiest time of the year,’ my family and I are shocked and overwhelmed with the sense of foreboding loss and heartache.

I know, I know. It’s ‘just a dog.’ Trust me, I know. I was told by a well-meaning friend to keep this diagnosis in perspective, as, “It’s not like she’s a child.”
Oh, how I know the difference, and so does she, since she was at my son’s funeral.

Yet still, this hurts. My Dixie has been through the last almost 11 years of my life–a source of comfort during years of infertility and loss and heartache and joy, and you know what? She is a part of our family. Her absence will ring loudly in our little family, and my heart aches over how my husband and son will feel so bereft.

And not that my child dying and my dog dying are in any way comparable–but, the triggers of PTS at this time of year have been exacerbated tenfold, as now I am not only reliving that first holiday season just days after Matthew died, but my heart feels very similarly some of the same feelings. The deep, blanketing sorrow of watching a creature I love slowly die. Knowing I can’t do anything really to help her. Waiting for her death, and knowing a piece of my heart will once again be ripped from me.

I feel helpless.
I hurt.
My heart aches.
At times, I am being rolled out of the hospital, without my son.

My dog’s diagnosis has triggered panic attacks and anxiety and remembrance that I haven’t had even since that first holiday season, and though I know that PTSD is often mistakenly brushed off as weakness or ‘not being able to get over it,’ even *I* am surprised at the intensity of this enveloping grief and sorrow.

It’s real. It’s painful. And it’s especially hard to deal with when everyone else is merry and bright.

If this season is hard for you…for whatever reason…you are not alone.
And I am so sorry.

[Image:Cristiana Bardeanu/flickr]

  • Lori

    I'm small, but scrappy! I have a fierce passion for my family, friends and life in general...I'm a military spouse who has battled infertility for over 13 years, as well as the loss of two babies gone too soon. I love to laugh, and am grateful for every second I celebrate with the ones I love. You can find me at Lori Does Maryland


    • Lori Williamson

      December 24, 2016 at 10:12 am

      Lori I am Lori too and right there with you. My 22 year old son, Michael, passed away in December 5 years ago suddenly and unexpectedly due to a ruptured brain aneurysm. The first Christmas commercial I saw was candy kisses dancing to Jingle Bells. It made me sick! I have Michael’s black lab, Duke. He is 9 now and has arthritis. I dread the day he leaves us. I get everything you wrote about.

      1. Lori


        December 29, 2016 at 1:26 pm

        I am so sorry for your loss…it’s so hard and especially since your Duke was your son’s. I know you’ll enjoy every second with him. xoxoxoxox

    • Denise

      December 24, 2016 at 7:42 pm

      People who say “Get over it”.
      1. Have never suffered the loss of a child no matter what age they were when they died. (They are always your babies)
      2.Are jerks.

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      November 19, 2017 at 5:17 pm

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