Since your death, I’ve been living not just with complicated grief, but also with PTSD. There are days when the slightest noise has me hanging from the ceiling. I struggle with feelings of not knowing where I fit in anymore. There are days I question my role here on earth. Your addiction kept me crazy but your death left me broken and questioning life.
The old me left the day you did and the new me struggles with who I’m supposed to be now. It feels like being transported to another place where you don’t understand the language. You constantly get lost and find yourself looking for something familiar.
I’ve learned that very few people understand when I try to explain what it’s like to be me. They think I should be back to my pre-grief state. That life should just return to normal and drag me with it. What they don’t and never will understand is that profound loss slices you in half. You become the “before” and the “after” pieces of your tragedy. As time passes, the “before” you drifts further and further away, leaving you with an identity that even you can’t identify with. You long for the old you but know the road back to finding her again has imploded.
I find it harder and harder to remember the woman I was before your death. The girl who laughed at the stupidest of things. Who would even laugh at herself. I remember looking forward to little things. I remember having happy hours and bonfires. I remember having lots of fun. I remember a reflection with bright eyes and a natural smile. Now I see a silhouette in a fog slowly drifting away.
Trauma changes you. It unravels you. It takes you to the darkest of places. Things you once thought would never happen have happened, leaving you hanging from that mental cliff clinging to the last piece of your soul. The “before” you has been sucked away and the “after” you lay in pieces at your feet. You try to make sense of this “after” you, but the pieces are hard to fit together. Like a puzzle that just doesn’t make sense when a large part of it is missing.
I was with a friend one day. This friend totally gets where I’m coming from. She understands when I say the “before” me has vanished and this new “after” me is still struggling to fit. Like a pair of old jeans that once felt like home now rewoven and uncomfortable. She has survived her own trauma: the assault of breast cancer on her body and mind. Like me, the “before” her was totally destroyed and replaced with an “after” person she continues to try to identify with. We both grieve the women we once were. We often compare notes on how things continue to have a trickle-down effect on both our lives.
During one of these conversations, she said something that gave me an “Ah-ha” moment, putting a true perspective on what I’ve been living with since your death. Without even knowing how profound this statement was and how it would impact me for the rest of my life, she calmly looked me in the eye and said, “Once you become a pickle you can never go back to being a cucumber.” Yes, I know it sounds like a crazy thing to say in the midst of an emotional conversation, but when you really think about it, it’s the most insightful statement I’ve ever heard about who you become after you live with grief or survive a trauma.
The transformation from cucumber to pickle can never be reversed. Everything used in the process leaves a permanent mark. The same with grief, whether it’s over the loss of a child or the loss of a healthy you, it leads you through a process that can never be undone.
There are days when the world can be sweet, then without warning an unexpected trigger can turn everything dark. Just like a jar of pickles we never know how the day will taste. Will it leave us with an unpleasant bitterness or a fleeting moment of unexpected pleasure? We never know how the “after” effects of grief will play out as we navigate unfamiliar territory.
It continues to amaze and comfort me that a simple statement had the power to validate what I feel on a daily basis. It also brings me extreme comfort knowing that I’m not the only pickle trying to find my place in the glass jar called life…