Imagine this if you will.
You decide to go to the mall to find something to wear to your son’s funeral because your post-partum body isn’t suited to anything in your closet and you want something special. It’s December and the forecast is predicting a blizzard the day of the funeral so you can’t wear a dress and literally nothing looks or feels right to you.
You decide to go alone because you can’t bear the thought of your husband seeing you battle with wardrobe issues on top of everything else you’re going through and you’re finally cleared to drive alone after your C Section. You want your freedom. You want your space. And so, you venture out, mere days after you left your baby at the hospital and signed all the paperwork for autopsies and funeral homes. You have an amazing nursery set up that you cannot bear to look at and you need a break from the house of sadness that has enveloped you.
You think, in the mush that has become your brain, that the mall is a good choice for your first solo venture back into the world and so you tell him you’re going and you’re fine and that’s that.
Except it’s not “that”. It takes you twenty minutes and two panic attacks to physically leave your car and walk into the mall. Inexplicably, every pregnant woman or infant child in your entire town is at said mall and passes by you, taunting your broken heart at their good fortune whereas you are there to buy funeral clothes. Head down, you pass them and try to remember to breathe. Your heart is pounding, you realize you’re actually sweating, and you begin to think of yourself as looking like a feral animal in the sophisticated world known as JC Pennies. You feel out of place. You feel like an alien by trying to do a simple task that you’ve done a million times (shopping) while simultaneously being thrust into a new normal where your baby has died and you actually have to find something to wear to celebrate his brief life and say goodbye.
You comb rack after rack, looking for the perfect outfit that will honor your son, receive the people who have told you they will come to help you in the impossible task of the final goodbye, and that you won’t freeze to death in. There is nothing. Nothing that fits those criteria. Nothing fits; nothing can live up to the herculean task that is finding the perfect outfit for your baby’s funeral. Literally nothing.
In the dressing room you being to sob uncontrollably, sitting undressed, and watching yourself unravel in the terrible dressing room mirror, under terrible dressing room lighting. Everything hurts. It’s too much. You get dressed, don’t give a single eff about composing yourself, and walk as fast as your pained, C-Sectioned body will carry you back to your car where you sob for another half hour. Cue your husband’s confused look upon your return, empty handed, because you had been gone for quite some time and your face is bright red from crying hysterically.
This was me.
And it was fucking terrible.
I had no clue that going to the mall would be such a wrecking ball for me but in the beginning, in my raw grief state, I had zero clue what triggers were and how dramatically they can affect you. And because I knew exactly nothing about navigating the early days of grief, I had no idea how to have a plan for my triggers. A well thought out exit plan for when I needed it wasn’t something I had considered until 10 months later when I had my epic meltdown in Michaels Craft Store. (see previous blog posts for that fun nugget) After the “Michaels incident”, I began to realize that triggers can and will happen at random intervals and I needed to have a plan in place in case they caused a debilitating reaction such as the mall or the craft store.
How does one concoct such a plan, you may be asking?
Honestly, it was a haphazard process whereby I made stuff up as I went along. Very scientific, I’m aware, but there isn’t a guidebook for being so raw and still having to go to the grocery store or Target. So, I made it up as I went along. Trial and error is the name of this game, Friends, and it took a lot of it to find what worked for me.
The first realization I had in this area was noticing that the car had become my safe zone; the place I felt most comfortable falling apart even though there are, you know, windows and such where people could see me lose my shit. My mantra, when triggered in public, became “just get to the car. If you can get to the car, you can fall apart there”. And I did. I SURE DID. God bless my gold Camry; she was the real MVP of my raw grief. She held more of my tears than I could begin to count. I felt wholly safe in that car, even in a public parking lot, and that became my biggest trigger plan – Get. To. The. Car.
Other trigger plans I stumbled upon:
* avoid baby items at all costs – walk in the opposite direction, look down or away and move as quickly past the aisles as humanly possible to get to a candle aisle. Weird, I know, but scent is something that grounds me so I would get to a candle aisle and huff candles to minimize the likelihood of a panic attack.
*after determining that Halloween was a massive trigger for me, I avoided every store from the end of September until the end of October. Every. Single. One. If I was at the grocery store (the only store I couldn’t avoid), I would avoid the aisle designated for all things holiday and when someone inevitably had put a skeleton decoration back in the bread aisle, I would call it “devil” and get the hell out of there. This sounds weird but hear me out- raise your hand if you have seen the movie “The Waterboy” with Adam Sandler? If so, you’re familiar with the way he says the word “devil” and how unbelievably funny it is. His mama says everything is from the “debil” and so that is the way I’d say it when I saw said errant decoration which would make me remember this hilarious movie that I love, relax me, and allow me to continue shopping. Is it weird? Yes. Did it help me navigate stupid people’s inability to put things back in the correct place in the store? Bet your ass it did.
*fake it til you make it with pregnant women and babies. If I saw a belly, stroller, or car seat headed my way I would immediately look away and say “good for her. Her baby is still alive.” Also, high tail it to literally anywhere else in the store. I was angry and pained while I said it. I may or may not have said it through gritted teeth. I was glad the baby was alive but destroyed that mine wasn’t and so being actually happy for someone else’s good fortune wasn’t my strong suit at the time. But I faked it anyway because I knew one day I would ACTUALLY be happy for someone else’s pregnancy and I thought if I said it, one day I’d believe it. Kinda like that movie Field of Dreams – if you build it, he will come. If you say it, one day you may mean it.
Learning your triggers is hard. Learning how to identify and manage them is hard. Then coming up with a trigger plan in anticipation of said triggers is hard. IT’S ALL FREAKING HARD. It’s not fair that this is yet another thing Grief Warriors are burdened with because for the love, grieving takes every ounce of energy you have.
Being proactive with your triggers allows you to maximize your control over their power and impact. Will your plan work every time? Nope. Sometimes a trigger is so out of left field it will knock you on your ass and you just have to sit there, sporting a sucker punch bruise for a bit. That said, having a plan on how to manage the triggers you’re aware of can soften their impact and help you feel like you got a win for once. I needed those wins and my hope is that you can figure out what works for you so you get some wins too.