Making Meaning of the Madness
Fear continues to hammer me.
Should I stop trusting that life will improve,
I fear what the consequences might be.
Journal: Apr ‘95
Losing Jeff took me back to my early teenage years, a time in my life when I was confused, anxious and lonely. His death made me vulnerable to all of the uncertainties that one goes through during that period when it seems every step is a new one, and around every corner lurks a threat to our confidence and identity. We leave that behind during our adult lives, but they were powerful years, and for me at least, the memories and sensations of youth flooded back when Jeff died.
At times I simply could not cope and was as vulnerable as I had been as a kid. Fear was constantly with me during the early months of my grief process. It manifested itself through anxiety, desperation, confusion, loneliness, a need for contact and comfort, a questioning of my self-worth, panic and a need to retreat into myself.
One of the strongest needs I had during the first months after Jeff’s death was solitude. But I was afraid. I recognized that I required contact with people, but I was so miserable that I wanted to get away and not negatively influence the lives of those around me. Had I been left to my own resources, I am certain I would have gone, but my wife and several friends were able to convince me otherwise. Carol is a people person, my great velcro strap, so that friends and acquaintances were constantly about. This condition was sometimes a horror to me, but in the long run, did me more good than harm. My real fear at that time was turning everyone away from her by my conduct. I would say, “How will they ever stick with us? I should go away so as not to bother everyone.” Obviously I had little understanding of some aspects of humanity, for our friends’ faithfulness in remaining with us was astounding, and now I am thankful I listened to them and my wife when counselled.
Friends were there to help and would not run away now that things were tough. But there were times when I fled to my bedroom when people came. Society had its expectations, but I needed to provide for me.
Incidental, everyday occurrences created anxiety: going sailing with several men three weeks after Jeff died (I couldn’t relate to their successes; nor could I follow their conversations); entering a barber shop and listening to hockey commentaries; sitting through a video of any description; having my surviving children leave the house; looking in a mirror; waiting for my wife to get home from shopping with a friend; going into stores crowded with people and goods; going to bed at night; keeping social commitments; finding articles or pictures in the house. In August of ‘95 I came across a basketball book I gave Jeff one Christmas, and I remember well the flood of tears.
One of my greatest fears was for the safety of remaining family members. I wanted to envelop everyone and keep each safe with me, especially after Dad died and the knowledge of life’s tenuousness intensified.
Returning to work produced one of the strongest anxiety attacks I can recall. I have been blessed with good relationships with my students, but getting back among them was no easy task. I did not want my situation to impact negatively upon anyone, especially the kids, and I shied from the attention I knew I was going to attract.
For my return I planned to arrive after the halls were free of students so I could slip unnoticed among them and try as unobtrusively as possible to get back into the routine of daily high school life. However, one cannot slip unnoticed into a building occupied by 700 young people.
As I approached the front door, I noticed about fifteen students having a meeting in the foyer. Seeing them stopped me in my tracks. I fled to my car, drove around town, gave myself a pep talk and wondered how I would get in. Finally I parked at the far end of the school and slipped quietly through a side door. The corridor never looked so long. However, the students welcomed me so genuinely my anxiety soon dissipated and I was able to greet, hug and talk with them freely. There was a good deal of emotion because kids possess an awesome power to move me with their honesty and their generosity.
While I detested the fear and the anxiety attacks, I understand now that they too are an integral, though uncomfortable part of the recovery process. Just as physical pain warns us of dangers to our bodies and is necessary to our existence, so fear is necessary. It tells us that something is amiss; it runs up a red flag. Life is somehow unbalanced and we need to pay attention to the alarms.
Fear helps us to retreat, to pull back to where we are comfortable so we do not blunder recklessly beyond our limits. Recovery requires that we understand our limitations. Traveling beyond them is not a sound idea while we are vulnerable.