Triggers, Loud and Soft


Last week, I attended a Share meeting.  I found myself the “furthest out” in the room: the most time had passed since my loss.  Now heading toward three years ago this September since Nelle was born.  I was that voice from the “other side”: somehow survived.  The days are not awful.  The moments come and go, but are not constant.

We talked about continuing to honor our babies, especially for those in the room coming up on due dates, or one year since their losses.  I mentioned that I have a box for Nelle and Iris, identical to the boxes I have for my living children.  In it, I place the programs from the Walk to Remember or the Angel Garden Blessing – events that we attend to honor them.  Or thank you cards from charities where I donate in their honor.  Those are the mementos of their lives, lovingly gathered.

Toward the end of the evening, we heard screaming.  It was bloodcurdling and had all the markers of coming from a movie – likely in the conference room next to us.  It was so distracting that I joked aloud, dully “Is someone being killed?”

Then there was the unmistakable sound of a baby crying.  We had been listening to a woman in labor, from a birthing class being held in another conference room.  The moderators of our group were incredibly apologetic: the birthing class is not supposed to occur at the same time as our group, since it would be such a trigger for the parents in attendance.  A scheduling snafu or something must have occurred.

I looked around, many of the faces in the group taut and anguished from the sound.  Several were only a few weeks or months out from their losses.  I remembered at my first meeting running into a pregnant woman in the bathroom and how much I hated her in that moment.  I still flinched when I heard the sound of a baby crying, but I can imagine what that trigger must have been for others.

As Ger works with his therapist on his anxiety, he has been realizing some triggers of his own – things from his childhood that provoke an intense response.  I told him that I understand: I know how difficult triggers can be.  He wanted to know when they will go away and I replied that they won’t.  They won’t ever go away.  They will not be as loud, but they may come more unexpectedly.  You will be hit in an idle moment and suddenly find yourself thrown back into that moment of trauma.

But you will learn to manage.  Your responses will not be as unexpected.  I used to sob in my car, sometimes so much that I could barely catch my breath.  Or I would blink furiously in a public place and need to excuse myself.  I couldn’t look at pregnant women, or babies.  I would stammer over my response to “how many children do you have?” and hate myself later.  Now – I can anticipate a bit better.  Navigate situations, or avoid if I need to.  Prepare my response to that seemingly innocuous question.

It was not an easy process.  It took years, a lot of the hard work coming from my therapist.  When I would tell her about triggers, she would have me go through the scene again and think about how I responded and how it differed from how I would have liked to respond.  When I anticipated a difficult situation, she would have me rehearse my responses.  I wasn’t stifling my emotions, but rather learning to control in a way that I was comfortable with.

But those first months… months and months… into that first year and beyond.  Where every trigger was new and every reaction was strong.  It was a drain, a constant barrage on my physical and emotional being.

If only there were a way to quiet the noise.  To put up a barrier while working through the darkest moments of new grief, to at least prevent the most insufferable jabs from the outside world.  Like the sound of a baby crying.