emotional response to family trauma
|Snuggled next to each other, my husband and I settle into the train seats for a ride to downtown Chicago. We are on a special date to see “Too Hot to Handel” at the Auditorium Theater, a jazz-gospel “Messiah” performance. The excitement bubbles gently, simmering on the edge of my consciousness. I am grateful for the companionship we have grown into. It is a sweet pleasure.
Yet, I am aware of pain and intense grief in my body, my mind.
The shards of a shattered heart were in my sister’s hands as we spoke this morning. Twenty-one years of marriage has died. It was not a quiet death, but one punctuated by anguish, intense pain, distress.
I have viewed this kind of death closely before.
I remember an early summer day in 2006, Joel and I had a coupon for 50 cents off per gallon of gas. He suggested that we each drive a car to the gas station to fill them up. He drove behind me down the single lane road that lay between our house and the gas station, a mere half mile away.
The road was nearly empty, as usual. However, mid-way down the road, two construction trucks were pulled to the right. While I eased over to the opposite lane, in the event that someone might step out from behind either truck, I noticed in my peripheral vision on the left a neighbor trimming weeds with a noisy weed-whacker.
Just as I drove past the second truck, two cats darted away from the area where our neighbor was working. They dashed across the asphalt. The thud of the first cat’s body as I hit it was not loud, but I gasped, immediately cringed, and then screamed as I stared in horror at my rear-view mirror. The screams issued from my throat in spasms as I saw the cat I had run over. It was not dead. It flopped about in the street writhing with such momentum that its body bounced off the pavement. I threw the gear into park, flung open the door and burst out of the car. Once out, I was transfixed in horror at the misery that was playing out before me.
Joel saw me hit the cat and my visceral response. Though he could not soothe the horror, he enclosed me in his arms as I stood in the road sobbing. After a moment, as he held me, he turned back toward the dying cat to deal with the aftermath of the accident. With relief, he saw that our neighbor had come out and carried away the now dead cat to bury it while I was sobbing.
The mental video of that event is indelibly etched in both of our minds. This morning, I felt a similar helplessness with my sister as I did that morning years ago. I knew the cat would die, that it was suffering cruelly and I was helpless. The sorrow and pain that my sister and her family are going through is heart wrenching as her marriage is decimated by the decision to divorce.
I would have tried to hold my sister and offer comfort to her, to show her hope and healing, but she hurriedly clutched the still warm dead body of her marriage to herself, and carried it away to mourn alone.