All possible sadness was sucked out of me because of sixteen-year-old Joanne’s suicide. She seemed to have everything, including a high achieving, yet supportive family, who valued education and encouraged creativity. She was my daughter, Susan’s friend and they both played in the school orchestra. It seemed unfathomable that Joanne would intentionally hook-up the family car’s exhaust to end her life. Her mother and father, the rabbi, her teachers, her friends — no one could comprehend why she killed herself. The rabbi spoke with wrenching anguish, wishing someone had known what demons she was experiencing, so that she could have been helped.
January 28, 1986 was the day the space shuttle Challenger blew up. Television and newspapers showed people crying across America, for the crew, but especially for the young New Hampshire teacher who was aboard. Christa McAuliffe had touched the hearts of so many Americans, as if we knew her personally. There was also grief for what many Americans felt was our loss of excellence in a new, technologically experimental field. Many thought we failed as a nation, when the United States Space Shuttle exploded.
When I heard about the Challenger disaster, I was at work. I felt resentful that this tragedy attempted to vie with my own personal pain. How could anything compete with the suicide of a sixteen year old girl, just nine days earlier? My sorrow was all used up and I didn’t have any feelings left over for the Challenger’s explosion.
A similar situation occurred with the arrival of Hurricane Katrina, at the end of August 2005. This was the costliest natural disaster in the United States, resulting in enormous damage to Louisiana, as well as tragedy in many other locations. The tenth anniversary of this hurricane is being marked now. Loss of life and property and the destruction of whole cities remain a horror and disgrace for those incompetent officials in charge. The slow pace of rebuilding in some localities is still shocking.
I sympathized with those experiencing this horror and followed the story, but my mind and body, less than a month earlier had been slammed in an entirely different way. Battered emotionally, and in shock with the entry of federal officers into my home and the arrest of my husband, I was unable to fully commiserate with those living in the wake of Katrina.
There was no way anyone could anticipate that the hurricane’s devastation could last for ten years. I couldn’t foresee that my emotional trauma would last almost as long.
My personal experiences of upset and catastrophe have pushed aside some of the empathy I might have felt about other disasters and deaths. I feel conflicted, in this way, when personal and public tragedies collide. I can’t begin to explain this phenomenon, but know it’s profound and real for me.
Your writing is personal, yet universal, Jane. I hear that’s the sign of a good writer! Thank you for sharing this.
Dear Jane, Trauma makes you a different person. I wish I could say otherwise. It creates an awareness of some of the nastier possibilities in life. There is an underlying anger that gets stirred up when more bad things happen, to yourself or to others. A pain too. And more understanding. Maybe that is what you mean by not responding as you did before. I think there is kind of a protective thing that comes into play. There is more pain, but in order to deal with it, there is a shutting down of a part of yourself. I don’t think you are blunted in any way at all. But I do think that perhaps you respond differently now to tragedy and the pain in life. You probably have in some ways a greater awareness. And when a tragedy occurs now, it is somehow mixed in with that other stuff. I know it is for me. And there is too much in those circumstances. When we lit those candles for the Sandy Hook children and teachers, I started to shake and I couldn’t stop shaking. We were doing Special Projects and I told the people on each side of me that I was having a PTSD response. They did not respond at all. That felt so terrible. Fortunately, when we started to sing, the shaking went away. It is difficult knowing that there are others who do not understand. I go inside myself in ways that create difficulties for me. I can imagine things that many people would never entertain in their minds. I grieve both my own stuff and theirs, and in a way, my stuff interferes. And I feel angry. And somewhat impotent. Although as a person, I don’t in many ways feel impotent. However, I know, and I didn’t know before trauma, that I cannot control that stuff. Or those people. Or those events. On the other hand, I understand in ways that others don’t what is occurring for another. I think you probably do that too. And that means that help can be given. The experience has the value of being used to help someone else have an easier time. ANOTHER THOUGHT on the court thing. You could have someone dig up those plants, put them in boxes, and leave them somewhere outside of your property. I know you don’t want to give an inch, but sometimes, to take good care of yourself, it is worth doing some things another way. That way he is not ever on your property. And he basically has no idea what is there now. Gardens change. It is a long time since he was there. And to expect to think that you would have spent these years caring for his plantings and leaving things as they were is really not realistic. Another possibility. I love that word, possibilities. Hugs. Love, Chris I am probably kind of rambling. Been a migraine week. Went to the eye doctor on Monday, the cornea one, young, and I liked her. However, I walked out knowing I was going to be having four eye surgeries. So it has felt like a stressful week! My steroid injection into my knee last week has helped bring down the swelling a fair amount. That was last Friday. Rainy just called to tell me she would come over and read to me. For two of the surgeries, I have to be on my back for 24 hours after. She said she was a very good reader. I bet she is!! I definitely am rambling. Hugs!