I remember last year sitting in a small group discussion at Camp Widow Toronto discussing how there can be triggers that connect directly or indirectly to your loss that make you scared and panic for your current life, namely your other loved ones. Then how these triggers and events make you act out of character. Someone mentioned seeing ambulances and wanting check-ins instantly on the people they loved. Someone else mentioned anytime anyone is even remotely late that they want calls so they know everyone is okay. At the time I thought, “Nope, not me. I don’t think or do anything like that.” Now that’s what I think of when I get into my extreme panic mode over people in my life now and can’t get out of it. I guess it just hadn’t started yet.
For me it has somehow translated to mostly related to phone calls and texts. The morning Mike died he was (obviously) not responding to my texts. I texted him a few times. I then called him. The first few times I called him it rang all the way to voicemail. Then it started to go straight to voicemail. I know now that the police would have turned it off. At the time, I tried to convince myself that he was just late from work and his phone died. He wasn’t and it didn’t.
Being late at work, a cell phone running out of battery or even just not constantly checking your phone when you’re busy are fairly common, normal occurrences. It is certainly more common than dying. However, that’s not the path my mind now takes. If I can’t get in touch with someone that I usually can, especially David, I start to panic and think they died and then I panic more. You might think from that statement that it’s long periods of time that I’m out of touch but it’s really not. If I could take a step back I would see that not responding quickly is okay and doesn’t mean the worse has happened. I don’t always respond quickly myself. We both have busy lives of our own - that’s part of the reason I’m drawn to him. Most of the time it’s during work hours and I know he’s with clients or on a site and can’t always respond or pick up. I actually can’t respond or pick up at my job either which should make me more grounded and logical in this situation. But it doesn’t. My illogical grief brain has a complete double standard. I may not be able to respond because I am busy but you need to respond no matter what because I need to make sure you’re not dead.
Case in point, the other day I texted David in the morning. My phone usually shows that it goes through but this time it was undelivered. Cue first moment of panic. Why didn’t it go through? Is his phone off? Why is his phone off? Who shut his phone off? Was it the police? Did he die? So I rationally try to calm myself down and tell myself that I’m being ridiculous and maybe it just didn’t deliver because of regular phone issues. I have had that happen before where someone doesn’t receive my text. So I call. No answer. Panic more. Why isn’t he picking up? What happened to him? I text again to tell him I’m panicked and to please call or text me back. Which he doesn’t see and so he doesn’t do. By the time I talk to him I’m in such a state of anxiety I can barely talk.
He didn’t even know any of this was happening. He got the text at some point (it did go through) but he wasn’t on his phone. So normal issues. Not dying issues. He knows I need extra assurance and responses so he does try to respond quickly but it can’t always be as fast as I would like, because you know, life is happening outside of my panic somehow. I know I need to also adjust because not everyone is dead all the time. Most of the time when people don’t pick up their phone they are actually alive but busy. I can write that and it sounds silly and obvious and I laugh. But in the moment, my grief brain hasn’t actually accepted that yet. Maybe at some point it will catch up.