I enjoy road trips. Given the time, I would happily drive across the country and back just because I can. This past weekend, Shelby, Sarah, and I drove 7 hours or so from Ohio to upstate New York to visit Sarah’s sister and her family. Being an odd person, a 400 mile drive through fairly boring terrain excited me in and of itself.
We talked the entire drive. Shelby was in the back seat reading, napping, and occasionally piping up with one of her “Shelbyisms” or a random fact that she learned in school. I had a playlist of all different types of music playing, and had the cruise control set just so. There was no traffic or weather, and the roads were smooth.
Somewhere between Erie and Buffalo, my playlist brought up “Let her Go” by Passenger. It is a beautiful song, and ultimately, one of my favorites, but it is also a HUGE trigger song. My finger almost immediately moved towards the skip button, but I caught myself. We had just been talking about Sarah’s forthcoming post (found here), so we were both already in a little deeper thoughts, and I decided to let it play.
Sure enough, within a few opening lines, I started to well up. Visions of Megan lying in a hospital bed filled my brain. I kept driving. Sarah placed her hand on my shoulder, and we moved forward. I let the song trigger me, and I let Sarah be there for me. There wasn’t anything to say or do specifically. I just needed someone who shared my pain there with me.
As the song ended, so did my moment. As fast as it began, it ended just as quickly. I was back to smiling, being goofy, and having a good time.
Not long after we passed through the outskirts of Buffalo, another song came up. This one was “If I Die Young” by The Band Perry. Again, I let it play. Megan absolutely loved this song. If’ you’ve listened to it, you can see why it was a trigger song for both Megan and I, long before she died. Not only did the same immediate moment happen for me, but as the song continued, even Sarah was triggered, about Megan. We silently listened, welled up, and simply held each other’s hands. It was what we needed.
The reason I’m writing about these seemingly mundane anecdotes about a couple of triggery songs is because I believe that those two moments were much more significant in the grand scheme of our weekend. We had already talked, prior to leaving, about how this may be a rough weekend, because Drew had never visited Sarah’s sister, and I was visiting a new part of my own extended family, one that didn’t involve Megan in any way.
But it wasn’t a rough weekend. On the contrary, it was absolutely wonderful for both of us. We allowed ourselves to be triggered and emotional when we had the chance to do so, and it felt like we depleted our grief reserves for a few days. I’m finding little ways to control my grief, and plan it out. Sure, it’s not always going to be so cut and dry. There will be random events that blindside me, whether or not Sarah is present with me. She will have the same, and it’s excruciating to not be in the same room to place that comforting hand on one another’s shoulders. But they will happen, and they should never be suppressed. We don’t owe it to anybody to not acknowledge our losses in the most natural way possible. .
For instance, we won’t be together over Christmas. I fully expect that it will be a rough week for me, but I am going to allow it to happen. We openly and honestly talk about everything, and we know that we are each just a phone call away. Mine will likely hit me when Shelby spends the night at one of the grandparent’s homes, and I’m alone in the house. Last year, I did my best to distract myself from the grief, and failed miserably. I’ve learned that the distractions just allow more and more grief to build up to a larger episode.
Because I’ve experienced and observed my own self over this past year, I know that it is far easier to trigger myself when and where it’s appropriate. I am aware that 5 minutes of heavy grieving a few times in a day can prevent 5 hours of it once a day. I’m also acutely aware of which songs and situations I can use to “pay it forward” when it’s most convenient, and that doing so will allow me to enjoy the holidays with friends and family.
I realize that I am over-simplifying this whole wandering journey through loss. I know that each and every one of us grieves differently, for different periods of time and to different levels. I guess that my overall point is that through ruthless observation of myself, I have become much more self aware of how my own mind works, and that maybe, I’ve found a nugget of hope in writing an instruction manual for myself.