I stepped out for lunch today and a passing ambulance forced me to pull over to the side of the road, release a few tears, say calming words to myself, then head back to work without my lunch.
The lights. The sounds.
The fear. The pain.
The sight and sound of an approaching ambulance still places a paralyzing and debilitating force field over me. It’s been almost 3 years since my husband’s death, and still, I’m unable to function when I encounter an ambulance. I wrote a little about this fear and pain HERE but felt like I needed to write more after today.
The sirens of police and fire vehicles don’t instill the same ache in my heart. Somehow, those sights and sounds vibrate at a different emotional frequency. But the ambulance? That shiny stallion of red, white and silver makes me cringe. They make me blink rapidly, grip the steering wheel until it hurts and release a wave of tears. I frantically scan the area to see from what direction it will come so that I can move out of it’s way. The quicker it passes, the quicker I can have my meltdown.
An ambulance on active duty symbolizes the morning my husband died. An ambulance with its lights on and its sirens sounding symbolizes a trip that will change the trajectory of someone’s life for the best or for the worst.
When I see an ambulance, I am taken back to the morning of June 9.
When I see the flashing lights, I am back in the passenger seat of the Prince George’s County SUV where I watched those lights glisten and bounce across the hood.
When I hear the sirens, I am reminded of how frustrated and angry I was as the cars along Martin Luther King Highway and Route 295 would not stop or yield for the ambulance to have an unobstructed path.
Following behind speeding police cars and a caravan of ambulances, the seven minute ride to the hospital felt like hours. During those seven minutes, I observed and ingested all the sights and sounds of that ambulance.
Although the doctors would later list my husband’s time of death as 8:20am, I had known before we left our home. I had known before the paramedics walked me to the SUV, helped me inside and buckled my seatbelt, as if I were a small child. I wasn’t a panicky, scared mess; rather I was eerily calm and almost robotic. During the ride, I did not think of his death. Strange, but I didn’t. I thought about every single other thing related to the ride. The freshly cleaned dashboard of a rather new County SUV. Faded posters for old music concerts hanging from telephone poles with rusted staples. A dog chained to a chain link fence that had seen better days. A drive through line at McDonalds with 3 yellow cars in a row. Those are the things that caught my eye. Those random things and the psychedelic flashing lights. Although the wonderful paramedic supervisor who was driving tried to engage me in some gentle conversation, I could hear nothing over the roaring sound of the ambulance that we were following. And I did not allow one single tear to fall.
In some ways, the paralyzing fear that ambulances can still evoke makes no sense to me but I do understand that our minds and hearts process things in different ways, at different times. Behind a smile and a genuinely happy moment, there are always moments of grief just below the surface. Grief never ends. It’s a never ending journey. You don’t get to accept or decline your entry to the journey, but you do get to decide how you wish to travel.
I know that it’s very hard for those who have not experienced some sort of great loss to truly understand this. I can honestly say that I didn’t fully grasp it myself until I had to. Even as I smile about the amazing things my son says and does, even as I enjoy the new dating experiences that I am having, even as I continue to write and experience victories associated with that, my heart remains deeply bruised. Queen Elizabeth gets credit for the quote, “Grief is the price we pay for love” and that’s such a weighty statement.
One big thing that I have learned is to allow these moments to wash over me, to hurt for as long as it takes, knowing that I can survive to make it back to the “other” side. Give a loved one a call today and share your heart with them, if only for a minute. You never know when someone else needs to hear a warm voice on the other end of the line. And on a personal, selfish note – the little moments count and the peace that they will provide you in a future storm is priceless.