I noticed that I am having a really hard time lately feeling compassion. At first I wrote it off as fatigue of dealing with people that have no clue. The people that cry about a car like a person died after a wreck. That was fairly exhausting to deal with after you have lost a child.
After all, there wasn't anything really wrong with me. The Dr. from the EAP program seemed satisfied that I said I felt I was doing a good job at work, just couldn't feel for stupid losses people had any more. I talked to him about how I see my son dead sometimes in things that trigger it: the faces of some babies, moments where I am doing what I was doing the days and nights before. He seemed to think it was fairly normal. I developed a desensitization plan (without his help, he offered very little practical advice and focused on breathing techniques) for things that I can control. I expose myself in small progressing steps in a way that I can stop and back off if it gets too intense. (Unfortunately not everyone will let you do this- I'm five months out and should 'deal' with things right? At least that's the vibe I get. But now the pain is as bad as the beginning, only in some ways it is worse because I am starting to know on some levels that he is dead and is not coming back. And right now it is so raw it is hard to look at a religious view that would normally bring comfort. I'm back to screaming at that God who works miracles but chose to allow my son to die.)
Now I'm actually pretty normal. The ladies on the baby loss groups try to warn the newcomers that at five months the death hits in a full way. To anyone who hasn't lost a child I'm a bit crazy perhaps, or selfish because I can't see through the pain that is hitting me and obscurring my windshield to view their normal world.
But recently I became alarmed. I was on a call where an individual was having serious health issues and the daughter went into the closet so she could cry. This is where I usually spend a lot of emotional coin, I'm a natural hand holder.
I followed her and I said all the right words, but I felt hollow. I knew that I cared but I didn't feel it.
And I began to examine a lot of my other emotions. I have trouble feeling now when adults die. I mean, if my son could die, why should anything be shocking? Why should a fifty year old man be spared when an infant can die?
I also have trouble empathizing with losses that don't actually come from a result of death. Divorce? Broken relationship? At least the person you loved is not dead, I think. (Again, not the old Katie). I know that academically I feel bad for these people but the emotional echoe is missing. I long that he could still be out there, even if I could never see him. He could still have all the things life offered, I just couldn't see them.
So I googled a little. Came across one of many firefighter related magazines and a word popped, sounded promisng. Compassion fatigue.
So I excitedly read about how to cope with it. The primary thing was to realize that the traumatic event you witnessed or participated in the aftermath did not happen to your family. Great words for a responder to a tramatic event right?
The words were devastating to me. It DID happen to US. I recognize it is not a single call I went on, but the death of my son. I know it because I see him and shoo scenes from the time leading up to his death, the first time I looked at him in my husband's arms after his death, and funeral regularly from my mind. I remember small details- the images are crisp like video instead of hazzy memories. The color of diaper he was wearing, the look on his face, the striped nightgown my daughter was wearing, the dust bunny under the recliner next to a empty yogurt cup my daughter had ate, the colors of the rooster on the coasters she was still holding in her small hands as she wailed to me. Details of him. Specific, like a zoom in camera as if my memory had whispered to take a close look because these were the last images I would ever see of him as horrible as they were. The time before is like a slow moving video.Most of the time I can cope. I just back away a bit. Go to a safe place and cry as I let it finish playing. Then I get busy.
But I can't cope when I can't control it. When there is no safe place.
So what is it? What do you call it?
And how do I get back with the other people who haven't had any major losses? The pretending and small talk are ok sometimes, but just sap you mostly.
I'm actually getting a bit mad now. Tired of people expecting me to do all the work. Don't you think if I knew how to make the pain go away I would? And I do- but all that will work is you handing my son back to me. But why is it that I'm expected to make all the approaches while everyone acts like everything is normal. I want someone to look at me and bluntly say "How are you Katie? And not the polite crap answer, please." That is really all that I want sometimes (you don't even have to do it everytime you see me, just once in a while when there aren't a gazillion people around). Do they not want to know and ruin their bubble of peace? Is that why they act like everything is normal? Or are they afraid? As long as you do not expect me to do or act X, Y, and Z I can talk with you. And I want some control. Please do not try to force me into normal, when it's not and the mold will break whatever new frame I've managed to tape together from the pieces. Sometimes I think people try to call forcing you into their frame 'making you face life', when in reality it is just easier for them for some reason, or they feel entitled (its their right) for whatever random excuse they have. I feel an incredible lack of control since my son died, and I need to be able to determine the rate of hurtful things that get thrown at me. I need to control the rate at the images that flash at me. You see a random child or baby, but for me the image morphs into my son (the should have been Perry or the Dead one). It might be inconvient or ripple your bubble, but I think somewhere I'm still worth the effort to help salvage. And I want it to be ok to be angry sometimes- look it up, it's a grief stage. Otherwise I'll play your game and try to act normal, but I'll explode. The venting is a pressure release and it is necessary.