Making Sense of the Past

In February 2014, I started subbing and my husband and I switched cars. He took the SUV, and since I had a longer commute, I took the sedan. It took some getting used to, but when you drive it almost everyday you acclimate quickly yet I had reservations.

I worried often about getting in a wreck in the smaller car. I would envision tragic scenarios. It didn’t matter whether I was going to work or meeting friends; I was fearful of not returning home – all because we switched cars?

For months, I felt this fear. But where did it come from? I had my share of fender benders but never anything major.

In September, we met with a counselor to talk about some things we heard from one of our daughters. In that session, we talked about grief. We talked about our own experiences with grief and how we learned to grieve. And I recalled a time in my life when I experienced grief (while thinking this wasn’t supposed to be about me, but that’s how those things go).

As I got ready to leave for work the next day, my oldest daughter hugged me goodbye, said she loved me, and told me to be careful. Immediately I flashed back to around 24 years ago, when one of my best friend’s mom died in a car wreck, and the pieces finally connected

About twenty-four years ago, I got the news that my friend’s mom died in a car wreck and I was immediately devastated. I remember my hand me down orange shorts with orange polka dot top stained with pink paint. I remember throwing myself on my bed in my room and just sobbing. I remember walking down the street to find my friend at a neighbor’s house. I remember walking down the aisle to pay my last respects. I remember going to school in my funeral clothes – floral top, black pants, and red flats with a shiny bow. And that’s all I thought I remembered.

As I drove to work that day I remembered some of the words I heard about the event: “She was in her husband’s company car…She wasn’t in her suburban.” And that’s when I realized what I had internalized – bad things happen to you when you drive your husband’s car instead of your giant, safe SUV. That’s what I was doing – driving my husband’s car instead of my SUV. And I felt relief; relieved to know where the fear was coming from, relieved to let that fear go, relieved to relax about my commute to work, just relieved.

I was 9 or 10 when that event happened, and it took me over 20 twenty years to make sense of my thoughts around this event. But my daughter, whose own questions prompted this journey, was an infant when she first experienced grief – the loss of her birth family. My daughter is 6 and is processing her story and might be for some time. My job (and my husband’s) is to support her, to be with her in her grief – not fix her or rush her. While it won’t always make sense to us neither did my fear about driving my husband’s car but it was still real to me. And my daughter’s thoughts and feelings will always be real for her, so they should be real for me as well.

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