by Valerie Waymark
I recently returned from a whirlwind business trip. Five flights in 36 hours with several colleagues; some of them I barely knew. On the second to last leg, the 6 of us arrived at the airport and proceeded through security. I was a bit surprised to have my purse pulled aside for a secondary check but figured it would be for a routine swab. No worries.
As I watched the security agent work through the contents of my bag, glancing frequently back at the x-ray picture, my curiosity intensified. What was she looking for? In what seemed like infinite slow-motion, I watched her grasp an item and hold it out to me in the palm of her hand. I watched…in horror. Her voice sounded like it was in a wind tunnel as she said, “This isn’t allowed. You will have to surrender it”.
My stomach flipped. I felt a familiar tingling sensation at the base of my spine that I’ve learned always signals a fear response. I felt my legs turning to jelly and I struggled to stay in control of being upright. To add to my panic, I felt my throat constrict and the tears start to form. Some of my colleagues were just coming through security and now approaching me. “Don’t cry. Breathe. Stay in control. You’re OK. 1, 2, 3, 4, 5, 6…5x5=25…25-5=20. Don’t cry. Stop it, Valerie. She’s looking at you like you’re crazy. Stop crying. Say something. Breathe. Everyone is looking at you. What are they thinking about you? Stop being an idiot. This can’t be happening.” All those thoughts swirled around in my head and then some…plus a few choice words I won’t put in print.
I finally mustered some courage and said, “I can’t let that go…it’s my husband’s”. By now, one of my colleagues had come up beside me. Although we had only known each other a few weeks, she knew about the suicide of my husband. She had read my first blog. And, in a heartbeat…a moment for which I will always be eternally grateful for…she took control. She helped me navigate through solutions and came with me while I filled out the papers to Fed-ex the item back to myself. She walked with me and never once passed judgement. Never once made me feel stupid, or small, or weak. In that moment, she was my very best friend.
The object in question was a small brown pocket-knife. I thought I had removed it from my purse months ago. Clearly I hadn’t and somehow, it got through the security check on the first leg of our journey.
Ron carried that pocket-knife with him throughout our lives together. What was more important, in that instant, was that it represented him. It represented his death. In that moment of despair…I was losing him all over again.
And, so it is with triggers. Some are predictable, some come without warning. Some are little jolts, some bring me to my knees. Without fail, though, they all take me back to the day of Ron’s death. For me, it’s a treasured pocket knife, or fireworks that sound like a shotgun blast, or a poppy on a lapel that takes me back to November 2014. They all bring forth the same cascade of emotions that swirled within me that day and in the coming weeks and months.
As painful as those triggers are, I’m beginning to realize they have a purpose. They remind me to honour my feelings. They remind me to accept that being vulnerable is OK. They remind me to accept help and lean on people that offer support. And, they remind me that the world is filled with incredibly generous people…and I never know when one of them might be right beside me.
For me, it feels a lot like walking a tightrope. I can be walking along it, perfectly balanced and, all of a sudden…I’m knocked off. If I fight it, if I tense up…it will hurt more when I land. But if I give myself permission to be embraced by the safety net below, it will cushion the blow. I may roll around in that safety net for a while and it probably won’t be pretty but I will stand again. And…climb back up and get back on the tightrope.
Valerie Waymark lost her life partner of 28 years to suicide in November 2014. In addition to working many years as a nurse leader, she was inspired to become an Executive Coach in 2010. She is working towards achieving certification in grief coaching within the next year. She can be reached at waymarkcoachingsolutions@shaw.