Remembering things that hurt


Jennifer Van Haitsma

11 November 2020 0 comments

I felt called to speak about past trauma. That being said, if this topic calls to mind something that is too painful for you to think about, I am applying a trigger warning to this post. I would hate to cause anyone further suffering. I will be discussing the death of a loved one.

Trauma is defined by Psychology Today as the experience of severe psychological distress following any terrible or life-threatening event. Sufferers may develop emotional disturbances such as extreme anxietyanger, sadness, survivor’s guilt, or PTSD. They may experience ongoing problems with sleep or physical pain, encounter turbulence in their personal and professional relationships, and feel a diminished sense of self-worth due to the overwhelming amount of stress.

My experience with trauma

My first experience with trauma was when I was 9 years old. I was living your ideal American life. My parents were still married to each other. I had a sibling close in age that I could play with. We had a home in which I had my own room, in a good neighbourhood. I got good grades in school and had many friends.

Things swiftly changed in the summer of 1995. My sister had recently completed her First Communion. (I was raised in the Episcopal Church.) My parents decided to have people over to celebrate. My depression leaves a lot of my past foggy for me, but this day is one that still stands out clearly. It was the last day I ever saw my cousin, Matthew.

The day it all changed

I remember him coming to the party unexpectedly. (Again, my depression can at times leave my memories foggy, so if any of this is inaccurate, I apologize. It is just how I remember things.) He was about to embark on a backpacking journey with a friend, and we didn’t think he would be able to come as he was about to leave on this trip. But he came, and my sister and I were so excited since he was an especially fun cousin.

When he left, we said goodbye. I remember following him outside, and asking him if he really had to go on his trip. Something in my young mind felt called to caution him. I had a bad feeling for whatever reason. I think I just didn’t like the idea of one of my favourite cousins leaving himself at the mercy of adventure.

We got a call sometime later. It was maybe a couple of weeks later. I really can’t recall the time frame. I remember lying in bed and hearing my mother crying in her bed room. Our beds sat about headboard to headboard connected by a wall.

Getting the bad news

I remember peeking into her room and seeing that she was on the phone. Whatever she was talking about, and whomever she was speaking with, was making her cry, I was only 9, and not really adept at comforting adults, or critical thinking, for that matter.

After the phone call, either that night or the following day, I was told that my cousin had died while travelling in Spain. What I remember being told is that he decided to attend the Running of the Bulls festival in Pamplona and that he was killed while trying to help someone who had fallen down. I think years later, I learned that this wasn’t true, that he was killed there under other circumstances. I think my parents probably told me that to make me feel better in a horrible situation. They also said he was the first American to be killed at the festival. Or maybe that was something I learned through various news reports since it was widely publicized.

My thoughts today

His death still haunts me at times. I wonder who he would be today. He was only 22 when he died, and would be 46 at the time of this writing if not for his untimely death. Would he be married? Would he have children? My thoughts no longer cripple me, but they linger in the recesses of my mind, especially during the summer months,

I loved my cousin. His life was cut way too short in such a traumatic way. I wanted to write this so that those who read this know that they are not alone. If you suffer from trauma, whether it is related to today’s date, or related to some other cause, you are not alone.

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