Friday, May 14, 2010

A Life Changing Moment (Part 3)

A Life Changing Moment - Part 1 and Part 2

Carole’s funeral occurred one of those days, and I didn’t attend. I felt the disappointment and judgment from others, and who thought that I “should” be there. (This is the point where I feel like I should say that I regret not going in her hospital room to say goodbye and that I am ashamed that I did not attend her funeral. But, I do not feel that way. I am at peace with those decisions.) I was dealing with my grief? Fear?, and Shock? as best I could. I simply could face the realities, ceremonies, and heartache of her death when mine, rational or not, seemed to be looming.

A few days after my ER trip, I had a follow-up visit with my doctor. She ruled out other physical illness and concluded that I, in fact, had a panic attack. And while this diagnosis helped me better understand what I was feeling, I still struggled with believing that I would be OK (both physically and emotionally).

Meanwhile, there were still many questions about why Carole died. The ER doctors had never found the cause of her condition. Furthermore, her family doctor received back tests and found that she, in fact, did not have mono like we had previously thought. These unanswered questions, added to my anxiety. I desperately wanted to hear an explanation, believing that knowing the cause of her death would alleviate my fears about my "impending" death.

An autopsy was done with inconclusive results. And, finally after multiple pathology tests it was determined that the cause of her death was unknown.


Case Closed.

Throughout the following few weeks, my panic attacks persisted. I continued counseling and fortunately, had learned some coping strategies for the episodes, had wonderful support from some very good friends, and none were as bad as the first. As time passed, I slowly began to believe that I would survive.

I wanted an explanation. I wanted closure. I wanted to understand why this happened. And all of that would be left unknown. As hard as it was – I knew that I needed to move on.

As much as I would like to write a conclusion that fits nicely in a beautifully wrapped present – I do not have one. That was eight years ago (today), and I still think of Carole often. I am still saddened that her life ended after only 23 years and it still seems incredibly unfair, that there is no known reason.

Her unexpected, unexplained death shook me to the core, forced me to examine my mortality and challenged my emotional state. It was one of those life-altering moments that tested my resilience and tenacity. While time does heal, scars remain. I learned a lot about myself in those few weeks and have been forever changed. Occasionally, since that time, I have had panic attacks - and they are always terribly difficult, unsettling, nauseating, shameful, and emotionally exhausting.  But each time they are less severe.  I know that it is a moment that will pass and I am not afraid to reach out for help.  (Note to Reader: If anyone out there has experienced panic attacks, please know that you are not alone or crazy. I would encourage you to talk about it and seek out help!)

While, I was significantly impacted by this experience, I know that I appreciate life more than I had prior.  And for that I am grateful.

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