I’ve written about this before, so most of you reading this know (and may have known about this all along…I, for one, did not) that people who suffer from PTSD and anxiety have triggers.
Triggers are events that put one back in a moment when he or she initially felt intense fear or sadness or emotional/physical distress. Certain crowds have created triggers for me. The door to my courtroom opening is a trigger.
The other night, my husband whistled to my daughter when I didn’t know he was home, and I thought it was my daddy. Trigger.
The church where my daddy’s funeral was held is another place where I’m taken back to that moment, that place, where I felt intense sadness with hundreds of pairs of eyes watching me walk in and walk out–some probably watched as I just sat.
It is also the church in which my little sister will be married in less than a month.
So, as I wrote about before in this post, I knew going back to the church and walking down the same aisle and having the same number (if not more) of eyes, many of the very same eyes, watch me walk down that same aisle will most definitely be a trigger.
Nothing in my body makes me want to do that….
….except for the girl who will walk in after me.
And so, for her, I had to find a way to figure it out. And I’m still figuring it out, but I’m writing this today for anyone else out there who may have to do something like this one day, who finds themself in a state of panic at the mere thought….just like I do.
This is what I decided: in order to not be a total basket case the day of the wedding, I formulated a plan:
1) I got some good meds.
2) I decided the day of the wedding couldn’t be the first day I walked down that aisle since the day of Daddy’s funeral.
For the last couple of days, I’ve experimented with the medicine. It is not something I plan on taking all the time, so I’ve taken small doses for the last two days, and I can tell a difference. (Maybe I should see if I can take it all the time. We will cross that bridge later…)
And today, I went to the church.
I got let in to the fellowship hall, and the door was locked behind me. And because I had that luxuary, I didn’t make a beeline for the sanctuary. Instead, I roamed the halls. I went into Sunday School classrooms. I let myself remember the child that I was in that chuch.
And honestly, I felt my Nana more than my daddy during that little jaunt. That was unexpected, and I haven’t worked out how I feel about that yet, so I won’t comment more than that. It isn’t lost on me that today would be my Nana’s birthday, but that wasn’t at the forefront of my mind. I just felt her. Upstairs in the Sunday School rooms was a Nana journey.
I took my time.
But finally, there wasn’t anything left but the sanctuary, so I went to the balcony first. I stood outside of the opening of the balcony and peeked in, and I could feel it. My chest tightened and the tears came and I felt like I couldn’t breathe.
And I wasn’t even on the balcony.
But the balcony moved me away from Nana and towards my Daddy for random memories I can barely recover. It just was more him than her, but still….it wasn’t that day. It wasn’t that thing.
It was from a long time ago, a time in which I was just his daughter, discovering who I may be one day, sitting in the balcony, listening to one of Brother Bill’s sermons, gleaning the things that one on an journey of discovery gleans when they are young and yearning and hoping to figure out who they will be when they grow up.
And more times than I can count, my daddy was sitting beside me in that balcony.
So I cried as I walked briskly across the balcony and made it to the other side, to the side with the stairs that would take me down the sanctuary, and I ugly cried.
I put my hand on the brown, scarred, round baluster of that particular set of stairs, and I cried harder, because it felt oddly familar in a way I didn’t expect. I felt like I was 16, getting out of church, going to do whatever my Sunday afternoon would bring,
And I went down to the atrium on the left side of the church and I held my breath and I went through the doors….and I couldn’t go any further. I scrunched my back up against the wall and sat, facing the pews, knees pulled to my chest, as I took it all in. The stained glass windows. The carpet. The pews.
The banners that hung beside the cross behind the pulpit that were made by my Nana’s Sunday School girls in her memory.
the lily of the valley
I sat and let myself cry really, really hard, and I didn’t want to get up, not even a little bit….I wanted to roll under a pew and just stay there…..but I had a mission, a goal, and it was only steps away. So eventually, I got up and scurried across the back of the sanctuary to the atrium on the right side of the church and closed the door behind me. And I didn’t turn around. Not for a while.
Because that was the place I dreaded the most. It was the place I had been working toward. It was the place I didn’t want to be….but if I was going to do this, that was the place I had been heading all along.
It was my scariest place.
It was the place, in which, I waited in line to enter the sanctuary for Daddy’s funeral.
It was the place, in which, I will wait in line to enter the santuary for my sister’s wedding.
I stood with my back against the plaster wall for what seemed like ever, and then, I took a breath, and I opened the door.
And I baby-stepped. I shuffled. I looked at my feet. I put my hands over my eyes.
With every step I said, “I’m doing this for her.”
With every glimpse up, I saw hundreds of pairs of eyes. Looking at me. And I put my head back down.
And then I shuffled. And I put my head down and said, “I’m doing this for her.
And I looked up, and I saw all the eyes.
And then I rounded the corner to get to the actual aisle. And I shuffled. And I put my head down and said, “I’m doing this for her.”
And I looked up. And I saw all the eyes.
And I got to the altar. And I looked up. And I saw the table that said, “This Do in Rememberance of Me.” And I was brought back to the moment when I fell before that table after my Nana’s funeral, when my faith had been so shaken before she died, not because of her own death, but because of Laurie and Mary Witten’s which made me terrified of everything, but that moment at that altar brought my faith back.
This was not the same.
All I could see was a casket where that altar table would have been and the faces that filled the choir loft, but they weren’t there as a chior…they were attendees to honor my daddy with no seat but those, facing us, looking out onto the crowd, and they are indelible in my mind because they were all I could see. When I looked up from my seat on that front row, they were who I saw.
They were my view.
And they were looking back at me.
I shuffled past the altar. And I looked down.
And I made myself sit where I sat.
And I kept crying. And I kept crying. And I kept crying.
And I felt myself getting so angry.
I looked up, and I could only see faces.
While I sat on that front row, I went back to a time when the church looked differently, when the balcony wasn’t a straight l ine, but instead, a curve, and my family sat just below it. And I remembered the day, Mother’s Day, 1984, when Brother Smith extended the inviation to join the church, and my daddy and I got up from our seats and met him at the altar.
My daddy gave my mama a lot of gifts in thier lives, but I believe that was probably the most meaningful, the most tender, the most loving, the most “I get you,” that he ever gave her. He had been reared Methodist, just across the street in the church where my family now attends. But he had never been baptized.
And he did it to let her know he was all in. He was going to rear his family as Baptists, and he was going to lead the way for my brother and me (my sister wasn’t born yet) to be a unified family in the denomination. He wasn’t turning his back on his upbringing, as I well know. I didn’t turn my back on mine when I joined the Methodist church. But just as Daddy did, I joined the Methodist church for my family.
He joined the Baptist church for his.
And he did it with me.
So as I sat on that pew, I saw where we were sitting before the sanctuary had been remodeled, and I remembered us walking down that aisle to Brother Smith together. And I remembered where the baptismal was back then when, 2 weeks later, we were baptized in that church, in that room. My Nana spoke about me before I was submerged under the water. Daddy’s best friend, Steve Stringer, spoke about him before he went under.
Their words were full of love and encouragement. He knew what his was about, and she knew what mine was about. And they showered us with the words that could only come from those who know us the very best, knowing they would mean the most.
It was a beautiful memory.
Finally, I knew I was done. I had walked all of the steps I dreaded walking. I had sat in the place I dreaded sitting. I had seen all of the faces. I had cried all of the tears I would let myself cry today. I had relived all of the memories I hadn’t antiicpated but felt nonetheless.
And I left.
As I walked out of the door, I cut my eyes toward the seat in which my Nana always sat. I just needed to recognize it. But I didn’t have the same kind of revelation as I did when I fell on my knees in front of that altar the day of her funeral.
I had no revelation at all.
It hurt in places I didn’t know I could hurt.
And that was enough. That was quite enough.
I wasn’t looking for revelation.
I was looking to endure.
And I did.
And because I did, I WILL stand up beside my sister when she gets married.
I will, and it will hurt.
I will see all of those faces. I will see that stained glass. I will see in my head where that baptismal once was. I will see where that casket once was. I will feel myself wanting to shuffle and not wanting to look up. I will be scared. to. death.
But I am one step closer to being able to do it because I WILL do it, because I took a practice round. I didn’t let the emotion of that many memories hit me for the first time when I walked out of those atrium doors with my Maid of Honor bouquet in my hands.
I let them hit me today.
And I’ll probably need to do it again.
But I will MAKE myself hurt before her wedding day, no matter how many times I have to, because it is going to hurt no matter what and no matter when…EXCEPT for that day.
I won’t let myself hurt that day, because I have to make sure SHE doesn’t hurt that day.
She will be the happiest she has ever been that day. She will marry the love of her life that day.
And I will hurt every moment up until that moment because she has earned that moment, and she deserves that moment.
And I will not let Daddy take that moment away from her.
I will not take that moment away from her.
It hurt. It will never not hurt.
But tonight, I’m thankful for medicine and keys to the church.
I hope you find yours.