Triggers – The Struggle is Real

Let’s talk about triggers.  Triggers are real, and they are everywhere, and they slap you in the face when you least expect it. There have even been moments I faced a trigger, and it caught me by complete surprise.

Even living with anxiety and PTSD, I never really experienced too many triggers until after Eric passed.   

Triggers are defined as flashbacks that take us back to a specific place, usually to when the original trauma took place.  There is no safe place away from triggers unless I stay home and never go out in public again.  Experiencing a trigger can be paralyzing and emotionally draining.

As hours, days, weeks, and the months past I had to learn tricks to help me go to the movies shop for groceries, listen to the radio, or listen to a truck with loud mufflers go down the road.  Everything was a reminder This is the last month of my first year of firsts. During the fist year a few triggers can be identified; the first birthday, wedding anniversary and holidays. It’s the unknown triggers that knock the breathe out of you.

When Eric and I first reconnected, we enjoyed going to the movies.  The one vice Eric had I disliked and always tried to get him to quit.  He loved to dip Copenhagen.  When we would get our snacks at the movie, the theater provided “spit cups” they were the small dixie cups. There was one date he asked me to grab a cup for him, and I looked at him and said, “no, I would be supporting your habit.” We chuckled, and he did get his cup.  Years later, I gave in and always grabbed a spit cup for him.  Recently I went to the movies and standing in line getting ready to pay for my popcorn I looked down and there they were.  Neatly stacked, ready to be picked up.  This time, I would pass it up like this little cup had never been a part of my life.  I cried through most of the movie that afternoon.

I knew the first year without Eric would be a difficult time for my children and me, especially around the holidays.  Eric loved the holidays, especially the part where he got to eat!  I knew the holidays were going to be full of triggers.  My anxiety increased even before the holidays hit.  I believe I started to look at the calendar daily in October and counting down the days till Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s.

Photo by Anna Shvets from Pexels

The other triggers I found that affected me were hearing the heart monitors on TV shows, participating in a CPR class, the song on Disney’s Frozen Two “The Next Right Thing,” and the movie Onward brought me to tears.  Don’t get me wrong; both films were and are great, but these are examples of triggers coming out of nowhere.  I’m sure I will come face-to-face with more triggers on this journey as there are days this journey has no end. 

My first public trigger not only took my breath away; it made my heart stop (at least that is what it felt like).  I felt a sharp “thud” in my chest, and I just stood there staring at the chocolate covered cherries.  Eric loved chocolate-covered cherries.  I would always get a box for him once the stores started selling them.  The smile on his face would go ear to ear.  He would recline in his chair with the box of chocolate-covered cherries watching whatever conspiracy show he could find.  From that day on, I would do whatever I could do to avoid walking past the chocolate covered cherries.

One of our many last minutes outings to the movies 2018

Triggers are very personal.  Not every widow or widower has the same triggers.  Knowing that a trigger may present itself can reduce the effect it has.  American Psychological Association state that triggers can be more stressful if they are revealed as a surprise, like seeing the chocolate covered cherries being sold be Thanksgiving.  It is important to remember that after the loss of a loved one, triggers are going to happen, so be prepared, recognize what the triggers are, and breathe, when a trigger is experienced journal about it.  Record what it was, how it made you feel, and the memory it brought back. Writing about it gets it out and helps with healing and allow for the next right step to be taken.

In the article “Dealing with Grief Triggers after a Loss,” the author, Louis E. LaGrand, Ph.D., created a list of what to know when you are faced with triggers:

  1.  Remember, the experience is normal.  There is absolutely nothing wrong with you. 
  2. To help reduce the impact of the sudden onset of grief, tell yourself that what you are experiencing is normal.  IT’S NORMAL.
  3. Triggers that lead to grief episodes also can have physical and emotional components such as headache, upset stomach, sleeplessness, fatigue, body aches, short temper, or endless crying.
  4. Let the experience happen and the pain you feel in your chest to move out of you.  My therapist shared this statement with me, and I share it with other every chance I get, ” You have to walk and be in the yuck to get through it.  Only you can do this, and no one can do it for you.” 

On the 16th of every month, I recognize how many months Eric has been gone, and in May, I will face my biggest trigger – the first anniversary of his death.  On May 16th at 3:24 p.m., it will have been one year since I heard his voice, his laugh, seen his big smile, or held his hand.  On this date, I am already feeling the anxiety of this anniversary.  The best way for me to face it head-on is to have a plan.  I did this for the holidays, and it helped tremendously.  Having a plan does not mean to hold a party or massive celebration (you could if you wanted), I am referring to be mindful of the day and know that emotions are going to be raw. 

I broke my daughter’s heart

As parents, more than anything, we want to protect our children. I know I would go to the ends of the earth to ensure my children were safe – especially their little tender hearts.
On May 16th, I broke that promise and broke my baby girl’s heart. Her Daddy had just passed hours before. The day started so wonderful and ended in tragedy.
May 16th was the first day of summer break for Olivia. She and her Daddy slept in while I took our son to daycare. The plan for the day was to do yard work, some crafts, and errands before picking up Kaleb at the daycare.

When I arrived home, Eric was up watching TV while Olivia still slept. That morning it was just the two of us talking and laughing while playing Trivia Crack with each other (yes, we were in the same room). When Olivia got up, the day started. She loved working in the yard with her Daddy if it meant she got to ride the lawnmower with him. On this day, it was different because the riding lawn mower was not working as it should, so Eric began to work on it, and Olivia stayed inside with me folding towels. During his breaks from working on the lawnmower, he would come inside for a bit. I remember one of the times we met in the hallway in front of Olivia’s bedroom door. Together we watched her play while we embraced, and he kissed my head and rubbed my back and just said softly, “she is growing up. I’m so happy.” Interestingly enough, knowing now how this day ended, I recalled many days prior, weeks even, that he expressed how happy he was, how everything was the way it should be, and he wouldn’t change anything. We kissed again, and he went back to work on the lawnmower.

May 15, 2019. Olivia holding the wild flowers he picked for her. When she heard he was going to mow she told him not to mow the wild flowers. He said he had to so she asked him to pick some for her. He did.

It was a few hours later (I think – parts of the day are a blur) that we heard the lawnmower going and backfiring, so I could only assume Eric fixed the mower. I would see him pass be the living room window a few times, and then he came busting through the door yelling for a fire extinguisher. He went directly to it and ran back out. I, course, ran after him to see what on earth was on fire.

I found him putting a small flame out on the riding lawn mower and waving his hand back and forth to redirect the smoke. He then returned to the house, sounding out of breath but talking about how that scared him and then chuckling about it. A few minutes later, he kept saying he couldn’t catch his breath. Eric did have asthma, so he used his inhaler a few times, and it wasn’t helping him, at least not fast enough for me, so we laid on the floor to “cool” off, he said.

Shortly after that, our daughter came to me and said she was worried about her Daddy because he can’t breathe. I told her everything was going to be okay and to tell Daddy to get in the car if he could. Then she said something that I thought was silly at the time, and she was so serious when she said it. “Mommy, is daddy going to die?” I said, “no, Olivia, his asthma is flaring up, so we are going to go to the ER so he can get some help,” and she ran to the living room yelling at her Daddy to go to the car.

Eric reclined the passenger seat, and Olivia put her hand on his bald, sweaty head telling him over and over again, “daddy, we are taking you to the doctor okay. He will help you.” As I drove, I laid my hand on his chest and rubbed it, and he reached up to hold it. I looked at him and said, “I’m driving as fast as I can, Babe.”

We arrived at the ER, and he got out of the car by himself, walked in with Olivia holding his hand while I parked. I rushed in, and he was sitting in the lobby, waiting to have his vitals checked. At this time, we still think this is a full-blown asthma attack. A nurse called Eric back to check his vitals and then I am drawn into the room. He is talking, smiling, but you can tell he is continuing to have trouble breathing. After several minutes we are lead to a trauma room where he is sitting up talking with the doctor, nurses are connecting wires to him, and Olivia is telling the doctor to take care of him because he can’t breathe.
And then I blinked. My world was forever changed.

Eric started to have a seizure, and it was at that time I took Olivia out of the ER room and returned to the lobby with her. She was talking to me, but I couldn’t tell you what she was saying. I called my sister, who was out doing errands to see if she could come to get Olivia. I couldn’t even tell you what I told my sister when she arrived.
I returned to the ER room to find the curtain closed. A staff member walked by to see if she could help me and led me past the pulled curtain. I saw my husband laying on the gurney with nurses and the doctor rushing around him while a machine was doing compressions on his chest.

They let me talk to him. I remember telling him to fight. After that, they directed me to a room, and the helpful staff member started calling people for me. I know I began texting my family and friends to pray and begging them to pray hard. Then I went to a window in the room and started to pray. I found myself praying out loud. I had never done that before. I was begging and screaming for God to help him; to heal him. And asking, “Please, God, don’t take him.” I had never prayed harder than that moment.

It was at 3:24 pm that I had to tell the doctor and nurses to stop actively working to resuscitate Eric. After that, everything was in slow motion. People were talking to me, but I couldn’t hear them. I couldn’t feel my legs, but I know they were there because I was walking. But again, I didn’t feel like I walked. It was more like floating. And then it looked like everyone was on fast forward, and it was me in slow motion.
My sister drove me home. I walked into the house, and it felt empty. I went into the bedroom to try and get myself together because I knew my sister was going to get my daughter and bring her home. When I walked back down the hallway, my cousin walked around the corner. She had driven from Texas, and I had never been happier to see her. I remember feeling like I ran to her and grabbing her around the neck, just saying, “he’s gone – what am I suppose to do?”

In the meantime, I had a few friends from work show up, and we all sat in the living room, still in disbelief and waiting for my sister to bring my kids home.

When they arrived, I had a knot in the pit of my stomach, and every word I knew disappeared. Olivia came running in and jumped in my lap and said high to everyone, and then she looked at me and asked where Daddy was. She asked me if he was in the bathroom, was he lying down in bed or was he still at the doctor. I said he wasn’t home and she asked when he would be home because she missed him. I pulled her close and told her he wasn’t coming back and that he passed away at the hospital. He wasn’t coming home. She looked at me and pushed me and smiled, “you’re joking momma, don’t tease me.” I looked at her and bit my lip, trying not to cry. I guess when I did that, she knew I wasn’t teasing. She just buried her head in my chest and cried for her Daddy. I broke my daughter’s heart that day, and it destroyed me.

May 31, 2013 The day Eric fell in love with his Lil Uno

Olivia was her Daddy’s ‘Lil Uno. That’s what he called her from the day she was born. Eric was wrapped around her little finger from the second he held her. Right after she was born, he carried her to the next room to be examined, weighed, and cleaned her off. They went everywhere together.

If Olivia wanted something and he knew she didn’t need it. Instead of telling her no (which he could never do), he would say to her, “go ask your momma and see what she says.” I would always tell him, “I know we are getting a pony one day.” He asked me what that meant. I said, “every little girl wants a pony, and they always ask for one. When the day comes, and Olivia asks you for a pony, you won’t be able to tell her no.”

I broke my daughter’s heart for the first time on May 16th. Our lives changed forever.

Eric seeing Olivia crawl for the first time.

My husband helps make the clouds

My daughter and I both noticed these clouds. It stopped us in our tracks.

The first loved one that past that I remember had to be my PaPa.  I remember being close to him and my Mema.  I remember he was this tall thin mad who smiled all the time – even after being diagnosed with cancer.  Ever picture of the two of us was of him smiling.  When he passed away, I was very young, maybe 6 or 7 years old.  The chaos around his funeral I do not remember.  I do remember sitting in my dad’s lap while the funeral service was going on, and everyone crying around me.  I remember seeing my Papa in his casket looking peaceful like he was napping. 

After the funeral and I’m talking months after the funeral, I found myself looking at these beautiful, big, fluffy clouds.  The thought that crossed my mind was that my PaPa was walking above the clouds.   Remember, I was under the age of 10 when I began to believe this.  I guess a part of me still does, especially since my husband is living above the clouds now.

I love looking at the clouds.  I love how magnificent they look.  How grand they appear.  All at the same time, looking soft.  I even enjoy looking at them when the storms are rolling in.  They seem angry, ready to attack.

The first time I flew to California to visit my Mema, I was so excited because I was going to be high up with the clouds.  Then when the plane flew into the clouds and arrived above them, I, even at an older age, was sad that what I believed as a young child wasn’t true at all.  Silly how as a young child, our beliefs are so strong.  Strong enough to carry us to our young adult lives.

I still love looking at the clouds, and part of me still believes that my loved ones, our loved ones walk on top of the clouds.  Some even make those unique clouds that catch only our attention.

I remember a time a few months back.  I was returning from a grief support group, and right in front of me were three large clouds, and the one in the middle had lightning flashing in it just the middle cloud.  It was a fantastic sight to see. Of course, I did not stop and get my phone out to take a photo.  I did, however, describe it to a friend who is an amazing artist.  I traded with her to paint these clouds on my bible.  

My daughter now notices the clouds.  She believes that her daddy helps God make them.  I like that thought.  Thoughts like that help my kids and me heal through this journey of grief.  The heartache of not seeing my husband can get overwhelming.  But when I go outside and look at the clouds, I feel a peace come over me.  It’s how I keep my husband close.

Have you ever noticed clouds that no one else did?  If you did just, maybe it was made for you to see and only you.

photo by lil’ Uno 2020

Forever My Alway

My life with Eric was an adventure; he kept me in stitches every day of our lives together. He would never think of himself as an artist, creative, or patient, but he was. He loved to create things with his hands. When Olivia was in pre-K, she has an assignment to make a pumpkin into a book character. By no means was this a contest between the students. However, Eric did not work that way. His Uno (this is what he called Olivia) was going to have the best pumpkin in her class, grade, and, if possible, the school. He made legs from wire and pipe cleaners and made that pumpkin into a spider. It was my job to figure out the book this character came from.

Since Eric was in the Marines he loved his firearms. He loved researching about them, trading them, taking them apart and putting them back together. But what Eric loved most was cleaning and repairing them. He was oblivious to the world around him when he did that. He loved molding, shaping, and creating with his hands. I miss that the house smells like gun cleaning products. I never thought I would say that, but I have never been “here” before.

Eric was also the kind of person to help another at the drop of a hat. He had a close friend in desperate need of a friend. The time was late in the evening. I only heard one part of the conversation, his. I saw the worry and concern in his eyes; he couldn’t hide that no matter how he tried. The next thing I knew, he was putting his shoes on, and he was kissing me a good evening and promised he would text me when he was on his way home, and he did just that. Several hours later, he texted that he was on his way home. He saved his friend’s life that night. Eric saved the lives of many people during his career as a police officer. There were many times when we would be out to dinner, and someone would come up to us telling him that they had turned their life around because Eric had saved them. I was and still am so proud of him.

When it came to family, Eric did not hesitate to provide and protect. I felt safe, and so did our kids. Now that he is not here, there is sometimes a feeling of uneasiness. I try to make the kids feel safe, but they are quick to remind me that I am not daddy and daddy knew how to fight. Kids can be so honest! Below is the eulogy that my brother-in-law wrote and read at Eric’s funeral. He molded everything in the following paragraphs that described Eric perfectly.

Don Carmichael, a father of four left this world in 2001 to be with the Lord and on Thursday, May 16, 2019 after 18 years, he welcomed his son Eric Ray Carmichael into the gates of Heaven never to say goodbye again.

Eric was born September 10, 1974 in Lawton to Donald Ray Carmichael and  Brenda Sue Benson Carmichael. Don later married  Renee Harvey Carmichael in 1983 who four years laer adopted Eric and his sister Kim.

Eric graduated from Byng High School in 1992 with his high school diploma and a State Championship ring in Class A Baseball.  Following high school Eric enlisted and served the next 4 years honorably in the United States Marine Corp during which time he was also a proud member of the Chickasaw Warrior Society, a group of the Chickasaw veterans who reach out and attempt to build relationships between them and the young Chickasaw Warriors like Eric, who were serving in active duty through their shared experiences as Chickasaw Warriors serving in The United States Military.

In 2014 Eric earned his Bachelors Degree from East Central University in General Studies with a concentration in business management.  During his final year at ECU in God’s perfect time, Eric married the girl he had fallen for in the 5th grade, Lorie Robins on July 11, 2014 in Eureka Springs, AR in front family, friends and their new precious baby girl, Miss Olivia Grace.

Eric worked as a law enforcement officer for several different police departments in cities all throughout Pontotoc, Seminole and Hughes Counties including two years as the Chief of Police in Stonewall. He was a member of the Fraternal Order of Police and Trinity Baptist Church.

The way Eric talked about the time served his country as a United States Marine., or his city as its Chief of Police,  made the greatness of their impact on his life quite clear, but to hear him talk about becoming a father and how much he loved his family made it clear that they did not have a similar impact on his life , they were his life.  The University educated him, the Marines trained him, CLEET certified him, but it was Lori who completed him and helped him become the husband and father God had called him to be.

In the Marines, he served because he was ordered to, in law enforcement , he served because he was paid to,  but he served his family not because he had to or because he needed to, he served simply because wanted to.

Eric was faithful to the fight, faithful to the faith, and he was faithful to the finish. Well done, thy good and faithful servant.

Eric is preceded in death by his father, Donald Ray Carmichael.

He is survived by his wife, Lorie, of the home and their two children, Olivia Carmichael and Kaleb Carmichael of the home; mother, Renee Burkhardt and husband Karl of Ada; three sisters, Kim Cheatwood and husband Don of Bristow, Kayla Carmichael of Ada; Laura Robinson and husband Dane of Holdenville; nieces, nephews, aunts and uncles too numerous to name and friends too numerous to count.

The Love Story

I first met my husband, Eric, when we were in the fifth grade. Now he says he fell for me at that time but did he really? (haha) We went all through elementary, junior high, and high school together but never dated. He was on the State Champion Baseball team and I was in the band – Go Byng Pirates! After graduating from high school, he joined the Marines and made his life, and I stayed in Ada and made mine. It would be almost 20 years later that our paths crossed at an event my work was putting on. We caught up as much as you can in passing but promised we would do lunch to talk more. What I did get out of our quick passing conversation was that he had moved back to Ada. I knew he had married and had children, so I thought he meant that he and his family had moved back to Ada.

It was a few days later, while on Facebook that I received a personal message from Eric. The message said, and I quote, “when are we going to go on that date?”

Uh, excuse me? Those were the exact words I said in my head. What I replied with was, “uh, I don’t know,” and I didn’t. I walked down the hallway to where a friend was. I sat down, looked at her with a puzzled look on my face, and said, “I think I was just asked on a date – but I’m not sure?” Silly, I know. Another friend in the building was a cousin to Eric, and they were close. I immediately went to her and asked her what’s up with him asking me out – he’s married. She calmed down by saying, “No, he is getting divorced. That’s why he is moving back to Ada.” Now that I had the correct information, I went back to Facebook and sent another message, ” I’m open to going just about anytime, what about you?”

And as the saying goes, the rest is history.