A couple short months after my husband’s sudden death I found myself in an email exchange with a Sandy Hook mother. Her 6-year-old son was shot multiple times and killed by a mentally ill teenager in late 2012, it was a horrific tragedy that made international news.
I knew my pain and couldn’t even imagine how she dealt with hers. Yet, she said something to me that I’ll never forget. “Have you heard of Post Traumatic Growth,” she said? “It’s called PTSG and it’s a strange phenomenon that happens after tragic loss, your heart grows and you begin to feel love for your fellow man for no reason at all, no reason at all.” At the time I couldn’t imagine this yet, I really heard her words and told her I would look for this.
The death of my late husband was traumatic, I developed PTSD and would often relive the trauma of his passing in my mind each and every day. I decided early on I was going to face this pain and grief because I knew this was what was needed to find some sunlight again.
As I worked through my pain, I started to notice that I would get a loving feeling inside of me that often just came out of nowhere. I recall one particular lonely winter Sunday morning. I woke early feeling blue and as the sunlight came in my bedroom window, I noticed that the dust in the sunbeam looked as if it was dancing and sparkled with colors. I was mesmerized by the beauty and started to cry. Not out of sadness but out of the sheer and simple beauty of it all. Then it happened again as I watched a young mother lovingly walk hand-in-hand with her young children as they crossed the street. And when I noticed an elderly couple sitting contentedly on a park bench. How lucky they are to have so much time together I thought. The love I felt overflowed.
All of these simple things brought me instant joy. This never happened before Glenn died. As time went on, I noticed that this feeling of inner peace/joy would come out of nowhere. I didn’t tell anyone at first. I mean, how could I feel so much joy when I was dealing with so much loss? I didn’t dare tell anyone because they made no sense to me. There was nothing to be happy about Glenn’s sudden death. Yet, I kept getting these feelings of bliss that was deep inside of me. It happened again and again. It still does.
A couple of days ago I had a bad day where I was doubting myself and my future. I fell asleep early and woke up late and turned on the TV. I stumbled upon a movie from a few years ago with Wil Smith and Helen Mirren, “Collateral Beauty.” It’s the story of a man and his wife who were suffering deeply over the loss of their 6-year-old daughter to brain cancer. They divorced over their loss and you go with them on their journey of how they cope or not. The story weaves in some angels who show up with messages to help them.
It’s clear throughout the film that the woman has been coping better than her ex-husband, played by Wil Smith. His suffering is hard to watch, as he goes out of his way to avoid his grief (even divorcing his wife whom he loves), throws himself into his work and gets rid of anything and everything having to do with his past.
On Christmas Eve he goes to see his ex-wife at the home they shared together as a family. The signs of their daughter and life together is evident throughout the house. She tells him about an experience she had when their daughter lay dying in the hospital.
“I was sitting outside the ICU taking a second to breathe. It was minutes before our daughter took her last breath. As I sat there an elderly woman (played by Helen Mirren as an angel), came over and sat next to me. “Are you losing someone,” she asked me. At first, I was stunned by her question and then I realized that the way she asked me she knew loss so I answered her. Then she looked at me and said, “Don’t forget to look for the collateral beauty,” and she was gone. (here is a link to the scene.) (another link).
The grieving mother tells Wil Smith (who plays the grieving husband), about how since that experience that she’s found herself feeling an instant grace and love for others “It’s the collateral beauty that’s a profound connection to everything. It’s pure love. It doesn’t take the pain of death and grief but it’s there nonetheless.”
That’s it, I thought! That’s what the Sandy Hook mother meant when she told me about PTSG (post traumatic growth). It’s the grace that I’ve been feeling since Glenn died that comes out of nowhere, it’s a profound connection to others for no reason at all, just love, just grace. I started crying and as the tears flowed down my face, I felt that deep connection of love that is there for all of us, the collateral beauty.