When Fear Gives Way
“How are things going?” a friend asked.
I explained that I have been concerned about my husband Todd’s breathing. He’s been waking up with headaches, which could be a sign that his breathing strength has declined due to ALS. He might benefit from noninvasive ventilation, but doesn’t want to go in for testing.
“That’s terrifying,” she empathized.
I considered the descriptor. I have a lot of unpleasant emotions, but fear isn’t usually one of them. When Todd was diagnosed in 2010, I had overwhelming anxiety, but I don’t anymore.
Have I become numb? Perhaps. Uncertainty has become normal. I carry low-grade, nagging sadness. But I don’t feel fear.
Perhaps I am suppressing that emotion, or maybe fear gave way to weariness and resignation. What will be, will be.
An incident from last spring has stayed with me. I was driving my kids to school when I saw an accident scene ahead of me. Police lights were flashing where two cars had collided. I knew the teenage driver who had been on her way to school with her younger brothers. I pulled onto a side street and quickly walked over to them. “I’m a friend of the family,” I told the police officer. The kids seemed OK, although the driver was understandably shaken. I waited with them until their mom arrived. “Do you want me to take your boys to school?” I asked her.
“No. We’ll go home and make sure everyone’s all right,” she said.
Oh, right. Of course they wouldn’t be heading straight to school.
When something traumatic happens, normal people take time to process it. I am used to just pressing on. I give Todd the Heimlich maneuver at the dinner table, and then we continue on with conversation as though we hadn’t just experienced a life-threatening event. Is that warped?
Another incident also has stayed with me, from 20 years ago when I coordinated a tutoring program in Milwaukee’s inner city. Our staff was picking up kids from the neighborhood, and a boy with a gun tried to get on the bus. A teenage staff member, a girl who lived in the neighborhood, pushed him off and the bus driver sped away. It seemed like a terrifying situation, but the girl didn’t seem that shaken. She had grown up navigating through situations no kid should have to experience.
I may not be done with fear. I don’t know our future or how I will react to what lies ahead. Somehow, we keep going.
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