Today, I received notice from my CAO (Casualty Assistance Officer) that the Safety Report from Rhea’s death has finally arrived. All of the reports given to me, I have chosen to be filtered first through my CAO. I have the choice to have him or a general read through them with me, or have them hand-delivered, or sent certified mailed, etc. I always choose for them to go to him first. I ask him to review the documents and tell me if there is anything in them that I’m unaware of or that will take me off guard. He always gives it to me straight, but with an extreme level of sensitivity. This man, who has walked me through every difficult step of the military’s casualty process, probably knows me, and my thought process, better than I know myself. He has gone through every briefing with me, inventoried every personal item Rhea had overseas, walked me through funeral details, gone through incident reports, benefit packages, every single piece of paperwork, and answered my tireless amount of questions. He gets it and he gets me. He was given the task of walking me through the most difficult moments of my entire life.
When he called today and told me of the arrival of the report, he asked how I would like to proceed. I asked for him to review them and let me know of any standouts, in which he replied that he figured I would say that. About 45 minutes later I heard back from him. Where the reports are pretty straight forward of what I already have and know, he said that the only thing he saw that was going to be out of my current knowledge is that there are pictures of the site, Google Earth type pictures, but nonetheless, pictures. And it was in those words that took me crashing. Grief took the driver’s seat and wrapped it’s fingers around my airways, squeezing the breath out of me. My breathing shallowed, heart raced, limbs shook, and the walls came closing in on me.
There are different levels of pain that come with my grief. The pain I felt the day I was notified was Earth shattering. I can remember hysterically heaving with tears, but all other feelings were void to me. The level of pain is so high that my brain would not allow me to feel it. I was numb. I’ll call this Level 1. Most, but not all, of my Level 1 days were at the beginning, these are the days that leave a hole that absolutely nothing can fill.
Level 2 occurs after the shock wears off and your brain allows you to process what has occurred. This pain shakes you, leaves you helpless, and affects your normal processes of life. Ok, I have to breathe. Did I eat today? The physicalities of every day life are a chore. Things you don’t think of to do and automatically do, your brain can’t figure out to do them, because you are spending so much time processing this new information. There is no such thing as triggers at this point, because your mind is consumed with the grief of the knew knowledge. It damages the soul and leaves a scar that will ignite triggers later.
Then there is Level 3. I would say that after nearly a year and a half, I spend most of my time, now, at Level 3. This is “I can do life.“ There is always something that comes up, every single day that makes me think of him not being here that hurts and pushes it’s way up to the surface, but I can handle it. It leaves a mark, and yet I’ve done this so many days in a row now that I’ve learned how to live with this type of pain. Level 3 involves a lot of emotional ups and downs and triggers. Plus, you are normal enough that everyday life is a factor in this level, too.
Now, this is my own little theory of pain levels, and it only pertains to my grief. I have no idea if there are more levels yet, but I’m assuming that there are. If I look at all of my days and moments of grief as a whole, I can sum them up into these 3 different levels so far.
Today’s moment was a Level 2. I stopped remembering how to breathe and think. I caught myself holding my breath and couldn’t figure out why I couldn’t breathe. My hands and shoulders shook with tremors, my heart physically ached, and my mind went spinning. Hearing the words “pictures of the site” pushed me almost back to a Level 1, but not quite, because I could feel it. The tears streamed down my face and I tried to make sense of what was making me react so adversely.
Pictures. I’m going to see the place. I’m going to see where he was. I’m going to see the earth, the view of the land and the curves of the canal, the place that took him away from me. I have pictured the site. Dreamed very vivid dreams of the site, but in all actuality have no idea what it looks like. I never thought I would ever see it. All I’ve ever gotten were reports and other accounts from those who were there. But those views and those reports are not from the view of his wife. Would I have seen it differently, because of who he was to me and what it took from me? Probably.
And now, with this report, what I’ve pictured in my mind for well over a year is going to be altered with pictures. Do I want to see it? Of course I do. But, do I really? What will the new view do to me? Will I go backwards in my process? Will my anxiety attacks return? Will my sleep leave and nightmares replace peace? Or, will it do nothing? Will it help me move forward even more? Will it give me something I needed?
I have a few days to decide. I doubt there is anyway I will not look at the pictures of the area. I know it will consume my thoughts as I wait for the report to be in my hands. In the mean time, Level 2.