Touched by loss. Empowered through community.

I feel like I have been through a war….

Tuesday, May 13, 2014
Posted By: 
Susan Donatello

When I lost my husband, Joe, over 5 years ago, it happened very quickly.  He collapsed, I called 9-1-1 and I was trying to resuscitate him while waiting for the paramedics to come.  I watched the paramedics also try to revive him and load him into the ambulance.  By the time we got to the hospital, he was already gone.  As I was trying to handle my grief, I didn’t realize how the ambulance and paramedics affected me.

Since then, there have been many situations where I see an emergency arise – either in real life or even on TV – that I start to feel like I am having panic attack.  I remember one specific afternoon during the summer on a really hot day.  We were at a local suburban street festival and I saw an older man that almost fainted and had to sit down.  Two EMT’s came over to help him and walked him to the first aid tent.  It seemed like a very minor situation but as I watched this, I started to hyperventilate and get really shaky.  My head started spinning and I had to sit down.  This same reaction has happened many times since then.  When I see emergency personnel rush into a situation, it triggers my memories of the night that Joe died.

It took me a long time to realize that my physical reactions are a form of Post-Traumatic-Stress-Disorder.    A light-bulb went off in my head - I thought I had discovered something unusual.  I had heard of PTSD but I thought it only affected to individuals who had been involved in war or combat situations.  I thought that this response could not apply to me but then I started to “google” this idea.  One description of PTSD that I read states that we feel a physical response to a traumatic event that involved intense fear, horror or helplessness. … Let’s see:  intense fear (yes), horror, (yes), and helplessness (yes). That is definitely what I felt in the moments before Joe died – and after.

I shared “my discovery” recently with a few other widow friends of mine and they felt the same way. They had experienced a sudden death of their husbands and they had similar feelings and symptoms as I did.  They had even pursued forms of therapy attributed to helping to recover from PSTD.

Some of you may have already made this discovery, some of you may still be too newly widowed and can’t even process this, and for some of you, this may not apply.  Regardless, I do feel that all of have been through a personal war and we are survivors from the battlefield of grief.


Great post, Susan. I also experienced PSTD and it took a long time to differentiate between my grief and trauma. Studies show that around 20 percent of widow(er)s meet criteria for PSTD, although this estimate seems low. Hospital patients, especially those who've been in ICUs, also experience higher rates of trauma. It's not a condition I'd wish on anyone. Thanks for sharing.

Add new comment