Replacing Flashbacks With Happy, Hopeful Images

Several weeks ago I drove to a meeting with friends.  It was an hour and a half drive and, to pass the time, I showed them my new affirmations book.  This led to a conversation about loss and grief, one of those sincere, gut-level moments that rarely come along.

“I was with my mother when she died,” a friend shared.  This painful “photo” stayed in her mind for years and she couldn’t get rid of it.  As time passed, however, the “photo” began to fade.  “Now I think of my mother in her garden and cooking in the kitchen,” she said wistfully.

Her comments made me think of my deceased daughter.  In 2007 she was severely injured in a car crash.  Her injuries were so severe a team of surgeons couldn’t save her.  The chief surgeon came out of the operating room to tell us our daughter was brain dead and invited us into the room to say goodbye.

We signed legal documents to stop life support and harvest her organs.  Time was important, because the organs had to be harvested when her body was still warm.  Our twin grandchildren came with us to say goodbye to their mother.  I was so worried about them I barely looked at my daughter and focused my eyes on them.  Still, I remember the essential details – my beautiful, brilliant daughter hooked up to life support machines that would soon cease.

Life had changed so suddenly, so drastically, I was in double shock.  But I didn’t have time to spend on worry and this flashback “photo.”  Two teenagers needed me and I wouldn’t fail them.  More than three years have passed since my daughter died.  The flashback image still comes to mind, but the times are few.  This sad image has been replaced by happy ones.

I see my grandchildren looking for whales from the top deck of an Alaskan cruise ship.  I see my grandson playing the trumpet in the marching band.  I see my gymnast granddaughter on the balance beam.  I see the twins dressed up for their senior prom.  The picture I see most often is a photo of the twins in their graduation robes.  They are looking directly at the camera and smiling.  For the first time in more than three years, they look truly happy, and I see hope in their eyes.

You maybe haunted by flashback “photos.”  How do you get rid of them?  I can only answer this question from my experience.  You accept the pain of grief, do your grief work, and set new goals.  In short, you jump back into life again.  New experiences create new “photos.”  Pick one and hold it in your mind for the sad moments that strike unexpectedly.

Focus on this picture and any others that give you hope.  Continue to collect happy “photos” and fill your mind with them.  Create a life album of happy images, happy times, and happy memories.

Harriet Hodgson

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Harriet Hodgson has been a freelancer for 38 years, is the author of 36 books, and thousands of print/Internet articles. She is a member of the Association of Health Care Journalists, Minnesota Coalition for Grief Education and Support, and Grief Coalition of Southeastern Minnesota. In 2007 four of her family members died—her daughter (mother of her twin grandchildren), father-in-law, brother (and only sibling), and the twins’ father. Multiple losses shifted the focus of Hodgson’s work from general health to grief resolution and recovery, and she is the author of eight grief resources. Hodgson has appeared on more than 185 radio talk shows, including CBS Radio, dozens of blog talk radio programs, and dozens of television stations, including CNN. In addition to writing for Open to Hope, Hodgson is a contributing writer for The Grief Toolbox website, and The Caregiver Space website. A popular speaker, she has given presentations at public health, Alzheimer’s, hospice, grief, and caregiving conferences. Hodgson’s work is cited in Who’s Who of American Women, World Who’s Who of Women, Contemporary Authors, and other directories. For more information about this busy wife, grandmother, author and family caregiver, please visit www.harriethodgson.com.

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