I never quite understood what people meant when they said they had a panic attack. I remember thinking, “Oh, it’s all made up in your head. You can control it.” I imagined an anxiousness and fear, but had no idea how debilitating it could be until I became a widow and it happened to me!
It actually happened to me on more than one occasion. You can read about another time, in my book, A Widow’s Pursuit. I think it’s a natural part of the grief process. Many of our emotions are out of our control. It’s not something we make up in our heads. Our emotions take over and panic is the only way out!
During my first year of widowhood, I preferred to socialize with my closest friends and family. I didn’t want to go to big parties or gatherings. And I really didn’t want to meet new friends. The friends I had were my comfort. They understood me and took care of me and my daughters like we were their own.
Before my husband died, I had been part of a monthly social gathering called “Bonco” with 12 other moms. A couple of them were my close friends, but most of them were acquaintances through my children’s school and neighborhood. I had been gone for over 5 months since my husband died and decided it was time to at least finish the last 2 months of my commitment.
“I’m so glad you’re back!” Rita embraced me as I entered her home. “Help yourself to coffee and refreshments.” I anxiously searched for my close friends, Angela and Carol. Heading into the kitchen, I spotted Angela talking to a mutual friend. “Hey girl!” Angela hugged me. “We’re talking about Halloween sneaking up.” A lump formed in my throat thinking of the approaching holidays.
“Okay, everyone’s here,” announced Rita from her living room. “Let’s find a table and get started.” I found Carol so we sat together. I volunteered to be the scorekeeper so that I’d have something to do and not have to think of something to say. “Let me put some background music on.” Rita walked over to the shelf above her stereo. “Where’s my Kenny G, Breathless, CD?”
NO! My heart beat faster. SHE CAN’T PUT THAT ON! I PLAYED THAT CD EVERY DAY ON THE WAY TO SEE NELSON IN THE HOSPITAL!! I clenched my teeth and my body stiffened. PLEASE! NO! DON’T FIND IT! I DON’T KNOW WHAT I’LL DO! I couldn’t say a word. The pressure inside my chest, as my heart pounded, felt like it was about to explode.
“Here it is. I found it.” Rita nonchalantly put it on. The moment it began, the instrumental sounds affected me like jabs in my chest. An adrenalin rush of anxiety made my pulse race as I started to tremble. I CAN’T THINK! I CAN’T DO THIS! I CAN’T MOVE! I froze. I looked up. Three puzzled faces stared back. HELP ME! SOMEONE! Nothing came out of my mouth. I felt trapped. Like being chased in a dream, and I couldn’t scream.
“What’s the matter, Cindy?” Carol put her hand over mine. I HAVE TO TELL HER, SOMEHOW! My shaking hands were now noticeable. “This song…please….take it off,” I stammered while my body quivered. “I can’t…hear it.” Rita jumped up and rushed over to remove it. Carol stayed by my side holding my hand. Abruptly the music stopped. “I’m sorry, it reminded me of Nelson.” I breathed easier as my heartbeat slowed down.
“How long has it been?” Rita’s mom asked me. “Almost six months,” I said. “It will get easier,” she replied.