Triggers, The Opposite of Grief, and #PTSD


Courtesy of Zimbio and Getty Images


The World Trade Center September 11th Memorial was very emotional.  I sat and watched the reading of the names of the fallen with sadness but control.

As the moment of silence came and went I was still feeling sorrowful, but it was not until Paul Simon played “The Sound of Silence” that I really broke down.  I thought it was the emotion of the song, but I

later reflected a bit more and found a distinct trigger for my emotion: other people crying.  The people crying in the crowd pulled the chords on my grief.

The Past

I can see her face in my nightmares.  We have just told her that her husband is dead.  My track killed him.  She wails and scratches her face.  She throws dirt on herself sobbing loudly.  We left the body with the family in a neat black bag and drive away.  It has been eight years and the effect of pulling the trigger will never leave me.  She is crying uncontrollably…


“Mister, save my brother.” The Iraqi man pleads with me.

I am in my angry zone.  There is work to do.  No time for compassion, just work.

“Mister!”, he puts his hand on my shoulder trying to stop me.  I glare at him with an evil a look as I have ever put on.

I pause and look at the man laying at the foot of the steps in front of me.

Our aid station has been flooded with victims of a suicide car bomb.  The hospital is over capacity.  We have half a dozen medics.  It is an all hands triage meaning even our grease monkey mechanics are giving IV’s.  I am making piles.  Who will live.  Who will die.

The man’s brother is missing an arm and a leg.

“He is going to die.” I say bluntly to the Iraqi.

“Put him in the bad pile! NOW! And get this haji off the steps.” I bark at a mechanic pointing to the man pleading with me.

“Please Mister! Please!”  The man is now crying.  I ignore him.

There is a burnt child laying next to him.  On to the next casualty…


The Opposite of Grief

Split seconds and life or death decisions brought out the ice cold version of myself.  No time for nice.  No time for anything except execution.  I could see myself operating outside of myself.  It was better to see it than convince myself I was actually acting that way.  Seething anger was the only way to get through it.  The opposite of grief which my soul was screaming to pay attention to was anger.  Cold calculating execution methodically spurned by adrenaline and anger.

Full Circle

The memorial of 9-11 gave me time and experience to think about those days.  A woman who was crying during Paul Simon’s rendition of “Sounds of Silence” confirmed that I feel so much more when an image shows a person crying.  I think it is from all that repression for all these years.

Seeing others cry is hard for me.  It is a very vicious routine in my family in that we are all sympathetic criers.  One gets started, we all go.

I have written about bottling it up before.  I think that identifying this trigger will help me focus and feel the emotion but not be consumed.  I know it is not the only trigger, but there are a handful of them that I can lay my finger on and prepare for, or at least recover from quickly.


One thought on “Triggers, The Opposite of Grief, and #PTSD

  1. Eric Balough

    This week a co-worker of mine died from slipping and hitting his head while at home. He was somewhere in his mid-50’s incredibly well respected by everyone at the agency, well known for being a talented analyst, and generally wonderful person to be around.

    I had my first real conversation with him the week prior about the new Army policy governing the five-finger running shoes. So, I didn’t know him well.
    But his sudden and unexpected death hit me like a ton of bricks. Next Friday, it will be eight years since my dad died, and I can’t help but relive the grief that my co-workers’ family is feeling.

    Today is his funeral, and a few of my other colleagues asked me if I would be there. I can’t. After having been to so many funerals of dead friends and Soldiers, and the circumstances being such a reminder of my own dad’s passing, I know that I can not handle it.

    For some of the folks that I work with, this may seem like a cop out. But to the other vets whom the casualty lists also include a list of their own friends, I think they understand. Since I didn’t know my co-worker well, I also didn’t want to feel like I was intruding upon a private family moment. They don’t need gawkers, they need people who know their loved one well enough to say something more than “He was a really swell guy.”

    I don’t handle death well anymore. I think these days, I almost try to inure myself from the personal effects by keeping myself busy and not stopping to deal with it.

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