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When Grief Makes You Fear Losing Someone You Love Again

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Over 27 years ago my world was shattered in an instant by a careless driver that killed my fiancée Dana. Lately I have begun writing about how I have put the pieces of my life back together over the past quarter century.

As I have put my life back together, my amazing immediate family consists of my wife, Shelly, and my sons, Dylan and Taylor. I have a tremendous fear that I am going to lose them, like I lost Dana so long ago. It’s not a normal worry and concern that most have for their loved ones. At times it becomes an all-encompassing panic. I really hate the way it makes me feel when I am in the midst of it.

From the start of our relationship, whenever Shelly would drive somewhere, I would have a big pit in my stomach the entire time. I would try not to make it obvious as I did not want her to notice the depth of my anxiety, but I would always let out a big sigh of relief when she let me know that she had made it to her destination.

Five years ago, when Shelly was injured in a freak explosion in our home, my fear was amplified to a new level. The explosion knocked Shelly unconscious for approximately 20 minutes. We learned that 90 percent of those knocked unconscious never regain consciousness. We were told to consider ourselves very lucky that she lived through the accident. Her condition was so severe that she literally had to relearn to walk and talk again.

In these last five years we have learned to live a “new normal” in our house. For me, it has given me a lot of reason to reflect on all that I am grateful for. It has also reiterated that things can always get worse. We are so thankful that Shelly is still here with us. But I often think about how close we came to losing her. In those early days I would often tell myself: “I was right, it can and will happen again.”

As her caregiver, I fight the inclination to be in constant worry. I work hard to allow myself to be at ease and to be grateful for her progress. I have learned that her traumatic brain injury allows for a greater possibility for early onset of Alzheimer’s, Parkinson’s, etc. I know I cannot control any of this, but the fear of going through intense grief again consumes me at times.

Our oldest son, Dylan, started driving around the time of Shelly’s accident. We were living in the snowy Teton Mountains at the time. Sometimes we needed him to drive out of necessity, as Shelly was unable to drive at all during the first several months of her recovery. On nights that he would go out with the car, I would lie wide awake until he made it safe to our driveway. If he would get home later than normal, my mind would wander to a hypothetical, awful accident, and I would imagine the sheriff coming to our door to give us bad news. Sometimes the anxiety became so severe that I would need to go downstairs to keep Shelly from seeing the extent of my panic.

Seven months after Shelly’s accident, Dylan went away to the University of Utah in Salt Lake City. He did not take a car down there for his first two years, but I did worry plenty about him being on his own for the first time. Again, I did not want my excessive fear to be known, so I would text him at times (usually something about our mutual love of music), just for validation that he was OK. For his junior year, I brought down our Nissan Frontier for him to drive. Those next two years my anxiety was amplified! I never let him make the five hour drive home to Teton Valley, Idaho. Instead he would take the Salt Lake Express shuttle.

Now Dylan has graduated from college, he is living with us at our house in suburban Phoenix, Arizona. He is working in graphic design in downtown Phoenix, so he has an hour-long commute with lots of rush hour traffic each day. I am still on edge. But as I write this, I am happy to realize that my tension has gradually lessened over this past month or so.

Taylor, our youngest son, is a junior in high school and has had his driver’s license for over two years now. At 15 years old he got his license in rural Idaho, where there is not much traffic. A few months after getting his license we moved back to Arizona. The streets and freeways of Phoenix are wild with crowded, fast and unsafe driving. He is uneasy to do much driving on these chaotic streets. In one way I am relieved that he is not asking to be out on the road very often, but I also realize I am enabling him by constantly driving him anywhere he needs or wants to go. I do know that we need to encourage him to get out there more often and to get comfortable with city driving, but I have such fear about what can happen to him. I would much rather make an hour or two roundtrip drive for him than to be in panic and be imagining what could happen to him.

My goal for the next few months is to encourage him to do the driving more often (while I sit in the passenger seat). My hope is that I find the way to see that he is comfortable to drive himself often by time the next school year starts.

Starting to write recently has helped me come to the realization of some long-suppressed realities of my grief. I am realizing that I have felt a lot of guilt that Dana died alone and I was not there to help her when she needed me most. I have a deep-rooted fear that this will happen again, and I try to do all that I can to make sure that it doesn’t happen again.

I am encouraged that I am starting to understand the depth of why I feel certain ways and why I do the things that I do. A work in progress for sure, but I am heartened by my ability to recognize more about myself, as well as being encouraged with the progress that I am finally making.

Follow this journey here.

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Originally published: May 31, 2018
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