This is Happening

Author: Sarah Greene

I accomplished what I have been aiming to do for the last ten years. Since my husband died in 2004, it has been my main focus. I got both kids off to college. In the midst of raising them as a single parent, fighting to overcome their "at risk" status, investing hours on long talks about missing dad and wishing dad were still here, acknowledging the anger, facing the "I don't knows",  trying to be supportive, being both parents, and loving them through every single step. Through it all, my constant aim was to get them to college. Then I could dissolve. Both bright and amazing kids made it there and I am still intact. Of course, I experienced a small hiccup when I took my youngest off to college this fall.

Sarah Greene and kids

We traveled more than halfway across the country. We loaded his room with essentials and attended new student seminars and meetings. He went off to an orientation camp while I faced the college VA Affairs representative to explain the various scholarships my son was "lucky" enough to receive. These unique scholarships were being offered because his dad died in service. I decided to meet with the VA rep because I figured the college might not be familiar with these specific scholarships. They weren't.

So, there I was, sitting in the VA Affairs office facing a Marine at his desk. It had been an emotional few days getting my son settled in, while hoping he would make friends and like this next life experience. All the while, we were aware of this missing man in our formation. We all had the same thought: "Dad should be here." As I sat there, the weight of the 1" thick folder on my lap registered in my mind and I realized it was no comparison to the sudden weight on my chest. A lump developed in my throat....  I looked at the Marine and a physical chain of events began that I could not stop. The emotional stress of the last ten years reached a culmination in that moment in the VA Affairs office. Before I could release the words; "I want to explain ...." the tears started.... And they came easily and irrepressibly and I could not stop them. I am not one to cry openly and I can usually stifle emotions, but I kind of gave up that day and surrendered.  All I could think was:  "THIS IS HAPPENING..." So I cried and tried to apologize. I used my shirt to wipe my nose and cried some more. The poor Marine just looked helpless and grasped clumsily among his desk papers as though to offer me one to wipe my tears. (No tissues in a Marine's office!) I kept apologizing between bouts of wanting to release real sobs, and he kept apologizing and saying he was so sorry for our loss.  I would try to explain the scholarships then cry some more, back and forth this went for a few minutes. I never really gathered myself together the entire time I was in his office- which was not long because I needed to get out of there. I kept wondering what he was wondering about me. Probably thought I was a crazy mother... which I am.  However, I knew as I left the office, puffy eyed mess that I was, I would some day laugh about it.

A few weeks ago, I was lucky to spend a weekend with some of my survivor buddies. I relayed the story of my breakdown in the VA Affairs office at my son's college. I was able to laugh about it and share the story with humor. I explained that all I could think was: "THIS IS HAPPENING...". We all laughed because we have all been there and this phrase is a fairly accurate way of acknowledging when a grief trigger occurs. You just can't stop it. During that weekend, we started to use this phrase when plans went awry, if there was a challenge, or a fitting time to bring it up. Usually said in a sing songy voice with a lilt at the end:  "this is happening....".

Yup, it has been ten years and there have been trials and tribulations a plenty... there will be many more for sure. Now, I have a catch phrase that describes that moment when I have hit the point of no return and grief comes knocking. I will share my "THIS IS HAPPENING..." stories with my buddies... and I hope my future breakdowns can lead to breaking up again.

By Sarah Greene, surviving spouse of LtCol David Greene