New Year! New Me? Ha! Not with PTSD

Russ Ware (left) and Grandpa Russ Ware (right) in an antique car museum
Russ and Gpa Russ at the Antique Car Museum of Iowa

Happy 2022 to everyone who celebrates such things. One of my favorite astrophysicists, Neil DeGrasse Tyson, says that “January 1 has no astrological significance.” That is pretty much how it felt here, too as with every year with my husband after injuries or deployments. It’s just a date.

In the past, Russ and I would celebrate across oceans and time zones, sometimes a half hour off. Yes, really. Afghanistan is nine-and-a-half hours ahead of the east coast, 10-and-a-half from Texas. It was wild trying to sync up schedules but I would never turn down a 3AM-my-time video chat. I am grateful we don’t have to contend with that any longer. But Russ being home hasn’t made the transition from 2021 to 2022 any easier. 

A few months ago, my sweetheart made the decision to start weaning from his PTSD medications because the side effects of those medications had become more problematic than the symptoms themselves. We knew that there might be some transition time so we planned for him to start weaning around the holidays, when I could take some time off work should added support be necessary. But life doesn’t care about calendars or strategic plans.

The fact is that the past few weeks have been especially difficult for us, not because of the medication weaning but because, on the cusp of the new year, my husband lost his grandfather. Russell Hubert Ware, the 99-year-old World War II Navy veteran and my husband’s namesake, was a kind and sweet man who loved his family and his country. He and my Russ had always been close. We are all still reeling. Death is never invited, especially during holiday time. We quickly transformed our well-crafted plan into Plan B. Baking cookies, playing with our kids as they enjoyed their new Christmas toys, and focusing on Russ’ PTSD medication taper were shelved as we recalibrated for funeral services, travel with young children across several states in a new pandemic surge, and unknown winter weather.

Under all that stress of planning lies the grief. Grief looks different in everyone, especially those who have survived a brain injury or who have experienced trauma. For my husband, his grief did not seem to affect him outwardly … at first. He kept his feelings to himself, as he does with most things. Part of keeping the demons at bay, he has told me, entails “feeling nothing, which means I don’t have to feel anything negative.” But the reality is, he was showing a brave face while continuing to believe that the medication numbed some of his emotions.

But his actions told another story. Like most of us, his executive function suffers under stress. Little actions like pushing in a chair, closing the refrigerator or cabinet door, or putting away laundry don’t register. Tiny things that when Russ is triggered, for lack of a better term, he just can’t seem to do without conscious effort or reminding. It is exhausting for us both. And it is not always something we can talk about without support from a friend or therapist. Above all, we try to keep our communication open and blame-free. It’s okay to not be okay.

Then we got hit with a snowstorm, and our daughters are hitting growth spurts and sleep regression, and the house is falling apart and … it never ends. Life doesn’t stop for grief. We, of all people, know this. So, we do the best we can. One day at a time. The knowledge that we love each other no matter what and will get through the next hurdle together is enough. Understanding this frees up a little more space to tell stories about his grandfather, to grieve alone and together.

Rest in peace, Grandpa. You will be greatly missed.