Good News that Stumbles

Four Columbian children were found yesterday, forty days after they survived a plane crash that killed their mother and two others. The fierce, unimaginable trauma visited upon those children during their ordeal may one day be revealed in their own words. Though I cannot claim to have been through any experiences as horrendous as theirs, I think I might have a sense of how they experienced time during what must have seemed like an endless nightmare.

Eight days before my wife died, I began my blog with these words:

Some hours and minutes speed by, while others have the earmarks of extraordinarily slow motion, inching along as if time were trapped in a viscous jelly. The difference between the two sensations of time is impossible for me to capture in words. Only by imagining how it might feel—to quickly empty the air from one’s lungs and then slowly fill them again with congealed air—can one get a sense of how such days unfold. The excruciating, impossibly slow moments feel like one must gasp for oxygen. When moments alternate between the fiction of warp speed and the reality of geologic time, the experience defines fatigue in physical terms.

Later in the day, a few hours after I wrote the post that began with those words, my wife was moved from her hospital room to another floor of the hospital, the floor dedicated to in-patient hospice care. My memories of that day, and subsequent days, are hazy. Only by reading what I wrote can I reconstruct—and, then, only partially—what I experienced in the days that followed. I suspect the children rescued from the Columbian jungle will experience similar difficulty in recalling exactly what they went through. Their experiences, though, lasted longer than mine. Though, as I think back on it, mine lasted just as long as my wife’s experiences lasted; roughly five months. And though my experiences were agonizingly painful, they could not compare to what my wife must have gone through during that time. I suspect the children must have relived—over and over and over again—the experience of the plane crash and their mother’s resulting death. And they will relive those forty horrible, terrifying days for the rest of their lives. I’ve read that children tend to blame themselves for the traumas they experience; like erroneously taking responsibility for parental divorce, familial infighting, and other kinds of anguish, those kids may harbor guilt for the death of their mother, even though they were not even remotely to blame. I hope they will be given counseling and other forms of mental health treatments; treatments that might enable them to successfully deal with the experience and overcome feelings of unearned guilt.


Even “good” news like the rescue of those Columbian children can tear one’s emotions to shreds. Such news can begin an otherwise decent day with an excruciating sense that randomness can override what might seem the natural, positive order of life. “There but for the grace of God go I…” I remember my mother speaking those words on more than one occasion, expressing both gratitude and compassion in the same sentence. She was not an especially religious person—perhaps just as areligious as I—but those words seemed better than others to express gratitude for being spared by “the universe” for experiencing unendurable pain. It’s odd, I think, that memories sometimes emerge from the depths of one’s psyche, correlating current experiences with moments one assumes have long-since been forgotten.


After reading about those “fortunate” Columbian children this morning, I explored ideas about trauma expressed by other people…some of whom I know of, others I do not. This quotation gives me reason to be concerned about what will happen to those kids’ psychological lives in the months and years ahead:

The effects of unresolved trauma can be devastating. It can affect our habits and outlook on life, leading to addictions and poor decision-making. It can take a toll on our family life and interpersonal relationships. It can trigger real physical pain, symptoms, and disease. And it can lead to a range of self-destructive behaviors.

   ~ Peter A. Levine ~

I should not have done the research. Levine’s words do not leave me with hopeful feelings. Perhaps I should look for something else that might improve my outlook.


I have to shake this. I brought it on myself by succumbing to emotional triggers. Yet wanting to shake it seems wrong, in some ways. I deserve this emotional turmoil; I could have shut it off by reading something else. Something uplifting. It’s almost as if I meant to wreck my mood. The lyrics to a song come to mind: “You can get addicted to a certain kind of sadness.” And I suppose it’s true.

About John Swinburn

"Love not what you are but what you may become."― Miguel de Cervantes
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