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Losing a Child: Always Andy's Mom

As a pediatrician, married mom of three biological children and one foster son, my life was busy, rushing off to my office four days a week, seeing patients for three and working as a medical director of a local physician organization for one. I balanced this with rushing off to shuttle my kids to after sports and other after school activities. All of this changed one day in August of 2018 when my 14 year old son, Andy, was killed in a car accident. I felt like my life was over, and in some ways it was over, and a new life was forced to begin in its place. 

Grief is seldom discussed openly in our culture, and the death of a child makes people feel even more uncomfortable. On this blog and podcast, ‘Losing a Child: Always Andy’s Mom’, the topic is approached openly and honestly, speaking to people who have lost loved ones and experts who help care for them. Whether you are a parent experiencing loss or someone who wants to support another going through this tragedy, this blog and podcast strives to offer hope and help.

Jan 16, 2020

'I think I'm going crazy. I'm going crazy. I am definitely going crazy!' 

These are the thoughts that would go through my head starting several weeks after Andy's death and peaking about 6 months afterward. Now, thankfully, these weren't actual voices that I was hearing, but that voice in my head, the one that used to motivate me to try something hard, was now always negative. I think that I used to start almost every conversation with my therapist along these lines.

"I am going crazy."

Her response: "You are not going crazy. I promise. This is completely normal."

Sometimes, I probably believed her, but other times, I would then think, 'But you don't know what is going on in my head. It may be normal to feel like you are going crazy, but I really am.'

I didn't feel like myself. I didn't act like myself. I felt like I no longer recognized myself. That must mean that I had completely lost it. I wondered if I would ever recover or if I would keep spiraling downward.

The good news is that the spiraling did stop, I did start to improve and actually began to realize that what I was truly feeling was a bombardment of emotions all at the same time. Initially, I had overwhelming sadness mixed with anger and then, numbness. Everything was too intense so my mind stopped trying to handle it all and replaced it with numbness. I would have moments where I would almost forget what had happened. That was my body's way of protecting me from what I could not handle.

Over time, though, I guess my brain thought I was stronger and that I could deal with more. That's when my mind started to feel all of those emotions, seemingly hundreds of emotions at the same time. I thought that this could not possibly be normal. As time was going on, I was feeling more, not fewer emotions, and, overall, worse, not better. Now, I realize this makes complete sense, but at the time, I did not. I actually was getting stronger. The emotions had been present all along, just tucked away, hidden until I could deal with them. My body just protected me until I could handle them better.

This topic is what Gwen and I discuss in today's episode, those emotions and the way they make us feel. These feelings are a normal part of the grieving process. This is why it is so helpful for grievers to be in community with each other. Hearing that others have similar struggles can help normalize them. Joining a support group or reaching out to people on social media can give that sense of community. Hopefully, I can help do that by allowing people to follow Always Andy's Mom on Facebook, Twitter or Instagram.

Just because experiencing these multitude of emotions are a normal part of grieving, however, does not mean that we should not get professional help. Remember my therapist above? I needed her to be able to reassure me every week, and to really ask those tough questions. I needed (and still need) someone from the outside who would tell me when she thought I should start or increase medication, to make sure I was getting enough sleep, and to tell me if/when I needed psychiatric help. It can, and does, help, and certainly, as grieving parents, we need all the help we can get.