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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.

Jun 2, 2022

I have to admit that before I lost Andy and started this podcast, I did not think much about the importance of caring for grieving people. You might have thought that this would have been a big focus that I had as a physician having lost my own mom when I was in college, but it truly was not. When my mother was dying, the medical team really did not do a great job supporting her or us, but at the time, I thought this was an aberration. Certainly, most hospital staff did a better job. Our experience was not typical.

It turns out, however, our experience with my mom was actually quite typical. Thinking back through all of my own medical training, I never really was shown how to truly be present for dying people and how to support their families after the death occurs. In fact, aside from a role playing exercise on ‘giving bad news’ early on in medical school, I can’t remember any other conversation about showing support to grieving people. As I talk with more and more bereaved parents, I saw how rare it truly was for medical professionals to show a little humanity in these dark times. People feel like they need to ‘stay professional,’ but they do not realize that to a newly bereaved patient, this professionalism just seems cold and uncaring.

This caused Gwen and I to embark on a new mission together to help educate medical professionals in this area. Caring for grieving people may come naturally to some, but for many, this is difficult. Our society tends to shy away from talking about grief. We want to help them feel more comfortable being in this dark space with a family. Families don’t expect us to be able to fix everything; sometimes not running away is the best thing we can do. Today, Gwen and I talk about our initial efforts in this area.

The second half of the podcast today is more personal. This past month has been extremely hard for me. It started with the days before Andy’s 18th birthday, has extended through graduation ceremonies honoring Andy, and finally next week, we will have a camp building dedication in his honor. The tears have come daily again - honestly, multiple times per day. At times, it actually feels like I am back there again in the early days of grief. Honoring Andy has been in the words of an upcoming guest, ‘excruciatingly beautiful.’ I love that they are honoring him, but at times, the pain feels almost like it is too much to bear.

It may seem odd in a way to put these two topics together in one podcast episode, but I realize that the overall theme is the same - caring for grieving people. The first portion is how I as a medical professional want to help other medical professionals care for grieving people. The second is actually about how my community continues to offer care to me and my entire family. As we come closer to the 4 year mark of Andy’s death, there are times when I feel my little family and I are the only people who still remember my boy, but over the last month, I have been reminded again and again, that his life affected far more people than I would have ever thought possible. These ceremonies, as painful as they are show me that Andy has not been forgotten.