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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 18, 2024

When Melissa's youngest daughter, Chelsea, died of an accidental prescription drug overdose, Melissa was devastated. In an instant, her baby was gone and she did not know what to do with her life. She had never faced anything like this and felt overwhelmed. Then, only a week after Chelsea died, Melissa became the full-time caretaker of her younger brother in the end stages of liver failure.

I wondered what was going through her family's mind when Melissa took her brother in. What came to my mind was the phrase, 'time heals all wounds.' I think that Melissa and her family thought that it would be likely good for her to keep busy. Caring for her brother full-time would do just that. By keeping busy, time would go by, and Melissa would miss Chelsea less and less. Given enough time, Melissa would simply heal.

Unfortunately, that was completely wrong. Time did not heal Melissa at all. In fact, 3 1/2 years after Chelsea's death, Melissa found herself in her doctor's office explaining that she thought she was worse in her grief now than she had ever been in the early days. She ignored her grief and stuffed it in a box, and instead of shrinking in size, it had grown.

The phrase, 'time heals all wounds' is one that has irritated me over these last 5 years so I decided to look up the origin of this much-hated phrase. It turns out, however, that I (and most other people) have been misinterpreting it completely. I thought that the saying meant that "only time is needed to heal wounds" which is, of course, completely untrue. Melissa experienced this first-hand. What is meant by 'time heals all wounds' is that 'it takes time for all wounds, mental or physical, to heal and it is important to remember that recovery is a process.'

I have spent years complaining about the use of this phrase, when, in fact, I just had the wrong definition. Time is not the only thing needed to heal wounds. Hard work brings healing. A supportive community brings healing. Therapy and spirituality bring healing. There is no quick fix to grief. It is a long, painful journey. Many things are required to heal, but time is one thing that is a necessity.