Posted by: Jody Glynn Patrick | 04/29/2014

“My child died two years ago. When will this torture end?”

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It’s been two years since Anna lost her son and, like a mother who recently posted a comment on this site detailing a host of physical and psycho-social dysfunctions long after the loss of her son, Anna is stuck in the bottomless mire of her grief.

While a bereaved parent never “gets over it”, most do eventually assimilate the loss of a child, regaining a sense of a new normal over time that accommodates a bearable routine and even laughter and joy. It isn’t a moving on, but rather a moving beyond, and it’s a biological response – this resilience. Without the ability to sustain and survive intense mental trauma, without the hope of the pain becoming physically bearable one day, the human race would have snuffed itself out long ago, after historic cycles of influenza or famine. Pioneer mothers, we know, were lucky if three of ten children reached maturity, and they loved their children no less than we do. Bereaved parents can endure. Eventually.

To do that, we establish and eventually find comfort in the new world we create out of our chaos. A parent eventually may be shocked to realize that a day passed – and then days — without tears or even a thought of the deceased child. That’s as natural as if the child had established their own life, moved out of our house, and beyond the confines of daily contact. Eventually we allow ourselves to live without guilt for living when our child is dead – that’s what it amounts to — and this adaptability, too, is biologically necessary for our mental survival.

I have explained the mechanics of bereavement to Anna, but it is of little comfort. Anna cannot yet imagine a life without her son, and certainly she cannot imagine enjoying a night at the theater ever again – something she much enjoyed in her past. Before the crisis, she performed in many community theater projects. No more. A woman who can hardly pull herself out of bed, who suffers now from a litany of unexplained aches and pains, and who sees no reason to live on beyond the obligations of raising a surviving daughter, will not be able to find the energy or focus to go to rehearsals to learn lines of a play that seems silly and even meaningless now, in the scope of things.

Instead, she daily reviews her victimhood status and all of the wrongs that she has endured. Anna now pairs her sorrows – big, small, it doesn’t matter – with people to hold accountable, to explain her pain, and so she no longer trusts anyone. She’s lost faith in God, faith in her family, faith in friends, and even faith in herself. Even I have a hard time reaching her – the one person she has come to admitting she needs help.

Your grief might have mirrored Anna’s grief at one time, but you’ve managed it. Unfortunately, Anna suffers from a condition known as Prolonged Grief Disorder, which means she’s suffering from severe grief symptoms lasting longer than six months, and she is literally stuck – and likely will remain stuck without clinical help. Her focus is laser sharp on her loss. Symptoms include severe depression and circular thinking – she can’t concentrate on anything beyond the loop replaying in her head — sleep deprivation followed by sleeping for extended periods, and irritability with the world at large.

Antidepressants have not helped at all; she pines for her son as if he died yesterday, and her bitterness is sharp for other family members whom she irrationally holds accountable for the separation in some way in which even she cannot explain or fathom. The disorder is isolating her from the people she could most depend on for comfort.

Her disorder also is isolating her from hopes of recovery because she cannot establish a new normal until she finds the strength to let go of the old normal – the world where she felt secure and grounded, before she was uprooted and dumped somewhere else, without a map or GPS to get back. She’s been told her former life no longer exists, but her mind can’t accept it. All she knows is the desire to return to… to a world that no longer exists. A world in which her son is still alive.

Anna really believes that life holds no meaning or purpose, and she’s agitated because she has the responsibility to ease her daughter’s pain when she sees no point to encouraging her dreams. Anna no longer thinks her daughter’s interests are interesting or important, and she now holds her daughter up to the saintly status the son achieved in death – and the daughter falls short, for which Anna cannot forgive the child.

Anna’s condition makes her more susceptible to cancer, hypertension, anxiety, depression, suicidal ideation, self-medicating with drugs or alcohol or overuse of prescription drugs, and sleep impairments. “Drug addiction is the least of my worries,” she says and she’s right. I’m far more worried about the seduction of suicide in her case.

Anna’s condition is not yet condoned as an insurable diagnosis, but I expect that to change, since drugs like Paroxetine are showing some promise for Prolonged Grief Disorder, and clinical researchers are exploring new psychotherapy treatments. My role is to be a bridge to the most effective and affordable help we can find; someone who specializes in the treatment of traumatic stress disorder, and can bill an insurance company accordingly.

Meanwhile, I posted the comments of another bereaved parent, as I said, who shows similar symptoms. She follows this blog, meaning she’ll be emailed this entry.  I asked Anna if I could share her story with all of you as a cautionary tale, in the hopes of reaching that woman, too.

What I want to say, with Anna’s help, is that it’s not uncommon to feel like you are drowning in grief, but the reality is that some people do drown in it. Reach out while you still have the strength to trust someone on shore to throw you a lifeline –and then accept the help.

As Winston Churchill advised, “When you’re going through hell, keep on going.” Don’t stop to sniff the rot. This isn’t what your child wanted for you — to hurt and not stop hurting. This isn’t a memorial, it’s a nightmare.

 

 


Responses

  1. Thank you so much for sharing. It would be so easy to be a statistic, but having a family who loves me, friends who have hung in there with me, and most of all a God who carries me in the palm of His hand, I am truly blessed. My son would not want me to lose my life because He is gone from this plane, but is alive and well on another one. I’ll see him when it’s time.

  2. I can relate. It’s been 4 years since my 30 year old son passed and I have complicated grief. I can understand exactly how she is feeling. She is me.

  3. This is an excellent & heartfelt post on a very difficult aspect of grief. I hope any parent reading this will get help if needed. I realized one day after my son died that I had to make a choice as to whether to let his death destroy me or to go on with my life. I had lost my will to live. I have not made peace with every aspect of Chris’ death, but I have managed to move beyond, even though I still get counseling. I believe getting over your child’s death is not something you can do alone. Please draw done deep within yourself to take that first step and reach out for help.

    • I can relate to what each parent is saying. I, too, have been stuck at times, but I am seeing a Stephen Minister at my church. She is actually a trained social worker and if it hadn’t been for her counseling, I don’t know where I’d be today. Today has been a sad day for me, but I’m going to counseling this afternoon and I’ll be all right. Just one day at a time, I’ll make it. Gary would want me to be okay. He loved me before his heart attack and passing and he loves me now.

  4. Jody, thank you for publishing this article and for sharing Anna’s story. What you refer to as “prolonged grief disorder” has also been now termed “complicated grief” which is most commonly diagnosed in cases where someone has experienced either a loss due to violent means or the death of a child. For many of us who connect on your site, we have experienced the compounding effect of the violent death of our child, which leads us to a long, torturous path of recovery through a complicated grief period. My actual diagnosis is Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder and resultant Major Depressive Disorder (MDD), but I honestly believe what has been labelled in my case as MDD is actually “Complicated Grief” due to Lindsay’s violent, premeditated, first-degree stalking and murder. I believe the American Compendium of Psychiatric Disorders last year either proposed or decided to include Complicated Grief as a bonafide psychiatric disorder or condition. If I am correct, this should help many of us on this site qualify for support or help for this medical condition. I encourage some of you on this site who may recognize yourselves in the description Jody provides to not be afraid to challenge your physicians and tell them you may be experiencing Complicated Grief or Prolonged Grief Disorder. If you don’t point this out to them, they may not do their research and realize that in fact you have a known disorder that is becoming more widely accepted as something treatable for which you need support.

    At the end of the day, I guess it matters not what we call it, but that we recognize that we are justifiably wounded by the profound loss of our beloved children, and that we need whatever time it takes to heal in our own ways and timelines. The label at the end of the day doesn’t really matter.

    Thanks for a great article bringing this forward, Jody.

  5. Alison, thank you for a GREAT comment and encouragement to parents who would most benefit from being their own advocate at a time when they have the least reserves to do so. Your encouragement may be just the fuel they need. I think the condition was proposed but it was not yet included due to push back from people who argued that a whole segment of normally grieving people would likely be over-medicated at great cost — i.e., I think the pushback is originating with insurance lobbyists. I’ll keep my eyes on this to let our readership know if the condition, by whatever name, gains the status it should have and the funding to better enable people to get more immediate help. Meanwhile, going in under the PTSD label is a way to get help NOW, and it’s reasonable.

  6. I was Ann six years ago…and some days I still am. I asked my therapist how long the grief would remain sharp and she thought for a moment and answered, “Three years.” I do believe that she pulled that number from thin air to provide a some hope and reassurance. It took a little longer, but slowly, with the help and love of family and friends and, for a while, with some pretty powerful sleeping pills, a corner was turned. My daughter fought so hard to live and to be strong for her little girl, suicide would have been a real affront to her memory. Please hang on Ann – it can get a little better by degrees.

    • Mary, I know how you feel. It’s been 16 months since Gary went to Heaven. Some days I have such a hard time and still cry often. Some days I still wake up with the sick feeling that Gary is really gone, but some days are not so harsh. I miss him terribly and our family still is reeling from his loss, but some days I can be grateful that I got to be the mother of such an extraordinary human being, He left behind a precious wife and two amazing adult children and one little grandchild and we just found that there’s another on the way. I can’t wait to see if the new baby looks like him. Today is one of the days that I can feel blessed. Grief never goes away, but gets softer, just softer.

      • Mary Chris, It has been 15 years since the violent death of my son Chris. You put it very well that “grief never goes away, but gets softer, just softer.” With the deaths of my son and husband so close together, I have no doubt I have either PTSD or complicated grief. I am glad this is a recognized diagnosis now. I will explore this further with a therapist I will be seeing who is certified in trauma. My grief is softer but still I find I need to explore it at times to keep me on track and to be able to accomplish what I need to have a meaningful life. I also need it to be good to myself and take care of myself physically and emotionally. This is a challenge for all of us to eat healthily, exercise, socialize and keep faith and hope.

  7. My heart breaks for Anna. Time does not completely heal all wounds and this is one. I am only 9 months on the other side of this devastating loss and I can relate to Anna’s struggle. Unlike the pioneers, we currently do not live in a society where it’s common for people to lose their child. I have had to search the internet for others who share this horrific loss. We also live in a fast paced, feel good, get over yourself society.

    As grieving parents, under the FMLA, our jobs are not even protected. Yet both parents are covered under this Act when our children are born, but not to tragically mourn.

    A woman in my support group said she told someone “I am grieving as fast as I can.” I carried my beautiful youngest daughter for 9 months, and had her here in my life for almost 28 years. I have set no unrealistic goal of when I will be over it and resent the family and friends who are incredulous that after 9 months, I am still grieving. The cliches such as “new normal” irritate me. There is nothing normal about living without your child. There is no way to evaluate us as a group. Our circumstances and relationships are all unique yet we share a common similar pain in our hearts as we continue on without our beloved child. Our journey is not easy. The world keeps on turning and I find it hard to keep up. My heartfelt sympathy to Anna.

    • Thank you Dee, for sharing. I’m so sorry for your loss. I’ve been following your blog closely. We are only 6 months out from the sudden loss of our beautiful daughter. She was only 30. I’m trying to get the energy to go to a Compassionate Friends support group.

      • Kathy, I am truly so sorry. Nothing in life prepares us to out live our child. Yes, one person can be that important in another person’s world. It hurts so much.

  8. Two things really stand out in this article/testimony that are very disturbing to me. One is that if you are still suffering with deep grief after 6 months that you are to believe that you have, and or to be diagnosed with, “complicated or prolonged grief” as if grieving beyond 6 months is abnormal. Six months is nothing in the loss of your child to death. I am into my second year of grief and I can tell you the second year is much harder than the first as the adrenaline and numbness wears off and friends have dissipated. A mother will grieve the loss of her child for much much much longer than 6 months and I know now that it will be through a constant cycle that will not be quite so harsh, as often, as the years go by.

    The second thing that I find disturbing is the “medicating.” Psych drugs can take away your function to feel your emotions normally, and so much more. I believe that grief is prolonged and becomes “stuck” when you are not going through the natural normal grieving processes. Another thing about psych drugs for depression and grief or PTSD are not supposed to be used indefinitely or for life but only a few months (if helping) to help someone who absolutely cannot survive without this type of intervention accompanied by intense therapy and regular/weekly observation/ blood testing/monitoring by your physician while on these drugs. I do, however, believe that a good grief counselor can be absolutely essential.

    I have been watching my Iraq war vet son and his comrades for 8 years with sever combat PTSD and the grieving of fallen, severely disabled comrades, and what they all went through – and all the medicating the VA does with them all. Many are committing suicide after being put on the drugs. Most did not have suicidal ideations before the psych drugs but anxiety and trouble sleeping and concentrating after getting back. Most get much worse and new symptoms after being placed on the drugs.

    If you seek out a psychiatrist in order to diagnose you with something and prescribe psych drugs you will find many ready and eager to do so. It is a business to many of them and to the pharmaceutical companies who give them kickbacks for writing prescriptions for their drugs and supply them with free samples to get you started on. There is a way to check a doctors relationship with pharmaceutical companies that can be very helpful in determining whether your doctor gets “rewarded” by the pharm’s for prescribing their brand of drugs. You should also do your own research on any drug someone wants to put you on. If a doctor tries to deny or to persuade you to just ignore information that is negative but verifiable and medically documented then I would run the other way. A grief counselor is not a psychiatrist. A good grief counselor is good but the best is to find other grieving moms who are nearby that you can talk to and get together with. They are really the only ones who truly understand and help the most.

    The truth is, this torture in grieving for your child will never end, it will only soften with time. Lots of time. And support from others who are actually living through it, like on these blogs and forums for grieving moms, and at a mom’s grief group where you live. It is other grieving moms that are our proof that we CAN make it through this journey and that we are normal in what we feel and think through the process. Thank you for this blog.

  9. This article has some inaccuracies in it. After losing a child I don’t think that after six months they can be called prolonged grief. I, too, suffered for 5 to 6 years before I got to the point where I could live my new normal. I do not think that it was neurotic. I have been a chapter leader for a Bereaved parents support group and the normal is 4 to 6 years before feeling better. Please don’t place this grief into the category of other types of grief. They are not the same.

    • Laraine, the suffering may never end. “Prolonged grief” isn’t about normal grief or even the depth of grief following a deeply traumatic incident; it is a clinical description of a grief process in which the person literally cannot function after six months time — it doesn’t refer to the drop to your knees grief we all have experienced. This is a life-threatening grief which does not dissipate in six months time and therefore needs clinical intervention, if possible, because it truly is a life threatening grief in which the person is completely incapacitated. Many, many parents struggle for years, as you say — as I did myself and as you did. However, I was able to mother my remaining children — poorly at first, but better over time — and I was able to return to work. I was able to be “normal” in social situations after the first month or two. Like so many, I also hate the term “new normal” because after the fabric of a life is ripped apart, it’s never sewn back into a “normal” pattern and there are always frayed edges that unravel without provocation or warning. We learn, I think, to live in an unnatural state for the rest of our lives. Those with prolonged grief can’t make any transitions toward that, and it is different. No way would I suggest that if you grieve beyond six months, that’s worthy of clinical intervention; we may grieve for the rest of our lives. I just bought the poinsettia for church in Daniel’s memory so he would still be remembered by others and it tore my heart apart to do that simple thing — but I don’t need clinical intervention because this is part of the adapting, the moving on and trying to bring him with me as I continue the journey. Grief is not neurotic. It is natural. It is individual. But some people become unable to function to the level that it becomes a clinical condition, and the grief is life-threatening, and this is different. We have to be able to recognize that difference and help these people get the support they need, literally, to live. I hope that helps clear up my meaning here.

  10. It’s been almost 10 months since i lost my precious baby girl age 42. And I have relized, I will never get over it,and resent people whom tell me to I can only survivive it for,my sons but to tell you the truth I am 65 years old and almost am eager to, die,so I,can see my sweet baby again. The only thing that keeps,me here is my sons. Days will pass without a thought of her and then something happens and the tears won’t stop falling and I have to hide them from my family cause there worried I will take my,life also. It’s unbearable to think that I have to spend the rest of my life without her and God took her because she was special. I don’t. Know anymore I cry snd gasp for sari air and just the thought of her is so painful I miss her so much snd my fesr is that I will have many years to suffer the loss of her snd I deserve it


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