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A Recent Loss

Question:

We recently buried our oldest child. He was killed in a car accident one month before his 21st birthday. It has been a little over a month and I am still an emotional mess. I have all these new thoughts, feeling and emotions and cannot get a hold on them. My normal personality was happy, carefree, sociable and now I feel just the opposite. A few of the things I am feeling are … Emotional easily aggravated easily frustrated on the verge of tears constantly scared, no terrified, that something will happen to the other kids Stomach ache any time think of the accident worried sad, very sad don’t want to sing any more manic depressive empty tired unmotivated don’t care about anything much guilty for not having more interest in the other children cannot concentrate thoughts constantly flying through my head … day and night.. Like a bunch of noise cannot sleep without benadryl alone useless I don’t want to be alone because of all the wild thoughts pouring in and out of my head all the time. Sometimes I find myself thinking about death itself and wanting to be with my son more than here with my family. Then the guilt sets in big time because I know I should not be thinking this way. Are these normal feelings?

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Answer:

Oh yes. Your experience here is just normal as can be. Remember – you have very very recently sustained the loss of your son. There are few losses that can hurt as much as this. You’ve experienced a real trauma and you are in the process of digesting it. This process takes different people different amounts of time. Certainly a month is way too short a time to have resolved this. I wouldn’t become overly concerned until I heard you were still feeling this way a year from now. Some authors (Kubler-Ross, Marti Horowitz) suggest that the process of absorbing a loss such as you’ve sustained typically proceeds in a sequence like the following: First – Denial – an inability to accept at an emotional or intellectual level that a massive change has occurred. Then – Outrage and Overwhelm – emotional recognition that a change has occurred – but an inability to deal with this change. Anger, Anxiety, Depression, any number of ways to dodge, to manipulate, to try and make the change not have occurred will be expectable here. Howowitz suggests that for many people the grief process tends to swing between two poles – on the one hand Flooded with painful memories and overwhelmed with emotion – and on the other hand Numb – unable to care or muster any reaction to the event. People get into trouble when they get stuck on either of these poles – or when they swing between them too extremely. Finally – as the swings or the outrage run their course, most authors describe a sort of working through that occurs where the traumatic event is more or less digested and life begins to regain its color. That you can describe your pain so well in your email suggests that you are on track in this process of digestion. I am concerned with regards to your suicidal thoughts (although they are more or less normal and expectable so long as you don’t act on them). I hope that you will see out the support of a bereavement group and a psychotherapist during this difficult time. Also – a medical doctor can prescribe medication to calm you down if you swing too extremely. Please discuss your flooded state and your suiciality with these helpers openly. Most importantly – give yourself much time and space to be with this trauma. Life will open up again.

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