As a bereaved mom of a daughter who died by suicide in 2005, I have long been a proponent of change in how we view difficult loss and grief in our culture and the importance of understanding trauma and PTSD associated with certain types of loss. Not only for grievers, but everybody supporting them through their grief process.
It’s not only child loss that can traumatize people, but keeping it to bereaved parents for a moment, I am certain there isn’t one mom or dad out there who hasn’t been traumatized by the loss of their child, no matter the cause of death. They may even have PTSD and not know it. Little to no information is available on the topic. Despite the lack of information on the risk of PTSD for bereaved parents, it is encouraging to see that a quick internet search pops up a number of articles and studies done on PTSD in parents coping with a critically ill child, which is progress. (As an aside, there is even research for traffic accident victims who have PTSD). I remain astounded at the apparent lack of information and interest to take up this cause for the grieving.
I came across this article in a Canadian newspaper recently where a New York supreme court judge gave permission for the parents of a deceased son without his prior consent to use his sperm to produce a male heir. Cultural differences aside (they are from a culture where male heirs are important), they stated they were desperate for a part of their son to live on, which is universal to all grieving parents.
As a bereaved parent myself, the story left me wondering whether this case could set a precedent giving every parent the right to produce a grandchild from their deceased child without consent, all because we want a part of them to live on. This raises all sorts of questions about the ethics and ramifications of this extended arm of assisted-baby making techniques; not only for bioethicists, but our culture at large. It also left me wondering whether I would have done it if I could when my child died in 2005. The answer?
As I have often said throughout various writings and at different times over the years, trauma in grief is not talked about. This needs to change. Not only for the benefit of grievers, but for those wanting to support the bereaved along their healing path, whether in a personal or professional capacity.
For years after my daughter’s suicide in 2005, I felt all alone in a struggle I didn’t understand. Though I saw doctors for chronic ill-health, beyond diagnosing stress as the obvious root of the problems, they didn’t know what to say to me knowing I had lost my daughter (understandable) or how to help me in my grief. I know now that almost 90% of what I struggled with was directly related to symptoms of PTSD that I was diagnosed with in 2014, and proved to be a game-changer in my ongoing healing.
The other day I came across this interview with Jeff Olsen speaking about his out of body experiences twenty years ago (and maybe near death though he didn’t specify), and his painful recovery after a car accident in which his wife and infant son both died. He was behind the wheel, therefore at fault (his words). He suffered numerous physical injuries including a leg amputation, and the same or more emotional ones trying to cope with his losses. His firstborn son, then aged 7, survived with barely a scratch. Miracle? Yes. Motivation for Jeff to stay in his body? Definitely yes. Again, his words.
I know that grief is a difficult topic and we don’t discuss it much in the open. Yet, there isn’t one person not affected by grief in some way. What’s so sad and even shameful in western culture (or any other culture perpetuating this shame and secrecy) is that we aren’t allowed to show our sadness from loss in public. At least not comfortably. Ever! And that needs to change. Because it isn’t only sadness we feel in grief. It’s a host of other emotions and difficulties we experience that can and do end up ruining people’s relationships, careers, finances and even families.
In 2005, I lost my twenty-two-year-old daughter to suicide. I was diagnosed in 2014 with PTSD as a result of that trauma. Though I suspected I may have PTSD as far back as 2007, this remained only a suspicion until my medical diagnosis. Up to that point, I didn’t understand the toll that PTSD was taking on my body. The diagnosis brought me incredible relief and was a critical turning point in my grief that led me to make the most positive changes I’ve been able to in my healing so far.
As a bereaved mom of a beautiful daughter who died by suicide in 2005 at the age of twenty-two, I certainly know pain and suffering. Just like a lot of other people know pain and suffering who have lost someone to suicide, sudden and/or traumatic death. I have done a lot of work to heal from my pain over the years and have had tremendous success to this point, but it’s an ongoing journey.
So, you are a griever. Possibly laid flat on the floor by whatever loss brought you to your grief. Hold up! There’s help, even if it doesn’t feel like it today.
The first thing I did when I became bereaved was connect with other bereaved parents. I joined the Compassionate Friends support group (bereaved parents click links for information about support in the USA and Canada), sought out books, online communities and any other resource I could think of. There were few available. I was grateful for what I did find, but other than reassuring me I was not the only parent who had lost a child and that the pain I was struggling with was felt by all bereaved parents, I felt alone and lost. There was nothing to guide me to the healing I desperately wanted. Until, that is, I turned to the world of angels.
The journey in grief can be long and hard. Though I’ve experienced several losses since the death of my daughter in 2005, including both my parents, none have been as long or difficult to grieve as the death of my child. In my grief, there have been ups and downs and lows and highs, with no guarantee as to how anything in my life would turn out. The only thing I have remained certain of is that grief brings with it a rollercoaster ride of craziness. Where anything goes; nothing stays the same. Everything is constantly changing. Continue reading “The Good Griever’s Journey – Part 1”