Coping with Overwhelming Loss

A reader writes: I have come to the conclusion this year for me is supposed to be a lifetime movie. To start the year off I had to admit my son to a psychiatric hospital. He was bullied in school and wanted to die. He was also still having trouble dealing with his biological mother's death. She died of leukemia.

I got him home and less than 2 weeks later my family awoke to find my 2-year-old daughter dead in her bed. She was happily playing the night before, but had died in her sleep from an undetected heart condition.

Every day is a struggle and I am in more pain than I can bear. My heart hurts.
I have 3 amazing boys who need me right now but I can’t manage to be the strong mother I need to be. I am barely making it through this. Some days I don't think I will make it. I know my children and my faith are what is keeping me alive. My boys need me and I know if I were to commit suicide I would never be able to see my beautiful daughter again. These thoughts are what keep me going.

Then this past week the 16-year-old young man who lived next door decided he could not live anymore and hung himself. My boys found him and I had to break the news to his parents and help cut him down. This young man was very close to my family. My boys looked up to him like a big brother. I even looked at him as family. I can't help but be angry with him though. We already had enough difficulties in our lives and now we have to deal with this. I also feel sorry for what could have been going through his mind.

I don't sleep, my kids keep having nightmares. I have developed claustrophobia. I can't stay in a room for too long without it feeling like it is closing in. I can't stop crying. My mind will not shut off. I do not know what to do for myself, my family, or in general.

My response: My dear one, I am overwhelmed just reading of the magnitude of your losses, so I can only imagine what all of this must be doing to you. As I understand it, all at once you have one son who is mourning the death of his biological mother, your entire family is mourning the death of your precious daughter and their baby sister, and you’re all traumatized by and mourning the death by suicide of your sons’ close friend and your next-door neighbor. Not surprisingly, you’re reacting with insomnia, anxiety and depression, and your sons are having post-traumatic nightmares.

I can only hope that you’re not trying to cope with all of this all by yourself. You are dealing with several significant losses all at once. Coming to terms with one death is difficult enough, but coming to terms with several is even harder.

In addition to the warm and caring support you will find in our online Grief Healing Discussion Groups, I’d like to point you to some resources that I hope will be helpful (if you haven’t found some of them already):

Are you familiar with The Compassionate Friends? This organization offers friendship, understanding and hope to families after the death of a child, through a network of more than 660 chapters with locations in all 50 states. When you contact TCF’s National Office (877-969-0010, email nationaloffice@compassionatefriends.org) the staff will provide contact information to the nearest TCF chapter. To learn more about what happens when you attend TCF Chapter Meetings, visit About TCF Chapters, What to Expect, and Frequently Asked Questions. (You’ll find links to this and dozens of other helpful articles, books and resources on my Death of an Infant, Child or Grandchild page.)

I don’t know the age of your son whose biological mother has died, but you may find some of the material listed on this page to be helpful for him as well: Death of a Parent.

To lose a close friend to suicide is painful enough, but to have been present at the scene the way your boys were is incredibly traumatizing, and can lead to signs of post-traumatic stress (PTSD). Again, I believe strongly that the best way to deal with this is to educate yourself about it, so you’ll have a better understanding of what’s going on with your boys, and so you’ll know what you can do to help them manage their reactions. I’ve assembled links to a great deal of information on my site’s Suicide Loss and Traumatic Loss pages. Of course, I think talking to a grief counselor or family therapist would be helpful for all of you ~ and I hope you’ve let your sons’ teachers at school know what’s been happening in your family, so they can offer their support and understanding, and help you to help them, too.

As for your anxiety and insomnia, I think the place to start is with your primary healthcare provider. You are carrying a very heavy load, and it’s important to keep yourself as healthy as possible under the circumstances. See Anxiety Attacks in Grief: Tools for Coping and Tips for Coping with Sleeplessness in Grief.

I suppose the most important message I can convey to you is that you are not alone in all of this, my dear. You don’t have to walk this difficult and challenging path all by yourself. There are many, many resources and sources of support available to you, if you are willing to reach out and look for them. I hope with all my heart that you will do so.

Your feedback is welcome! Please feel free to leave a comment or a question, or share a tip, a related article or a resource of your own in the Comments section below.
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