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Monday, February 5, 2024

In Grief: When A Tragic Accident Takes A Mother's Life

Trauma is personal. It does not disappear if it is not validated. When it is ignored or invalidated the silent screams continue internally heard only by the one held captive. When someone enters the pain and hears the screams healing can begin.  ~ Danielle Bernock

A reader writes: I'm 25 years old, and I lost my mother in a surprising, tragic accident about 1 week ago. I was devastated for days, but now I don't feel much of anything... I feel saddened and confused, and I don't really know what to do... nothing feels important - but it is as if I should be feeling much worse, I don't know how to put it any better than that. The funeral was yesterday, and almost 500 people showed up to say goodbye (people were standing in the hallway doors looking it was so full), which was pretty touching considering my mom hardly ever left the house (except for work and dog walking), but it was a lovely thing. 
I'm afraid I don't really know what I'm asking for here. My mom and I were incredibly close, she was my best friend and I saw her at least once a week, but it seems as if I can hardly remember her, I don't know if that is just an aspect of shock or not and if I look at pictures of her, I feel a twinge of sadness that seems to be immediately, subconsciously repressed and I then have trouble looking at the picture. 
Any advice would be greatly appreciated, thanks for taking the time to read my long, rambling post. Please respond, I feel as if I desperately need some help/advice. I should mention that I have no father (never knew him) and I am not terribly close with my step-father, so I feel kind of orphaned, perhaps that is contributing to my confusion... 

My response: I am so very sorry to learn of the tragic, sudden, and totally unexpected accident that took the life of your precious mother last week. Having already lost the father you never knew, I can only imagine how bewildered and alone you must feel. Since you are only 25, this loss must be even more traumatic and unjust for you: We simply don’t expect to lose our mothers when we are still so young ourselves! A loss such as this is an absolutely overwhelming shock to your system, and feelings of shock and numbness are normal. I’m reminded of a passage in the book by Elisabeth K├╝bler-Ross and David Kessler, On Grief and Grieving, where they speak of the fearsome power of grief:
The time after a significant loss is full of feelings that we usually have spent a lifetime trying not to feel. Sadness, anger, and emotional pain sit on our doorstep with a deeper range than we have ever felt. Their intensity is beyond our normal range of human emotions. Our defenses are no match for the power of the loss. We stand alone with no precedent or emotional repertoire for this kind of loss. We have never lost a mother, father, spouse, or child before. To know these feelings and to meet them for the first time brings up responses from draining to terrifying and everything in between.
I don’t know what, if any, support you have available to you right now, my dear, but I think it is essential that you have someone you can talk to about all of this. I understand that you’re not very close to your step-father (and I imagine he’s got his own reactions to deal with right now) ~ Is there anyone else you know well who can be there for you right now? A trusted relative, friend, neighbor, co-worker, clergy person, perhaps? You need someone who can act as a sounding board, someone who will listen to your story and help you sort through all your feelings and reactions to this horrible tragedy, as they come up for you.

If you cannot think of anyone, call your telephone operator or public library and ask for the numbers for your local mental health association or your local suicide prevention center. Either agency will have good grief referral lists. (You need not be suicidal to get a grief referral from a suicide prevention center.) You can also use the Yellow Pages and call hospitals and hospices near you. Ask to speak with the Bereavement Coordinator, Social Worker, or Chaplain's Office to get a local grief referral. Many hospitals and hospices offer bereavement support groups to the general public at no cost. (The National Hospice and Palliative Care Organization maintains a database of hospices for each state in the United States. To search for a hospice in your own community, click on Find A Hospice.

It may be very difficult for you to concentrate right now, so making the effort to find the resources that are available to you may be better left to a friend or relative who is willing to do that for you. You said that almost 500 people showed up to pay their respects to your mother and your family ~ that tells me that a lot of people knew and loved your mother and you. Did any of them come up to you and say, “If there’s anything I can do to help, just ask”? Helping you to find available grief support resources may be a good assignment for them!

I also think it’s very helpful for you to learn all you can about what is normal in grief, so you’ll feel less “crazy” and more hopeful that you’ll be able to manage your own reactions in the weeks and months ahead. Our Grief Healing Discussion Groups site is a rich and wonderful source of information, because the good people there are traveling the very same journey that you are on right now ~ most especially for you the members who have posted in our Loss of a Parent forum. As you read their stories, you will recognize yourself and what you are feeling, over and over again. You’ll also find posts that will direct you to additional sources of helpful information. Make sure you visit my Grief Healing website, which will connect you to a vast array of articles, books, inspirational readings and poetry, and links to dozens upon dozens of other resources. See also the list of blog posts on my Marty's Articles page. (Scroll down to the Traumatic Loss category, and see especially Coping with Traumatic Loss: Suggested Resources, which includes links to articles about sudden, accidental death.)

At the very least, know that whatever you are feeling right now is normal under the circumstances. There is no right or wrong way to “do” grief ~ there is only your way, and you will discover that for yourself, as you proceed along your own path. The most important thing is this: Do not try to “do” it all alone! Help is available for you all along the way, and you've made a very important first step simply by writing to me and sharing your thoughts here.

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. If you’d like Grief Healing Blog updates delivered right to your inbox, you’re cordially invited to subscribe to our weekly Grief Healing NewsletterSign up here

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