Loss Of A Child Articles

The Loss of A Child to Suicide: Complicated Pain

Tuesday, January 14th, 2014

The loss of a child is an unspeakable trauma. When that death is caused by suicide, the pain becomes more complicated.suicide man crying

There are 39,000 deaths a year by suicide. Suicide is the third leading cause of death in the United States among 19-14 year olds and 15-14 year olds, and the second leading cause among 25-34 year olds. Spanning the ages, each of those who have taken their lives is someone’s child.

On hearing of the suicide of her 18-year-old son, singer Marie Osmond shares, “I thought someone had run a knife into my heart.”

The agony of losing a child by suicide is complicated by a number of factors:


The Family Story of Trauma: Ways to Change the Legacy

Sunday, February 17th, 2013

family story of traumaWhether in the past or the present, a traumatic event experienced by one or all members of a family, impacts the entire family system. Be it the violent loss of a child, the devastation from natural disaster, the injury of a combat vet or the suicide of a family member, trauma assaults the lives of all family members and the legacy they share.

How Does a Family Cope?

One of the most important things a family can do in the aftermath of a traumatic event is to find a way over the days, months and even years “to speak about what happened.”

All families engage in story telling. Around the dinner table, in car pools, at holidays, in the middle of the night, family members share the day-to-day experiences of big and small events in their lives. Through the stories they tell, families create the fabric of their life and their legacy.

Why is it Difficult for Families to Speak About Trauma?

  • Families have a difficult time speaking about traumatic events because traumatic events assault the fabric of family life.
  • They are unexpected events that threaten, injure, and take the life that was known and the people that were loved.
  • They leave family members overwhelmed, frightened, angry, haunted with images, self-blaming, and bereft.
  • They are beyond what family members can physically and emotionally comprehend.
  •  Traumatic events feel “beyond words”.

Family Protection Through Silence and Avoidance

Given this impact of trauma, the inclination of many family members is to protect each other by not speaking about the trauma.In an effort to spare others from more pain, prevent the stirring of feelings, avoid contaminating with traumatic memories, or burdening the family with grief, both adults and children disavow history, deny feelings and often avoid connection. The myth is that “if we don’t talk about it we can live beyond it.”

Historically we know that the opposite is true. As  trauma expert, Cathy Caruth says, trauma “will out” in one way or another in spite of being silenced or denied. What can’t be said must be carried and acted out.


Understanding Anger in the Aftermath of Trauma and Disaster

Tuesday, January 22nd, 2013

“Is Anyone Else Angry?”

anger and traumaTrauma theorists tell us that while traumatic events are in themselves physically and emotionally assaultive, it is often the emotions suffered after the smoke clears and the media goes home that become painful and disruptive to our recovery. One of these is anger.

Anger in the aftermath of a traumatic event, be it the loss of a child, the destruction of one’s home, a life-threatening diagnosis or the sequel to combat stress is a common and complex response. It can be experienced as a physiological state, an emotion, a way of thinking, a behavioral response or a combination of these.

  • You are not alone if you feel angry about what has happened.
  • Essentially you are suffering. The problem is that when anger persists–it obscures everything else.
  • The ability to make meaning of it and redirect it, keeps it from holding you back and taking more from you.

Understanding some of the feelings and dynamics that underscore anger after trauma may be an important step in your journey forward.

Anger as Residual of Fight/Flight Response

It is to our advantage that our biological arousal system goes into survivor mode in face of danger causing an increase in heart rate, rapid shallow breathing, cold sweats, tingling muscular tension and often-antagonistic behavior.

The problem is that when the danger has passed, our body often remains in a state of hyperarousal, leaving us reacting with anger to what would ordinarily be mildly distressing stimuli.

  • We blow up at the relatives who keep asking if everything is starting to get easier.
  • We storm off the line that feels too long at Starbucks.
  • We find ourselves fighting over everything with our partner.
  • We are driving faster and yelling more than usual.

Because this is a physically driven anger, we need to work from the body out to bring it down. We need to re-set our body rhythms by moving, sleeping and eating well. Moving in any way (exercise, walking, re-building, cleaning, physically helping friends) is crucial.

One widow, who told me she was mad at God after 9/11, started walking and didn’t stop until the tears and …


Tattoos After Trauma-Do They Have Healing Potential?

Monday, December 31st, 2012

Whether you have many tattoos or would never consider getting one, you may be surprised to learn that 40% of Americans between the ages 26-40 and 36% between ages 18-25 have at least one tattoo.

Once associated with marginalized, oppressed, victimized or transient groups in the population, tattoos are increasingly part of mainstream culture.

Americans spend $1.65 billion dollars annually on tattoos.

While the reasons for tattoos are as varied as the people who choose to get them, certain trends have been identified. One is the choice of a tattoo in the aftermath of trauma.

  • Across generations and wars, those in the military have used tattoos as tributes to fallen comrades.
  • In the aftermath of 9/11, civilians and firefighters throughout the world choose tattoos as an indelible reminder of the  terrorist assault, the courage of First Responders and the loss of so many.
  • Sociologists, Glen Gentry and Derek Alderman estimate that there are thousands of Katrina and New Orleans-related tattoos reflecting both horrific images of crumbling buildings and gushing floodwater, as well as signs and symbols of a beloved city.
  • In the wake of the unprecedented destruction from Hurricane Sandy, tattoos and tattoo fundraisers have emerged. The message of one seems particularly meaningful- “ Hold Steadfast.”

Do These Tattoos Have Healing Potential?

A close consideration suggests that both the reasons and the choice of tattoos reflect many of the factors associated with recovery after trauma.

Healing From the Body Out

  • Whether a traumatic event involves a car accident, escape from freezing floodwaters or the loss of a child, it is registered in our body in terms of the survival reflexes of fight, flight and freeze.
  • Encoded under these conditions, our memory of the traumatic event is not registered as narrative, but as fragments of highly charged visual images, bodily feelings, tactile sensations or sensory reactivity to reminders of the event.
  • As such, trauma experts encourage us to work from the body out in the course of recovery and healing—to attend to the sensations, senses, and images that carry the imprint of trauma.

The tattoo’s use of the body to register a …


Coping with the Holidays: Family Bonds and Family Binds

Friday, December 21st, 2012

While many may aspire to a Hallmark Holiday Season, the reality is that the holiday season involves real people in real families doing the best that they can do.

Most families are a group of related people of different ages with a mix of personalities, needs, feelings and expectations. They may be a nuclear family, an extended family, a reconstituted family or a blended family. In any case, they share an identity as family and, as such, consciously and unconsciously have an impact upon each other.

Their lives can be touched by the joy shared by one family member, the excitement of another and the heartache and loss of still another –sometimes all on the same day.

Most would agree that at times of pain and joy, families are the greatest source of support and the greatest source of applause. They can also be the greatest source of stress.

Holidays seem to turn the volume up on all possibilities.


Recognizing and Understanding Depression After Trauma

Thursday, August 9th, 2012

depression after traumaDisaster and trauma studies often focus on identifying the incidence of PTSD as the sequel to traumatic events.

Early interventions with those affected after a disaster or traumatic event increasingly utilize psycho-education to clarify and normalize common post-traumatic stress reactions and coping strategies.

While mentioned as a possible response, the high incidence of depression after trauma is less delineated and often goes unrecognized by those suffering.

Depression Occurs after Trauma:

  • A Rand corporation study reports that nearly 20 percent of military service members who have returned from Iraq and Afghanistan – 300,000 in all – report symptoms of Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder or major depression.
  • In the first long-term study of the health impacts of the World Trade Center (WTC) collapse on September 11, 2001, findings indicate that seven percent of police officers were diagnosed with depression, nine percent with PTSD and eight percent with panic disorder. Twenty eight percent of other rescue and recovery workers had symptoms of depression.
  • A survey of survivors from the Oklahoma City bombing showed that 23% had depression after the bombing.
  • Depression affects approximately 15 percent to 25 percent of cancer patients.
  • After a myocardial infarction, the incidence of major depression is from 15 percent to 20 percent, and an additional 27 percent of patients develop minor depression.

Both major depression and Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) occur frequently following traumatic exposure, both as separate disorders and concurrently.

Depression is the most common disorder suffered in conjunction with Post-Traumatic Stress Disorder.

Depression is nearly three to five times more likely in those with PTSD than those without PTSD.


“The Hunger Games”: Some Suggestions For Parents

Wednesday, April 4th, 2012

The new film, “The Hunger Games,” based on the novel by Suzanne Collins, has outstripped Dr. Seuss’ The Lorax as the top grossing film this year. Perhaps because it is based on a young adult novel written in the voice of a 16-year-old heroine with many young fans, it earned a MPAA rating of PG-13 despite considerable violence. As such, there has been concern about its impact on the millions of teens who will be viewing it.

Research studies have demonstrated both an increase in aggression and desensitization to violence by children and teens viewing many hours of violence in TV shows, interactive games and films. Longitudinal, cross-sectional, and experimental studies have all confirmed this correlation.

In “ The Hunger Games” what is of particular concern is that the violence is lethal violence of children against children, an activity portrayed as “games.”

The Role of Parents

As parents you can best mediate the impact of what your children have seen or are viewing if you are “media literate” i.e. – you know what your children and teens are exposed to. Accordingly, if your teens have seen or are going to see “The Hunger Games,” it makes sense for you to see it. If necessary, see it separately.


Grieving as a Path to Connection and Meaning: A New Perspective

Thursday, January 12th, 2012

grievingThe death of a loved one, be it our parent, child, spouse, sibling or friend ruptures the internal and external connection we have with that person. It is a connection that helps define our sense of self, mirrors who we are, impacts our feelings and influences our view of life.

From a relational perspective, death of a loved one is a crisis of self and a crisis of meaning.

  •  A 13-year-old boy asks how he will ever play baseball on the team if his dad, killed on 9/11, is not watching.
  • Author, Joan Didion observes in Blue Nights, that there is no season to lose a child, to stop hearing her sing. Recalling her 32 year old daughter’s unexpected  death from pneumonia, she shares her guilt for her failure to protect.  “This was never supposed to happen to her.”
  • Robert Stolorow, psychologist, describes himself as broken and deadened after the sudden death of his young wife. On seeing others with their partners he feels “strange and alien—not of this world.”
  • A young man comes home on hearing of the suicide of his sister. He can’t fathom her pain; he can’t look at his parents’ pain; he can’t feel.
  • A woman who spent years caring for an elderly mother feels panic and loss after her mother’s death – “What Now?”

What is Grieving?

Grieving is our reaction to the loss of a loved one. Beginning with the acute pang of loss, grief is often accompanied by numbing disbelief or unspeakable rage. Often there is a sense of emptiness, disorganization, the loss of the loved one and self.


Death of a Sibling: Overlooked Grief

Thursday, June 9th, 2011

death of a siblingIt was some time after spending weeks in ICU with our youngest son, that I realized – If we had lost him, we would have also lost his brother.

In times of crisis, we too often overlook the bond between siblings and the unique but unrecognized grief suffered when a brother or sister dies.

Karen Hickman, founder of Gold Star Siblings shares that when her brother was killed serving in Vietnam, she felt like an outsider at the funeral,

“I had to grieve alone and where my parents couldn’t see me because I had to be strong for them and my younger brother.”

Author, T.J. Wray describes that the year her adult brother died she forgot how to breathe –  but no one noticed. People tried to console her with comments like,

“Thank goodness, it wasn’t your husband or one of your children.”


The Death of Bin Laden: Looking Backwards to Heal Forwards

Tuesday, May 3rd, 2011

feelings about Bin Laden's deathThe news of Bin Laden’s death has erupted on national and international levels in a mix of feelings. Attached to the thrill of justice served and military courage recognized are shadows of fear and the pain of catastrophic loss.

For survivors and the thousands who lost so many loved ones on 9/11 this is not only long awaited news, it is a déjà vu of that September day.

Once again there are ongoing calls of condolence and remembrances, non-stop media reports, and the visceral pain of losing a Dad, a child, a partner, a firefighter, a friend, a community, and the illusion of safety.

What Does this Mean for Emotional Healing?

It Invites Revisiting:

Highly charged events like Bin Laden’s Death are quite likely to trigger traumatic memories that unlike ordinary explicit memory for daily events are encoded under fight/flight conditions in those centers of the brain dealing with sensations and emotion. They can be sequestered for years – untold, intrusive as nightmares and flashbacks, haunting but never integrated into the story of one’s life.  While this event might trigger pain, it may offer an opportunity to bear witness, to share and transform traumatic memories.


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Suzanne Phillips, Psy.D., ABPP & Dianne Kane, DSW are the authors of Healing Together: A Couple's Guide to Coping with Trauma and Post-Traumatic Stress. Pick up the book today!

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