Father Grieves Deeply for Loss of Only Son

James writes in: I just ran into this site tonight as I am still grieving deeply of my son James who died in an ATV accident on July 26, 2009. I am a physician and have seen a lot of death and many corpses and have signed hundreds of death certificates but I just cannot get the vision of my dead son out of my head and find myself overwhelmed with grief on a daily basis. My son was incredibly intelligent and going to college and also working with me part time in my practice and living with me. He was only 21 and I was a single parent raising him and his sister who is two years older. The three of us were quite close and since his passing, I feel so lost. James and I and his sister, Tina, started a nonprofit group in January of ‘08 and we went to Belize together on a medical mission and he went with friends in the summer of ‘08 to take supplies down. We were planning to go back this winter for a month or so and planning a trip to Cambodia as well. Now it seems hard to get motivated but I am trying hard to keep the plans.

It has only been two months and maybe this is normal for such difficulty coping. Tina is also having a terrible time as well. She is now 24 and runs my office. I have a very unique practice and travel a lot doing procedures and Tina just runs the business end of the practice. We are both finding it difficult to keep going each day. We are planning to scatter his ashes in Belize as he loved it there and this was his wish. We were also building a shop and home together on a small farm in Colorado where we live. I only work in the practice about two days a week and this gave us a lot of time to be together outside of work as well. We are building a totally off the grid home and grew a big garden together. Now my right hand man, loving son, best friend, and intellectual buddy is gone. He was part of my life every day and all day. Even when he was off to college in another city, we spoke every day at least once a day. So, much of my life along with many plans for the future passed with his passing. I find myself crying between procedures as he was even one of my assistants on the road. I have been told by many, including colleagues, that it gets better but it has seeminly gotten worse over the last few weeks. Maybe that is the stages of grieving but I have a hard time thinking now that it will get better.

I lost my mother when I was nine and this seems so much harder to cope with as we are not to be preceded in death by our children. Hopes and dreams and plans for the future just seem to vanish and thus the motivation that they give you. We too are planning a memory garden for James at the farm. At his death, his step brother bought an eight foot wooden cross and this will be there.

I have a fairly deep faith in Christ and since his passing, praying seems to help some and there is always the hope that I will once again be reunited with my loving son upon my death. Having a faith does certainly help one from going too deeply into a depression. I pray every day and now that I have read this site, I will include you that I have read in my prayers.

Dr. Gloria Horsley responds: Dear James,

Nothing prepares us as parents for the death of a child – not even dealing with death on a daily basis as you have done as a physician.  It sounds like James was a wonderful son and human being and we are so very sorry for your loss.

Your grief is still so fresh and so raw – two months is a very short time to recover from a loss so great – and we encourage you to be gentle with yourself and with your daughter.  If there is a “normal” for grief and “the difficult coping” you are in the midst of it. Grief is individual and knows no time lines.  Get extra rest, try to eat well, get out in the fresh air and sunshine. Grieving takes tremendous energy and you need all the help you can get.

It may be helpful for you to become a part of a grief group when you are able.  Your local church may have one or hospice. We often recommend a group called The Compassionate Friends (http://www.compassionatefriends.org) This group is composed of those who have lost a child (parents, grandparents, siblings) and understand how to give you and your daughter the support you need. You might visit their website to see if there is a group in your area. We have found that the burden of grief is lighter if you don’t have to carry it alone.

You might find help and comfort in some of our archived radio shows and videos on YouTube. Those we recommend specifically for you are:

April 5, 2007
Men and Grief
Guest: David Pellegrin
http://www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley040507.mp3


March 15, 2007
Real Men Do Cry
Eric Hipple
http://www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley031507.mp3

July 30, 2009
Understanding life after loss
1st Guest: Kimberly Rose Carolan
2nd Guests: Fern Stewart Welch and Rose Winters
http://www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley073009.mp3

Videos
Grief Sequence
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TRso3uDtNY8&feature=PlayList&p=6D48F87898EF220C&index=19

Tom Zuba Presents a Blessed Life, Part one of 6
http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=CR_4D9b_h8Q

There will come a time when, even though the pain continues, the suffering will stop. This is what I have learned in the many years  since my 17 year old son was killed in a fiery car crash. Even though your life is permanently changed because of your son’s death, you will establish a “new normal.”  We have found that serving others, as upi and your daughter do, often brings peace and healing to those who are grieving. Stand fast in your faith.

We wish you well on this healing path.

Dr. Gloria Horsley

Gloria Horsley

More Articles Written by Gloria

Dr. Gloria Horsley is an internationally known grief expert, psychotherapist, and bereaved parent. She started "Open to Hope" to help the millions in the world with grief. She is a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and Clinical Nurse Specialist, and has worked in the field of family therapy for over 20 years. Dr. Horsley hosts the syndicated internet radio show, The Grief Blog which is one of the top ranked shows on Health Voice America. She serves the Compassionate Friends in a number of roles including as a Board of Directors, chapter leader, workshop facilitator, and frequently serves as media spokesperson. Dr. Horsley is often called on to present seminars throughout the country. She has made appearances on numerous television and radio programs including "The Today Show," "Montel Williams," and "Sallie Jessie Raphael." In addition, she has authored a number of articles and written several books including Teen Grief Relief with Dr. Heidi Horlsey, and The In-Law Survival Guide.

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  • Dear Gloria,

    What truthful and heartfelt remarks to James. Just reading them and remembering that absolutely lost feeling of the beginning. After Katie died I went to our family physician who looked at me and said that just because I was in the helping profession doesn’t mean that I won’t have to grieve, too. Well, not only was he correct but it doesn’t stop after a short while as we know. It’s our companion now, grief, and we are not the same person with the same life anymore. That’s a very difficult realty to wrap oneself in.

    So we hold you close, Dr. James. We hold you and your daughter, Tina, close in this spiritual community that knows the face of grief. We will all offer you both hope as you move ahead and for now, an hour at a time. Then a day at a time. Then a few days at a time.

    With compassion,
    Mary Jane

  • Jean Westacott says:

    Dear Gloria,
    I read the story of James and his son with great sadness. I completely understand the words used. My own son, Matthew died on the 19th January 2011. I have never met James and he doesn’t even know I exist but I felt that by just reading his words he knew and understood what I was going through. I can’t write much at the moment because the grief is too raw….. Love to you all Jean

  • Jo says:

    I come to this website daily because it speaks to me as no other grief site or book has done. Everyone here seems to know that deep loss that comes from losing someone very close. I lost my daughter on April 25, 2010 and my old life stopped on that day and a different life began. She spent 7 weeks in the hospital where I daily prayed that God would spare her and let her come home with me. My prayers were not answered and I’ve been grieving heavily ever since. Now I soon face those 7 same weeks on the calendar and I am afraid I will fall back into the deeper grief all over again where my body hurts so badly from the mental pain of grief. I thought I was healing last fall before the holidays and her BD, but now I’m not so sure. Blessings to all that are grieving and in pain right now.

  • Shannon Churchill says:

    I lost my son on December 25 this last year. He was in an accident… not even injured.. just stuck in his car in the mud. It was 15 degrees outside and he for some reason decided to walk for help. He knocked on a door… they would not let him in. He continued to walk and got hypothermia and died. Was not found for about 10 hours. The wounds are so raw and I just cant take the pain somedays. He was my world. I find myself seek faith and reading NDE’s all the time and try to imagine he is with Jesus and those who love him. I can’t imagine the rest of my days on this earth without him. When I see others hurting and going through this pain I know I am not alone. God bless you all and I will pray for peace for all of us.