Dear Drs. Gloria and Heidi,

My son died last December 6 and on Dec 10 the coroner called me and told me that the autopsy had revealed he died of pneumonia.  They knew he’d had no symptoms and there were no drugs or alcohol in his system. Almost as an afterthought he told me that there would be toxicology tests that would take some time to complete and I would get the report then. I was very confused by this diagnosis. What 22 year old ever died of pneumonia that no one knew he had?

Last week I received the report which said there were no signs of pneumonia and he died of an accidental drug overdose. The coroner has apologized that he did not make himself clear but I have witnesses who heard me say “pneumonia?” and “are you sure?”  He told me he was absolutely sure.

I had made peace with the “fact” that my son had died of pneumonia. He had bi-polar disorder and did abuse drugs. Now I have to start all over trying to deal with this new cause of death. I am so frustrated and angry. I will see this coroner (who did not do the autopsy) and the chief coroner of our area tomorrow. I’d rather be seeing a lawyer but I don’t want my son’s autopsy results publicly known. My mother has had three heart attacks since Paul died and is now receiving palliative care in my sister’s home. She doesn’t need to know this now and if I sue she would find out.

How do I deal with this anger and frustration?


Drs. Gloria and Heidi Respond

Dear Margaret,

We are so very sorry for your loss. Nothing prepares us to lose a child and there are few words that can console or give us confort as we go through the grief that ensues. It is a time to be gentle with yourself.

We are hearing that you have great anger and frustration regarding your sons death as well as change in the cause of his death.  You also have your mother’s health issues to deal with.  It sounds as though you need some sound support at this difficult time.  Yours is a very early loss and we would suggest that you reach out as you have with us.  Talk to your friends and if you have a member of the clergy go to them.  The more you can discuss this issue and gain clarity the more you will have an understanding of how to proceed.

While it is understandable that you may want to look at legal avenues, many of our bereaved parents have tried this route and found it to be highly unsatifactory and a painful process.  We think it is good that you are talking to other coroners.  The more you can reach out the better.

Again we are so very sorry for your loss.  Please keep in touch and let us know how it goes.

Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley

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