Dear Dr. Gloria,

I am hopeful you can offer some thoughts on our situation. My twin sister went through a divorce in 2006. In March of 2007, our father fell ill and my sister and her youngest son, Cody, 13, moved in with him to take care of him. He passed away on September 24, 2007. Needless to say, his death was difficult on my sister, and her four sons, ages 13, 16, 17 & 22. Just when I thought we were starting to turn the corner and view his passing as a life “well lived,” tragedy struck.

On December 3, 2007, my two nephews, 16 year old Andrew and 17 year old, Jeffrey, were on their way to school when their vehicle slid in snow and rolled over. Andrew, the driver, walked away without a scratch. Jeffrey passed away on his oldest brother’s 23rd birthday. I can not begin to tell you how devastated our lives are.

My entire family lives in Massachusetts, while I moved to Los Angeles ten years ago. I speak with my sister several times a day and spent almost the entire month of December with her. I have a 3 year old daughter and am currently six months pregnant. I am planning to fly to MA in May to attend what should have been Jeffrey’s graduation and to help my sister pick out headstones for my Dad and my nephew.

My sister’s pain is so raw. She was seeing a grief counselor right after the accident but has since stopped going. She felt that unless the person had actually “walked in her shoes” then she had no idea how to help her. I am desperately trying to get her to attend a Compassionate Friends’ meeting but so far she is unable to do so. She just wants  to go to sleep and never wake up. It’s so frightening for me to feel so helpless. I realize that the stages of grief are a long and complex process. If I could find her a therapist in her area (Worcester, MA) who is also a bereaved parent, I know that would help tremendously.

Thank you for even taking the time to read this. I feel so helpless in this nightmare.

Sincerely

Sharon

Dear Sharon,

We are so sorry for  your losses. Both you and your sister have sustained multiple losses and the pain, as you say, is so raw. It is not unusual for someone in these early months after such trauma to feel like they just want to go to sleep and not wake up and it is frightening to both of you. While it is not uncommon it must be taken seriously and you are right in wanting to find someone who can help her. As a twin you understand her depth of pain better than anyone — and, as her twin, you may be feeling it as well. And, because you understand her better than anyone, you will most likely be able to help and comfort her more than anyone else just by your presence.

Your sister, or you when you visit next month, might want to contact the Compassionate Friends Chapter in her area and ask if they know of a therapist who has lost a child. Asking for a referral from other bereaved people who have had positive experiences with their therapists is a good way to find competent and effective help. There are some wonderfully effective therapists out there who have never lost children and your sister may not have been ready to work with anyone at that time. During the initial period of shock, it is difficult to hear what anyone has to say and we often push them away. With the time that has passed, and with your help, she may be able to  interview a few therapists that she can feel comfortable with – who are a good fit. If she is uncomfortable, it really is o.k for her to shop around and find another one. You can also look at the ADEC website (http://www.adec.org) and go to “find a thanatologist” option by geographic location.  It may also be possible that, while you are with her next month, the two of you could attend a Compassionate Friends meeting together. It is always easier to go to a new, and perhaps intimidating, experience if someone you trust is with you.

We hope this is of help to you and your sister.

Blessings,

Dr. Gloria Horsley

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Ken Doka

Ken Doka

Dr. Kenneth J. Doka is a Professor of Gerontology at the Graduate School of The College of New Rochelle and Senior Consultant to the Hospice Foundation of America. A prolific author, Dr. Doka’s books include Counseling Individuals with Life-Threatening Illness; Living with Grief: Children and Adolescents, Living with Grief: Before and After Death, Death, Dying and Bereavement: Major Themes in Health and Social Welfare (a 4 Volume edited work), Pain Management at the End-of-Life: Bridging the Gap between Knowledge and Practice, Living with Grief: Ethical Dilemmas at the End of Life, Living with Grief: Alzheimer’s Disease, Living with Grief: Coping with Public Tragedy; Men Don’t Cry, Women Do: Transcending Gender Stereotypes of Grief; Living with Grief: Loss in Later Life, Disenfranchised Grief: Recognizing Hidden Sorrow: Living with Life Threatening Illness; Children Mourning, Mourning Children; Death and Spirituality; Living with Grief: After Sudden Loss; Living with Grief: When Illness is Prolonged; Living with Grief: Who We Are, How We Grieve; Living with Grief: At Work, School and Worship; Living with Grief: Children, Adolescents and Loss; Caregiving and Loss: Family Needs, Professional Responses; AIDS, Fear and Society; Aging and Developmental Disabilities; and Disenfranchised Grief: New Directions, Challenges, and Strategies for Practice. In addition to these books, he has published over 100 articles and book chapters. Dr. Doka is editor of both Omega: The Journal of Death and Dying and Journeys: A Newsletter for the Bereaved. Dr. Doka was elected President of the Association for Death Education and Counseling in 1993. In 1995, he was elected to the Board of Directors of the International Work Group on Dying, Death and Bereavement and served as chair from 1997-1999. The Association for Death Education and Counseling presented him with an Award for Outstanding Contributions in the Field of Death Education in 1998. In 2000 Scott and White presented him an award for Outstanding Contributions to Thanatology and Hospice. His Alma Mater Concordia College presented him with their first Distinguished Alumnus Award. In 2006, Dr. Doka was grandfathered in as a Mental Health Counselor under NY State’s first licensure of counselors. Dr. Doka has keynoted conferences throughout North America as well as Europe, Asia, Australia and New Zealand. He participates in the annual Hospice Foundation of America Teleconference and has appeared on CNN and Nightline. In addition he has served as a consultant to medical, nursing, funeral service and hospice organizations as well as businesses and educational and social service agencies. Dr. Doka is an ordained Lutheran minister. Dr. Doka appeared on the radio show “Healing the Grieving Heart“ to discuss “Dealing with Grief and Loss.” To hear Dr. Doka being interviewed on this show by Dr. Gloria & Dr. Heidi Horsley, click on the following link: www.voiceamericapd.com/health/010157/horsley062807.mp3

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