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What It's Like to Experience Double Trauma and Delayed Grief as a Bereaved Mom

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It’s been almost three years ago since the knock on our door completely changed our lives forever. My husband ran downstairs first, and I heard a voice saying, “There’s been a fatal accident. Your oldest son didn’t survive, and his brother is in very critical condition with a severe head injury. He isn’t expected to live.”

All I could say was, “You have the wrong house.”

I waited for the police officers to leave. They didn’t. When I begged to go to our oldest son, Aaron (he was 26 when he died), I remember my husband saying to me, “Norma, there is nothing we can do for Aaron, but Steven needs us. This is what Aaron would want.” At the time, his truthful words made me angry, but those words ended up being a defining moment for me. Shock took over my body coupled with a determined, “I will do anything I can to keep my only son alive” mentality! I spent every allowed waking moment by Steven’s side, begging my 22-year-old to live.

I somehow managed to shift gears as needed to be Steven’s cheerleader while making lists to ensure that Aaron’s life celebration was everything he deserved. When forced to leave Steven’s room, I would start checking off my “Aaron” list. There was an obituary to be written, perfect songs to be chosen, pictures to sort. Aaron’s hunting trophies, including a 300-pound bear, needed to be delivered to the church. There was no time for sleep.

I felt guilty when we had to leave the hospital to go to the funeral home and was plagued with more guilt because I couldn’t focus on the painful task of picking out a casket for Aaron — I was afraid Steven would die while we were at the funeral home. If humanly possible, more guilt consumed my worn-out body as I attended our son’s visitation and life celebration, silently praying that Steven would live until I could get back to him. So when asked how I coped with Steven fighting for his life while trying to accept the fact that we lost our first-born son, I give credit to God for creating our body in such a way that allows us to operate even while in shock.

I somehow managed to compartmentalize my emotions. While Aaron was on my mind every minute, I was consumed with dread: I have to get Steven through this, he can’t die, we have to get him to the best rehab, we have to make whatever sacrifices necessary to give him the best possible chance of recovery. To be honest, it was easier to focus on Steven’s recovery than to focus on the reality that Aaron died.

I found out the hard way that when faced with trauma of this magnitude, your body has many protective layers; and as the layers are slowly peeled back, you find out exactly what resiliency is. As the third-year anniversary of this horrible accident approaches, I’m living with delayed grief. I’ve learned first-hand what PTSD is. As our surviving son becomes more independent with each passing day, I’m left with attempting to figure out what’s next for me. I have learned many lessons through counseling; one of the most valuable is accepting the reality that you can’t put a time limit on grief. This is especially true when dealing with a double trauma and delayed grief.

For today, I will focus on being thankful for the years that Aaron so richly blessed our lives and cherishing each day with our miracle son, Steven. While we don’t know where this journey is ultimately leading us, we will continue to persevere, being thankful to God that we have each other, our family, friends, and our community!

Posted on BrainLine August 26, 2015.

Originally published: September 19, 2018
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