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How do I Heal in the Aftermath of
Losing my 7 Year Old

QUESTION: I just finished reading the story about Nathan and his stepson. I too lost a child this March 6, 1997, who was hit by a car and only 7 years old. This is such a major blow to the mind and body. I lost my father and my brother and grandparents and now my son. Enough is enough! We made it through holidays barely, emotionally and financially. My marriage is great and I think always will be but there are other issues that concern me greatly. I have a 4 year old daughter and a 10 year old daughter. My 10 year old is very intelligent and outgoing and thinks she's 14 or 15. She's got so much anger built up inside that we truly can't stand her "most" of the time.

We have been going to counseling both publicly and privately. I recently had enough of running to these support groups and she avoids talking at all costs there as well. So I lost my temper and told her to begin talking or else. She's causing herself physical harm with hives and irritable bowel syndrome (I think) from holding it all in. I just can't function well enough anymore to get her to open up. I used to have clever words and phrases that would get her to think but not interfere too much.

Now, after being off work since he died, (keep in mind that I've worked out of my home for 8 years) and feel so much financial stress that I question whether I should be working or not.

We are expecting a settlement any day from this accident which would allow me not to work at all for a few years. But someone approached me as well to work for them at a Fortune 50 company, with good pay and benefits. I get so tired sometimes and think there is no way I could hold down a job yet and then I think of my kids and whether this would be another major blow to them. They've never known anything else. I've always put them first by taking one lousy job at home after another but lately I feel like "I should just get out in the work force like everybody else". Am I kidding myself that I can go on and on surviving on my husband's income. Its okay but its not going to allow us to prepare for our retirement. This settlement will certainly help there too.

I wonder if I should just take the job and see if we all adjust or wait out the settlement (which will be less than a month away).

Please help!

Your spirit is bruised and aching from the loss of your son. Take time to grieve. Put your efforts towards your own healing at this time. Taking on a new job would only push this grief to the background which would create increased pressure on yourself and your family later.

The death of a child is different from all others you have previously experienced. Seek out support from others who know this pain. Organizations such as "Compassionate Friends" may be able to connect you with others who have shared similar life experience and can help you mourn in a less formal setting than traditional counseling groups. It is probable that you have been in such shock, that counseling has been overwhelming instead of a help to you at this time. Take time to yourself, but remain connected with one professional counselor during this period of mourning to address your own individual feelings as a mother.

Use your financial settlement to address your needs now rather than mortgage your sorrow to your future. Your overwrought nerves are responsible for resorting to "bullying" your 10 year old towards health. You are scared and frightened of losing another child in some manner and your pain overcame your capacity for absorbing any further stress. You became desperate in your attempt to love her and perhaps, determined to "save" her. This is understandable, and a sign that you must give yourself the time and space to mourn, wail and care for your own pain.

Parents often express that the loss of a child is not something you recover from, but rather a pain with which you learn to live. Seek wisdom from other parents who have traveled this road. The more you can take care of yourself, the greater your energy and patience will be restored for mothering your children who are living.

Your marriage is a source of nourishment and solace. Use it to heal, to retreat from the world for awhile. Your soul needs healing before your spirit will be able to fly again. Your loss is one of the greatest magnitudes. Honor your son's spirit by making room for the huge adjustment to losing him.

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Gayle Peterson, MSSW, LCSW, PhD is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She trains professionals in her prenatal counseling model and is the author of An Easier Childbirth, Birthing Normally and her latest book, Making Healthy Families. Her articles on family relationships appear in professional journals and she is an oft-quoted expert in popular magazines such as Woman's Day, Mothering and Parenting. . She also serves on the advisory board for Fit Pregnancy Magazine.

Dr. Gayle Peterson has written family columns for ParentsPlace.com, igrandparents.com, the Bay Area's Parents Press newspaper and the Sierra Foothill's Family Post. She has also hosted a live radio show, "Ask Dr. Gayle" on www.ivillage.com, answering questions on family relationships and parenting. Dr. Peterson has appeared on numerous radio and television interviews including Canadian broadcast as a family and communications expert in the twelve part documentary "Baby's Best Chance". She is former clinical director of the Holistic Health Program at John F. Kennedy University in Northern California and adjunct faculty at the California Institute for Integral Studies in San Francisco. A national public speaker on women's issues and family development, Gayle Peterson practices psychotherapy in Oakland, California and Nevada City, California. She also offers an online certification training program in Prenatal Counseling and Birth Hypnosis. Gayle and is a wife, mother of two adult children and a proud grandmother of three lively boys and one sparkling granddaughter.

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