When your mother or father dies...
This is an edited copy of the WGHP-Fox8 Morning News program aired at 7:45 a.m. Tuesday, March 7, 2006. On the set were Fox8 Anchor Cindy Farmer and Dr. Elizabeth Vaughan.
You spent many years as an ER physician, and you counseled many families when a loved one died. Recently, you lost your own mother. Tell us about dealing with the loss of a parent.
Most parents, today, don't die unexpectedly. Most die from some kind of lingering illness, like terminal cancer, or Alzheimer's, which is an awful illness where the mind dies before the body goes.
I recommend three books...
Tell us about those.
The first is book is On Death and Dying, by Elisabeth Kubler-Ross.
This is a book you should read if you are the patient who's been diagnosed with a terminal illness. Dr. Kubler-Ross defined the 5 Stages we go through when we receive catastrophic news.
• Denial (this isn't happening to me!)
• Anger (why is this happening to me?)
• Bargaining (I promise I'll be a better person if...)
• Depression (I don't care anymore)
• Acceptance (I'm ready for whatever comes)
The second book?
Tuesdays With Morey, by Mitch Albom.
Through Morey, we learn to embrace death as the natural close to our life.
And the third?
When Bad Things Happen to Good People, by Harold Kushner. He helps you understand that when bad things happen, you're not being punished.
Personally, how did you deal with your loss -- your mother was diagnosed more than a year ago.
I had time to learn, and I learned these things:
• Take the time to get right with those you care about. Don't dwell silently and angrily on your conflicts. Face them together and resolve them. You can do this best if you can see them, talk to them, and touch them.
• Tell your parents you love them. And hug them when you say it. You'll never regret saying I love you one more time, but you might regret not saying I love you, when it could have been said.
And when that person finally passes away ?
Remind yourself, in those first awful hours, that this is the worst time of all. It won't get any worse than this. Each hour, each day, it will get better, and you will heal.
Remember, there is no right or wrong way to grieve.
You may even feel angry because your parent left you. You'll probably have very conflicting feelings. That's okay.
You may actually feel relieved when someone passes -- because you're exhausted from taking care of this person for so long. Don't feel guilty. Conflicting feelings are normal.
Be gentle with yourself. Don't expect too much, or be too critical of yourself.
It's okay to cry, and don't be surprised if you cry when you least expect it.
Take some quiet time to be alone, to focus on the parent you lost, and to remember what you are grateful to this person for.
Last: Seek spiritual or psychological counseling if you can't handle it alone.