October 18th, 2011
04:14 PM ET

How can I move on after my son's death?

Every weekday, a CNNHealth expert doctor answers a viewer question. On Tuesdays, it's Dr. Charles Raison, an associate professor of psychiatry and behavioral sciences at Emory University, and an expert in the mind-body connection for health.

Asked by Trena, Cerritos, California

My baby boy died January 12, and my life has been a nightmare ever since. I have tried therapy, and I have been prescribed different antidepressants and nothing seems to help. I'm told I have post-traumatic stress disorder due to the nature of his death. Is there any natural alternative? Are there any other options out there, be it holistic or medicinal? How long does the grief last? I want to feel better for the sake of my other kids, but I just feel worse.

Expert answer

Dear Trena,

My heart breaks for you and your situation. Having young children, it takes no imagination on my part to imagine the horror and heartbreak of losing such beautiful little beings.

So the first thing you should know is that your reaction, while problematic, is most likely not abnormal. I admire you wanting to find ways to put your suffering behind you enough to help your other children.

We know from many studies that the type of trauma that you are experiencing as the result of the death of a child can negatively affect the mental health of the dead child's siblings. So you are right to be concerned.

And I want to suggest to you that you utilize your caring for your living children as a reason to seek healing and as a path for recovering.

Before we talk about specific therapeutic options, I want to suggest that choosing to focus as much as you can on your children, on who they are and on what they need from you, may provide a path out of your heartbreak. Their lives may remind you of your lost child, which may increase your pain initially.

So it is important that you don't beat yourself up if you find it difficult, or impossible, to focus fully on your other children. Just try your hardest, cut yourself a break if you're not perfect and try again.

There are natural products that have been shown to help with depression and anxiety, although you should know that they have not been as well-studied as standard antidepressants and anti-anxiety agents.

In collaboration with your clinician, you might consider omega-3 fatty acids, SAMe (S-Adenosylmethionine, pronounced "Sammy"), St. John's wort or valerian.

Again, chemicals - whether pharmaceutical or nutraceutical - might be of some value, but I think your long-term best interests lie with behavioral interventions.

We've discussed therapy. In terms of less traditional options, there are many. What you are looking for is something that will help you make sense of your loss in a way that will allow you to continue to suffer but to return to full joyful engagement with the life that stretches before you.

I don't know you well enough to have a sense of what to suggest in this regard. Many people benefit from a spiritual practice - be it church attendance, yoga or meditation.

For the sake of yourself and your children, you should also make a commitment to adopting the healthiest lifestyle you can in terms of diet and obtaining regular aerobic exercise.

soundoff (108 Responses)
  1. Adelaine Saria

    Hang in there Trena. My daughter would have been 5 this Christmas (she passed away from complicated heart conditions at 3 months old). I know that everybody's situation is different but the loss of a child is huge and also a heavy burden on the mind, body and soul. My husband and I were lucky that we had and still do have a great support system of family and friends. Fortunately I didn't need too much 'therapeutic' intervention but we did go to counselling and attended different support groups. For me personally I've made it a lifelong goal to ensure that my daughter is never forgotten. So far I feel I've been successful at that. My sons still recognize her as their sister even though she's not physically present. We still celebrate her birthday every Christmas with birthday cake. We have her picture all over the place. And I still have family or friends tell me how they thought of Anabelle that day either through a dream, a song or a memory. I wish you continued faith and perseverance as you continue on this journey as a bereaved parent. It will and it does get better.

    October 18, 2011 at 16:34 | Report abuse | Reply
  2. vida Morgan

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    October 19, 2011 at 01:52 | Report abuse | Reply
  3. Concerned

    Trena –

    Not all forms of psychotherapy are the same. If you have not been treated with prolonged exposure (PE) therapy, you should try to find a therapist with experience with this technique in your area. PE is a form of cognitive behavioral therapy specifically designed for overcoming trauma.

    I wish you the best.

    October 20, 2011 at 11:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  4. Elena

    Dear Trena,
    I am so incredibly sorry for your loss and share in your heartbreak with you. I lost my only child at 6 mos to heart complications. He has been gone nearly 4 years and I still have times of agony. All I can say dear is that with time, the sharpness of the pain will fade. You'll find yourself going from physical pain all the time, to realizing it's been a few minutes since you last hurt. Those minutes will eventually become hours, which will become days. After a while, you will catch yourself smiling or even laughing again. And yes, it is okay to smile and laugh again...you aren't betraying your son...even though your thoughts may tell you otherwise. The day will come that you will realize that you have good days then bad, and that your memories are bittersweet. Some will make you laugh, other times, you will sob on the floor again. But the one thing that will always hold true, is our babies are worth it. Regardless of how short of time they are here, and how much it hurts us...that love and bond that we share with them, will always be worth it.

    Good luck Trena...I'm so sorry for your loss.

    October 28, 2011 at 11:46 | Report abuse | Reply


    November 9, 2011 at 00:18 | Report abuse | Reply
  6. Pharmacology 101: SAMe PK

    SAMe supplements taken orally do not cross the GI wall and never reach cells. Shame on you Dr. Raison, M.D. You should know that. SAMe is made inside of cells and can't be augmented.

    December 6, 2011 at 22:13 | Report abuse | Reply
    • astrosquirrel

      It can help if taken orally. Dr. Internet. http://www.webmd.com/vitamins-supplements/ingredientmono-786-SAMe.aspx?activeIngredientId=786&activeIngredientName=SAMe

      June 6, 2013 at 06:56 | Report abuse |
  7. tara

    I lost my daughter last year due to car accident her dad was driving it has taken a toll on us both he acts as if she was never born he has her pictures up but he those not talk about her when it comes to me I feel like a large part of me died and I'm just going through the motions I was severely injured in d accident and when I see my scars it reminds me of it all what could I do to feel a little better. I have friends family co workers who have been very understanding but no one knows how it feel to see you child turn blue in front of you and can't do anything to help her

    December 8, 2011 at 15:16 | Report abuse | Reply
    • John Dold

      Hi Tara I read your story that is just awful for you. I just lost my 24 year old son to a major heart attack he died in front of my wife and I. They said he had a clot break lose and went through his lungs and stopped his heart. I am really having a hard time. I wish you well your story just touched my heart..

      October 7, 2014 at 11:19 | Report abuse |
  8. Rae

    I'm praying for the original poster and all those who have suffered the loss of a child. You may not always know what to say in prayer, but sit quietly with Him when you can. Even in those soft, still, quiet moments, God will comfort you. The road to healing a broken heart is long, but allow Him to help you on your journey.

    December 29, 2011 at 02:09 | Report abuse | Reply
    • Jenny.C

      I love your post, This story really touched my heart.
      Nobody should have to experience a loss like this. I'm sorry...

      February 6, 2012 at 12:10 | Report abuse |
  9. Delia B.

    First, let me say that I am sorry for your loss and anyone else who has lost a child. I dont know the pain your going through but I hope I can say something that will help. Just know that it will not be an easy process but you can do it. Try to keep yourself busy which I dont think will be much problem since you have more children. Show them your ok and enjoy their every moment because they grow too fast:)Know that your child that is now in heaven, will be watching you from GOD's side and you will put a smile on his face when he see's that you and your children are happy. Like they say "Never forgotten, but always remembered"...BLESSINGS!!!!

    February 15, 2012 at 10:04 | Report abuse | Reply
  10. Becky Loflin

    I am so sorry for your loss and all parents who have lost a child. It is the most horrific pain ever. I lost my 34 year old son after undergoing what a cardiovascular surgeon told him was a "textbook" routine aortic valve replacement. After this dr did the surgery my son Marty stayed in a coma for 14 day before he died. The dr did not give us any answer or offer any compassion – he only would say he was in unchartered waters. He no longer practices in NC but is in Alabama. Our hearts are broken. It has been 2 years and 3 months since this horrible tragedy. The nurse at the hospital said I would never have peace and she is right I never will. Marty was beautiful and fine until walking into that hospital. He wanted to be proactive and do what he was advised by this dr and lost his life. I hope you can find peace and comfort and I am so truly sorry for your loss.
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    Marty's Mama

    April 26, 2012 at 16:01 | Report abuse | Reply
  11. Priscilla

    My heart goes out to you and your family. Please know that you are not alone. I too suffered a terrible tradgedy with a child and I understand your pain. You will be in my prayers.

    May 17, 2012 at 08:54 | Report abuse | Reply
  12. Me to

    Good Morning Trena,
    I pray you are in a better state of mind and spirit. I understand and feel what you are going through. I myself have lost both of my kids a little girl on Jan of 2011 and a little boy on Nov of 2005....let me tell you as you know that is the MOST hurtful experiences of life. I tried counceling, taking medication and nothing helps no one or no thing can give you what you want which is your child back!!! I tell by experience it will get easier as time goes by and you will have moments where you can talk about it with no problems and the next minute the slightess thing will triger you to become so emotional. I will be honest i did question GOD and why did you take my children away from me. I questioned myself as a woman as a wife. It was very hard on my marriage. Today i am in a better place where i know my kids my angels are with me at all times and i talk about them which helps and through it all i still say thank you god for my babies. No one can tell you how long your grief will last only you can. Dont rush yourself just take one day at a time. Many blessing over you and your family.

    June 27, 2012 at 08:39 | Report abuse | Reply
    • judy

      I lost my 3 and 1/2 year old daughter in April 17, 2012, It is so hard for me. She is my only child. I am seeing a counselor every two weeks. I am a kindergarten Teacher and I haven't been back to work since she passed. Some days are better than others. I just hope that I'm able to move on. Its so hard.

      July 12, 2012 at 21:17 | Report abuse |
  13. Music

    My best friend didn't just lose a baby brother but she lost her 20 (almost 21) year old brother. Her whole family was really grief stricken it happened last June and through her friends and family she has stayed positive and has really become a more caring and affectionate person. Good luck and I know you can do it!!!!

    October 25, 2012 at 17:49 | Report abuse | Reply
  14. Zoe

    My heart goes out to all those parents who have lost a child. My son was born with several heart defects, and it is only through the grace of God (an an amazing surgeon) that he is with us still, with an artificial mitral valve and a pacemaker. His presence in this world has also required a great deal of suffering on his part. I do not have any advice–there are things that it is impossible to know how to deal with if one has not lived the same situation. But my prayers are with you.

    November 4, 2012 at 21:50 | Report abuse | Reply

    Totally understand the definition of deep pain and loss, been going to different things myself, best I can tell you ,is know that though you lost your Son, his siblings are still with you and in each one of their hearts your Son is with them and You. I am sure he would not want you to grieve over him but to Celabrate each and every moment his life via doing things you all enjoyed doing together and sharing his story with those who also lost a child or loved one, loss hurts bottom line, grief if we are normal parents will be with us forever yet though we grieve the loss, we must continue so they see we are ok and that we know wherever we go they too are with us.... been 7 years for me I am now just waking from the darkness of the battle to hold on, it is a long slow road but ,for you I believe there are some amazing gifts in store for you through enjoying and continuing loving your son whom you lost through loving his sibblings and being there to let them know they too are allowed to grieve and together in sharing and talking about their brother ,your son his spirit will lift you all up by the enormity of relief you all will feel when everyone knows it is ok and we are still going foward the way he would want you all to do..... Celabrate the time you all had with him and know you were fortunate to be given that.... Nothing else matters spend quality time with those you love and that love you and know it will get better slow but it will in time..... I made a speacial box where when I go for walks I pick up one thing that reminds me of when My SON would make me laugh and I put it in my box and when I need comfort I open it and notice the beauty he brought forth in my solem walks of trusting he is with me always in my heart....... MY THOUGHSand prayers are with you and yours and just take a moment and BREATH..... SMELL the ROSES and Blow out the Candles he has sent you to say he is ok.....................

    November 17, 2012 at 13:38 | Report abuse | Reply
  16. Rose Peters

    Dear Trena, first let me say how sorry I am for the loss of your child. I lost my 6 year old daughter over 25 years ago and I've never gotten over her loss, I know I never will. I have just had to learn to live with it, adjust to it, live a new normal. It has not been easy, in fact, it has been the worst thing, I've ever had to live with. I, too had PTSD, pertaining to her death. She had a older brother and I had another child the year after she died. They don't replace her, but I am so grateful for them, for I know not where I would be, without them. Everyone's experiences are different and I don't know what to tell you except to go with the "pain." Feel it and eventually your new normal will be that you become use to it. Keep busy with what you can and know that at least your child is not in any pain, so you can feel good about that. I've tried a number of antidepressants and found they only made me feel worse and I, personally, was better off not taking them. I wish you peace on your journey.

    March 20, 2013 at 11:48 | Report abuse | Reply
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  18. Alta Hanlon

    Trena, you have to give it time and don't expect it to be OVER. It becomes a part of you, something you learn to live with that lessens with time. I have not lost a child, but a husband 2.5 years ago. I cannot begin to replace him. Instead I will value the time I had with him and call it a gift that I didn't get to keep forever. The most important thing I can pass on is that you can't control grief, so just go with the flow if you can, until the pain eases up. Be patient and kind with yourself and realize that you're a normal grieving person. Grief Streets Support Group is on Facebook, and I have found it to be a real help. It's a place where we support each other and can say how we feel without being judged. Hang in there and it will be OK one day, maybe not how you want it to be, but OK.

    August 3, 2013 at 22:57 | Report abuse | Reply
  19. Scott's mom

    First – hugs, as there are no words. January 6th I start my 9th year without my only child/son. He was killed in an auto accident. The pain is real, but it will become less often. Try reading books on the loss of a child (by others in our same shoes), try raising money in your child's name, and you might want to try attending meetings of either Bereaved Parents of the USA or Compassionate Friends. This is a horrific, exclusive club you have now become part of......and the parents at those meetings will be of great support.

    December 12, 2013 at 15:35 | Report abuse | Reply
  20. preeti

    I just lost my 23 year old daughter and it just hurts so bad. She was diagnosed with cancer in March, 2015 and passed away in April. Watching her die in front of me has been extremely traumatic and I simply cannot find any way to comfort. My life seems to be over. I feel I cannot go on like this for much longer and just wish I could also die so I can be with her

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