From the Heart: Double Trauma and Delayed Grief

The Boone Family

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.

Comments (16)

God bless you. And you are so right. He does give us so much strength! I feel your pain, even though I didn't lose a child. My only son has a severe TBI and I stayed by his side for 3 months until he was discharged home. I have been his only caregiver since then. Yes, we will do ANYTHING for our kids!

I suffered a TBI in Feb of 04 in a motorcycle accident. Perm damage to 3 parts of my brain and titanium in my left leg knee to foot. The Lord takes home those He needs, and leaves those with work still to be done. I'll pray for your family.....God Bless...

Your strength and perseverance is truly amazing. Thank you for your courage to share your experience and reach out to others. It is amazing how faith and love can lift you up when you are unable to do it on your own. Prayers for you family and your continued journey.

Life goes on... unabated. It waits for no one... a road you once traversed is suddenly a dead-end. Gone, memories, and grief your only reminders of the child, son, daughter, you loved.

Life, it will go on... in a different form. You'll feel, see, remember, old and new, new and old... the luster of such has a new feel. And in time, the memories, hurt, will fade... this is a given... and the water washes up the seashore. ac

Loss and ambiguous loss! What a compounded tragedy! I am speechless and numb reading your story! Each day I count my blessings and kiss my TBI survivor! You define resiliency! I think I know your co pilot! Bless you and your family 🙏

Reading your story reminds us of how precious life is and how quickly it can be taken away. You expressed it very well in your article.

Just when we think life has dealt us with the worst possible blow, you read a story like this and learn that it can still get worse. It's been slightly over a year since we lost the essence of my niece Cristina. She was 22 years old; she suffered severe traumatic brain injuries that required multiple brain surgeries to put her skull back together. She's in a minimally conscious state and Doctors said this is it. She's trapped in her body unable to communicate as multiple strokes which took place during rehab stole her chance of recovering. We have her body but not her mind and it's a very cruel situation. Thanks to all of you for your comments. www.CristinaStrong.org

i am so sorry... there is no rule to grieving... i lost my husband eight months ago and am still grieving... crying every day... day by day... one day at a time with baby steps... god bless you... eleanor santa fe new mexico

So beautifully written, Norma. We pray for you, Carlan, and Steven each day.

Thank you for courageously sharing your story. My thoughts and prayers are with you for continued healing.

Wonderfully written. This family is an amazing inspiration to all that know them!

I am so sorry for your loss. I feel for you and pray for your strength. My only sibling and I were in an accident together and she sustained an severe TBI and and was in a coma for 6 months . I loss her that day. She lived - but barely . My injuries were minimal. 23 years later, so much has happened although sometimes it seems like yesterday. Our family has all but been destroyed. Both of my parents have suffered ongoing mental health issues including major depression. My sister is a walking (barely) skeleton of her former self now with major depression- and needs 24 hour care even though we manage to take care of her out of hospital - and her condition is deteriorating as she gets older causing almost daily dramas. It's devastating to everyone in our family, including myself still. Learned from my experience is to be thankful completely for everything - and have no expectations and make sure to take care of yourself first.. Learn as you can to keep your faith for strength. I pray for you on your journey moving forward . It is a road less traveled - and least recognized and understood by others. Namaste my friend

Thanks for sharing your story. Only those who have walked in your shoes can truly understand that kind of loss and pain. Both you and your family are an inspiration to all of us.

Thank you so much for telling your story and God continue to Bless you. My son's accident was six years ago and left him with a serious TBI and paraplegic. I grieve for the loss of the son I knew but thank God for the son I have. I still struggle every day with grief and guilt but I also know just how blessed I really am. God bless you and your beautiful family.

WOW! I can't imagine what you are going through. I am nearing the 14 year anniversary of our accident which left my now 17 year old daughter with a severe TBI, myself with a brain injury and my 19 year old daughter with a lot of PTSD and other things. My heart breaks for you but I also take a lot of strength from your article. Thank you for sharing your story.

What a beautiful article. I lost a brother. He was 23 and I was 26. It was the most horrifying thing I had ever been through. My parents had their grieving and we had our own. We all grieved differently and I believe it wasn't until a year ago that I really think I stopped grieving and moved on to just missing him. That was 12 years later. I think it is amazing to share such a difficult time in your life. Thank you, again.