Grief Counseling

The situation: Late last week my husband’s four year old nephew burned to death in a fire. Now, this is not a plee for sympathy–if I wanted that, this would be in MPSIMS. To be frank, neither my husband or I had much contact with the child, and so are not feeling personal loss, beyond what is normal when such a tragedy happens to anyone.

Our main concern is my mother in law. She is absolutly devastated, and I don’t know what to do. She has poor coping skills under normal circumstances, and in a case like this is literally falling into pieces. She absolutly worshiped this boy when he was alive. Of course, all grandpartents do, but in her case she was devoted solely to this boy and his sister (who lived) in a way that was unusual–even before his death she had romantasized thier relationship a great deal: ‘Skye is the only one that really loves me’ sort of thing. Her relationship with her grandson was truly the center of her life, and none of the otherrelationships in her life–not with her estranged husband, her children, her siblings–was even in the same ballpark. Even her relationship with the little sister has always been in terms of the primary relationship withthe grandson (becasue he was born frst, I think, not becasue of gender) I have never heard her refer to the girl by any other name than "little sissy’ in fact.

I am trying to say that while overwhelming grief in this situation is normal, the circumstances surrounding it make it even more complicated. At this point we are concerned she may take her own life, and if not that, she may never even make a partial recovery–and your mid-50s is much to young to retreat into a grief cocoon. There may have been one suicide attempt already, and (I am a little foggy on the details–we weren’t there for this) apparently my sister-in-law and her husband left her alone for a few minutes to run to the store and came back to find feces all over the living room. She is truly going mad with grief and I don’t know what to do. We will have to leave her alone eventually.

My quesstions for the teeming millions are:

  1. The doctor prescribed some nerve pills, I don’t know which type. Should I encourage her to take them and for how long? There is actually a problem there where the parents of the child may have gone through the whole week’s supply over the weekend, but the doctor would probably prescribe more.

  2. Is any sort of professional consoling a good idea, and if so, when should it start? Should I try and find a group that I can take her to this week or is it better to wait until she is past the raving grief phase and is a little more collected.

  3. Does anyone have any general advice on a situation like this? We are feeling totally overwhelemed, and I worry that if we don’t do the right thing in these first weeks she may never recover.

She’s in need of immediate on going counseling - not just grief therapy, but for her safety (the suicide threat).

not just pills (tho’ they may help)

Please, contact your local mental health hotline, quickly.

this is nothing to screw around about.

I concur with the previous post: Get qualified psychiatric help for this person IMMEDIATELY!

I’m not clear from what was said if the subject is taking an excessive amount of medication, but if so, that may be a life-threatening issue.

If the situation is bad as it sounds, waiting for an appointment with your HMO’s psych service may be too late or too little. You CAN take a person to the ER for psych issues; if I were to do this, I’d call the ER first to prep them as to what to expect. If you send them via ambulance, the crew should be radioing ahead.

In some states you can have a person involuntarily committed to a psych unit on an emergency basis for 48 or 72 hours. This case sounds like it is on the border of that kind of thing.

As a sidebar, you yourself can look to Dr. Ivan’s Depression Central (a nice site).

Having lost my son, I know how devastating this can be. And this was a sudden death, which makes it that much harder.

From what you’re describing, your mother-in-law’s behavior probably does qualify as a true psychiatric emergency. She needs to see a psychiatrist NOW. Sedatives (which is what her doctor probably gave her) will numb the pain for now, but in the long run may cause other problems, including addiction and delayed grief reactions. (which is why my own doctor refused to prescribe them for me.)

Grief counseling may be a good idea, but if she’s having this kind of acute reaction, she’d probably best be evaluated by a psychiatrist for emergency inpatient admission. There, she can be evaluated and treated for the most acute phase. She can also be started on appropriate medication.

FWIW, the book A Broken Heart Still Beats is a wonderful book for those who have lost children. I have a copy and it has been a HUGE help in dealing with the loss of my son. The Compassionate Friends is another good resource for family members who have lost children.