Today marks the one year anniversary of the last day that I saw patients before I went on ‘medical leave’ for my grief. I continued to do administrative work on and off, but I stopped seeing children and families. It was just too painful. I returned to work about 5 weeks after Andy died because I simply did not know what else to do. I was home alone during the daytime and was just so sad and lost. I had not even started seeing a therapist, and truly had no idea what to do.
Last November 2nd, I just couldn’t go on any longer. After several weeks of being back, I had nothing left. The triggers at the office were just too difficult for me; the families were constant reminders of what I no longer had and would never again have. I left the office in tears, feeling like a complete failure. I felt like yet another part of my life had died. I worried that this part, too, would be gone forever.
Fortunately, it was at about this time that a third person gave me the name of the same therapist to go see. I thought that must be some sort of sign so I called. She specializes in grief and working with grieving mothers. She was wonderful and had already heard my story through the news. She had been praying for me for two months and said that she had been inwardly hoping that I would call.
I then began my long journey back to my job as a pediatrician. Even when I felt like there was little hope of return, she encouraged me. ‘If you want to go back,’ she would say, ‘we will get you there.’ She was right. After a year of very hard work, I am ready and excited to go back Monday morning! Prior to my return, I sent an email to my coworkers to hopefully help alleviate the fears that they all likely felt about my return. I decided to post it here as well because I think it may also be helpful for Forest Hills Pediatrics patients, some of which may who see this blog.
Forest Hills Pediatrics Doctors and Staff,
As you all know, I am happy to report that I will be returning to work very soon, hopefully, in just two weeks. This past year has been a long one, a year that I wouldn’t wish on anyone. Having said that, it has been a year of tremendous growth as well.
Many people may wonder why it took ‘so long’ for me to return. I really needed to make sure that I was in a place where I could give patients 100% of me. Losing a child is so much different than other types of loss. I have heard it said that losing your parents is like losing your past, losing your spouse is like losing your present and losing a child is like losing your future. I could not say it better myself. It takes a long time to see a future without my little boy in it.
The biggest struggle with my job as a pediatrician is that I take care of children and families every day so every day I would have reminders of what I had lost. This is why I needed so much time. Now, I am in a much different place.
I know that you may find this hard to believe, but (although I would take Andy back in a heartbeat), I know that I am a better person having gone through his death. I will actually be a better pediatrician now than I was in the past. My compassion and caring for others is so much deeper than I ever experienced before the accident. I value families, relationships and children more than I thought possible. I don’t even think I will be as annoyed by people coming in for silly little things because I just understand concern and anxiety more than in the past.
You all may wonder how to act when I come back. Please know that it is ok (actually great!) to talk about Andy and ask how things are going. This should not be a subject that is ‘taboo’. When I hear people say his name and talk about him or ask about me or the family, I know that Andy is not forgotten and that people care about me.
Also, when patients see me, it is going to be ok to ask me questions. They have been worrying about me for a year. I need to be able to say a few words to put their minds more at ease so we can move on. When I tried to come back initially, I did not want to talk about Andy for fear that I would fall apart and start crying.
I have learned two things since that time. First of all, I am much stronger now and won’t fall apart. The second, perhaps even more important thing is that tears are not a sign of weakness. Tears are healing. If you do mention Andy’s name and I get tears in my eyes, you HAVE NOT made me sad. I am only reminded of my deep love for him. I miss Andy every second of every day. There is nothing that others do that makes that better or worse. Even though I still miss him, I now have a lot more good times than bad times and a lot more smiles than tears.
Thank you for reading this long message. I just felt like I wanted each member of my Forest Hills Pediatrics family to know exactly where I am as of today. Know that I will continue to be open and honest with anyone and everyone.
I’m so sorry your Andy died. Thank you for your podcast and for publishing this letter to you wrote to your staff. Sending strength and love.
I am a private practice pediatrician of 23 years in Knoxville, TN and enjoy listening to your husbands podcast. I was devastated to hear about Andy’s death. I commend you for taking the year off for yourself. I’m not sure I would have been able to return to work. I don’t know you but I’m certain that you are one strong woman and I am honored that you are a fellow pediatrician. I hope your return was filled with support and love from your staff and patients. Please know that I’m thinking of you and your family from Tennessee.