Last week my 17-year-old son’s mother died. She was only 42 years old. Seven years ago his mom had a heart attack then which led to a stroke. These horrific events led to her going into a hospital where she would spend the rest of her days and my son and his 7-month-old brother went live with his aunt.
As my son came into his teenage years, his aunt couldn’t handle him and he needed a stable home with a strong male presence. So one day, he came home with my other son and he just never left. We now have guardianship of him.
Last week, we had to watch our son kiss his mom goodbye and make the decision to take her off of life-support.
Upon learning that his mom had passed, I started to take on his symptoms of loss, grief, and anger; I hated to see him like that. His loss brought back my own feelings of what it was like to lose my own mom at 14 years old.
While “in my feelings,” I had to find the strength to help him deal with his. He came to me with tears in his eyes, using some very profane language, and said, “Dad, I am mad as %^&$! The problem is, I don’t know who to be mad at.”
As I sat and processed what he was saying and going through, I used my own feelings and hindsight to tell him exactly what I would have wanted to hear, as if I was talking to my own14-year-oldd self.
I told him, “Son, it is okay for you to be mad. You can be mad at everything. You can be mad that your mom is gone. You can be mad that your dad went to prison. You can be mad that it didn’t work out with your aunt. It’s ok and very normal to be mad at the crappy life hand that you were dealt. You may not see it now, but you will learn from all of these experiences and it will turn you into a very strong, humble and resilient young man.
“Over the next few days, your friends are going to want to be there for you, but you will not want to be bothered. My advice to you is to let them. During your time of need, your true friends will step up and your extended family will all congregate to one area. Go there and listen to them. Listen to the stories that they will tell about your mom. Find out who her best friend was and chat her up. You are going to want to put as many positive memories into your mental rolodex as possible.”
As I am dealing with my feelings and helping my son deal with his, I decided to try to focus on a silver lining. He is attached to us and, because of this, it is probably the first time that he felt safe enough to actually come to us and ask for help.
He told us his true feelings. He felt safe enough to seek care. He was intimate and able to turn to others in his time of trouble.
As a foster parent, we must recognize the full power of secondary trauma. Recognizing our own feelings will help your child deal with theirs.