A horrible accident happened in our family. My 12-month-old niece, Kylee was killed as a friend's pickup backed out of the driveway. We are all devastated and still in shock.
There is another little girl in the family. She is almost three. How can we best meet her needs as they crop up over the next months. What can we expect? Are there things we can do to help her feel more secure?
My 15-year-old is now having nightmares about her younger brothers being run over. My oldest is 19, but I still consider her a child. She witnessed the accident and blames herself. She was living with her sister and the girls. Her father has laid the blame solely on her. How can we help my own children cope with such a tragic loss?
A young man, a family friend, who was driving the truck tried to kill himself that night.
Even as an adult, I have my own days of total breakdown so I try to let them know that it is okay.
Thank you so much.
This is so traumatic for everyone involved. The best way to cope is to understand that everyone is traumatized and will have huge feeling. Of course, there is the same grief that would happen with any death (from cancer, for instance) but this is so sudden.
I think the adults involved have to help themselves grieve as much as they can in private and of course, some times in public in front of the kids. But the adults need to communicate to the children, including the 15-year-old that you will keep everyone safe. This was a very unusual situation, a freak accident, and will not be repeated.
The kids can all be expected to act out, have nightmares, regress, etc. The sister of the baby who was killed is likely to have some guilt, given that every three-year-old with a little sibling has probably at times wished for them to go away. It is important to explain that this was about the truck, not about anything anyone felt at any time.
I think for your 15-year-old, the nightmares are a way of working out this impossibly tragic event, and probably talking together and crying together would help. Also, I would highly recommend some strategy to release trauma, like tapping the acupressure points. Trauma is stored in the body so tapping those points helps release it.
Your 19-year-old does need your help. She is indeed still a child, and to whatever degree she feels guilty, that is a big risk for her, because she will punish herself, even unconsciously. She needs plenty of time to grieve with you and also a way to make sense of this tragedy that does not hold her responsible.
You may have to tell her that her father doesn't know which side is up, that he is upset and wanted someone to blame. I can't believe he thinks that ruining her life -- which is what blaming her would do -- would somehow make up for Kylee's death. So yes, your older child desperately needs you to be very involved with her right now, and to help her make sense of this without blaming herself.
I think we are dealing with:
3. Panic and terror that the universe is not as safe as we tell ourselves
All these emotions need to be expressed. EFT is very helpful with the panic.
I think planting a tree or making a book, etc. all help with the grief and guilt but the real way to address the guilt is to confront it directly and to have a different explanation for it. Anyone who feels guilty needs to know that there is plenty of responsibility to go around but that no one person alone is to blame for this incident. We don't need anything fancy to deal with feelings, although the tapping is so effective it can feel like magic. There is no way around the grief except to cry and rage, I'm afraid.
The poor boy obviously has made known that he needs help, and hopefully, he is getting it. Another way to make sense of this senseless tragedy is to see all the ways that it could inspire people to live better lives. If the guilt makes those who feel responsible try to kill themselves, or turn to drinking, or in any other way hurt themselves, then Kylee is being dishonored.
She would want her sacrifice to make the world a better place, not a worse one. Maybe your daughter, and this boy who was driving, and everyone else could see this as a charge to themselves to become better people, who will make up for Kylee's death by honoring her with how they show up on the earth. Yes, this is a senseless tragedy. There is no way to see a reason that such a terrible thing could happen. But life is only 10% what happens to us. It is 90% what we do with that.
So I think the message to your daughter and to everyone else is that to honor Kylee, to make something good come of this they have to become angels themselves, to show up as compassionate, loving people rather than to let the guilt destroy them.
As both a mom and a Clinical Psychologist, Dr. Laura Markham offers a unique perspective on raising kids. Her relationship-based parenting model has helped thousands of families across the U.S. and Canada find compassionate, common-sense solutions to everything from separation anxiety and sleep problems to sass talk and cell phones.
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Dr. Markham received her Doctorate in Clinical Psychology from Columbia University in New York. She's held many challenging jobs, including running publishing companies with 100 employees, serving on corporate boards and coaching business leaders, as well as counseling families and children. Bottom line, she says, "Raising children is the hardest, and most rewarding, work in the world." Dr. Markham lives in New York, with her husband, 14-year-old daughter, and 17-year-old son.