Grieving the Loss of a Son During a Pandemic

Philip in the Pandemic: This Ain’t No Jamaica

April 24, 2019…the day my son, Philip, died of an accidental opioid overdose nine days after being discharged from an inpatient rehab. He was 25. The dreaded one year anniversary is closing in on me in mid-pandemic.
Only two months ago, but what now seems like a whole lifetime ago, my two younger kids and I were planning a get-away trip to Jamaica.  To be far away on this dreaded anniversary; someplace as far removed from anything that feels like our now new “normal” lives without Philip. Never did I imagine that our April 24th getaway would melt into a mere fantasy. That instead, this day will be spent trapped in our house, with no possibility of escaping the horrific memory of the saddest day of our lives.
In the midst of any loss, it’s so important to have structure, familiar routines and predictability- to serve as anchors in the otherwise uncharted waters of this grief.  Waters that can, without a moment’s notice, create emotional mayhem and tumult.  Waters that no parent should ever find herself in. Our world becomes upside down.  Nothing is as it’s supposed toGrieving the Loss of a Son be. My son was to outlive me.  Not the other way around. The grief sometimes renders me unable to retain a thought. To find a word.  To carry out a sequence of actions.  The safety and familiarity of my work, my home, my kids, spending time with cherished friends, these knowns have been my comforts, my life rafts.
In the midst of this pandemic, such familiar routines and structures and knowns are gone.  Now, I must think about how and where to grocery shop.  Where the f*** can I find toilet paper? Do we have sanitizer? Have we all washed our hands repeatedly throughout a day? What side of the street should I walk the dog on if someone else is coming my way? Can I take appropriately distanced walks with one of my newest friends, Fran, a major life raft, who also lost her son to addiction, who gets me and gets “it” as few do? Our weekly walks had been a godsend.
The everythings we take for granted are gone. What world is this??
Now, there are so many unknowns. Nothing is safe.  Nothing’s a given.  Sometimes it can feel so terrifying.  I see how anxious and afraid everyone is.
Grieving Pandemic Grieving the Loss of a Son AfterTalkBut I don’t think anything will ever be as frightening for me, as it was for years, living with the terrifying reality that I could, and in fact did, lose my child to addiction.  The white knuckling it for years. Dreading the most awful of awfuls.  Watching my beautiful son fade into the haze of addiction.
I often wonder how Philip would have managed this quarantining if he were still alive.
Would it have saved him? Would it have extended his drug free cleanse from rehab? Would it have made his death at all less likely? Or would he have maintained the invincibility of an addict…”I’m not going to die”, he told me at rehab. “I promise”.
Nothing is as it should be.
In some crazy way, my grief is one of the most familiar things to me. It sits with me day and night, like a smothering caretaker not letting me out of its sight. Like everything else that makes no sense, the worst emotional pain imaginable is now what connects me to my son, and it is there where I find a familiar comfort.Philip in the pandemic.

About Kate Kimbel

I’m a psychotherapist in private practice in the Philadelphia suburbs, trained in marital and family therapy.  After a couple of months of finding and strengthening the muscle, I’ve adjusted to remote therapy and am even enjoying some of the benefits.  That said, I’m looking forward to returning some semblance of a normal professional life.
Grieving the Loss of a Son AfterTalkI have three kids, Philip was my oldest. I also have a son, 23, and a daughter, 20.
I’m sad a lot.
My work has been good for me.
I hike a good bit, either alone, sometimes with our dog, and walk regularly with several friends.
Friends and family have been truly amazing.
I still can’t wait for a true vacation.

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