Mother died in car accident while son was driving

Dear Dr. Neimeyer,

Thirteen years ago I experienced a seizure while driving.  My mother was killed in the accident.  I had an extremely close relationship with my mother.  I continue to feel guilty and struggle to make sense of this tragedy.

Phil

Dear Phil,

Your tragic story, summarized vividly in so few words, conveys the catastrophic convergence of the two roads that often merge to lead toward complicated grief:  traumatic loss and broken attachment.  In a single violent moment, a once secure world was shattered for you, and seemingly lost along with your mother’s life.  And no explanation or justification can be found to bandage the wound.

Sometimes we can’t “make sense” of a senseless loss, beyond the obvious causal explanation (you had a random seizure at a vulnerable moment and lost consciousness or control, leading to an accident and death).  But we can still seek meaning in how we relate to this tragedy.  What meaning do you want the accident to have in your life?  Will you accept the default conclusion that your life effectively ended with your mother’s?  Of are there vital life lessons to learn from this, about the fragility of life and the durability of love?  Perhaps more relevantly, what meaning do you want your mother’s life to have, a life woven so closely together with your own?  Does her death cancel out the beauty of that bond, nullify all that she taught, all that she valued, all the good she strived to do during the years she had?  If not, how might you review and recover the lessons of that life, and give them fuller expression now?  Might your doing so, as an expression of her lasting legacy, honor her more than decades of remorse and guilt?  Faced with these options, which road would she advise you to take going forward—the one that opens onto new horizons, or the current dead end?  You have begun this inquiry by writing me, but a next step might be writing her, and having a hard but honest conversation with her about your struggle to seek significance in the wake of her death.  As you do so, listen closely to the voice of the mother who still lives in her son, for her guidance about the route going forward.

Dr. Neimeyer

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