How do I deal with grief and want to keep going?

A fellow caregiver asked...

I have bipolar II depression and was first diagnosed when I was 40 years old. I have struggled and lived with this for 27 years. I've had psychotherapy, taken medication, been in and out of hospitals etc.

I was married 23 years the first time, 5 years the second and failing at this third marriage of 3 years. My son, age 47, was found dead in his home in May. He, too, was severe Bipolar 1, schizophrenic, but took medication and was not struggling financially at all. His death was devastating to me as we had a very poor relationship since my divorce to his dad. Our relationship was up and down like a roller coaster, depending on where each of us was at the given time.

I have 4 children in all and two are bipolar, one living in assisted environment. The two healthy children, a boy and girl, are married, have children and have wanted nothing to do with me for years now. I am dealing with my son's death all by myself and it has been 6 months now. I have continued to write my other children, ask for forgiveness as to whatever I did to hurt them. They just don't answer and have told me they do not want me in their life.

For ten years now I have continued to acknowledge them on their birthdays, holidays, etc., with cards and gifts. They do not ever respond or acknowledge me in any way. It has been very difficult on birthdays and Mother's Day to fight my depression and sadness and keep going.

My question is now that my son is dead, how do I keep on "wanting" to live. My family and children reached out to my ex-husband on the loss of his son and have been very supportive, but no one has made any attempt to reach out or understand that I lost our son too. I have no one to talk with or go to who would care or understand what I am feeling. My Faith has kept me alive to date as I do not want to disappoint God by taking my own life. Each night when I go to bed I ask God to please, please take me home to be with Him and my son....however the next morning my eyes open and I am still here. There is no more I can do for anyone here. So what can I do to want to keep going when I am not needed by anyone? I have buried my mom, my dad, my only sibling (brother) and now my son, whom I loved so much. What makes one want to go on in life, when they are no longer wanted or needed by anyone?

Thanks for any opinion you can give me.

Expert Answer

Kenneth Robbins, M.D., is a senior medical editor of Caring.com. He is board certified in psychiatry and internal medicine, has a master's in public health from the University of Michigan, and is a clinical professor of psychiatry at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. His current clinical practice focuses primarily on geriatrics. He has written and contributed to many articles and is frequently invited to speak on psychiatric topics, such as psychiatry and the law, depression, anxiety, dementia, and suicide risk and prevention.

I am very sorry to hear about all you have been through. It sounds like you are now feeling terribly alone and life is overwhelmingly empty. I would suggest several things for you to do right away. The first is to be sure you are working with a good psychiatrist and be sure your mood disorder is being properly treated. Some of the difficulties you describe may be, at least in part, a result of depression, and that is a treatable condition. Second, I would strongly suggest you work with a counselor or psychologist, if the psychiatrist you work with does not provide talk therapy. Many psychiatrists focus primarily on medication issues. You could get much relief talking to a mental health professional about the terrible losses you have suffered, and finding ways to deal with your understandable grief. A therapist may also be able to help you assess your marriage and perhaps find ways to revive that relationship. Third, I would strongly suggest you contact the Alliance for the Mentally Ill chapter in your area. They can be of great assistance to you with education about your illness and practical suggestions. Finally, I would strongly suggest you look to find new social groups. Unfortunately, you can not control your children's behavior. Hopefully they will want to reestablish their relationship with you in time, but for right now it appears you need to look in other directions for comfort and meaning. You might feel better by getting involved with a church or other religious organization, volunteering for some other cause you believe in, or perhaps by getting involved in a grief support group in your area. When you are feeling a bit better, please let us know what helped.