"Suddenly, in an instant, everything was gone."
In August 2018, the unimaginable happened: Marcy Larson, M.D., lost her 14-year-old son Andy in a tragic car accident caused by a distracted driver.
"One second, we were happily driving in our van to a Whitecaps baseball game talking about Andy wanting to read The Lord of the Rings," said Dr. Larson. "The next, I remember sitting in the long grass on the side of the road, looking up to see my husband's bleeding face and then turning around and looking over my shoulder to see three paramedics doing CPR on my son."
Though Larson had experienced deep grief before—as a junior in college she lost her 42-year-old mother to breast cancer—this was different. "Losing Andy was like losing part of myself," said Larson.
"I've heard it said that losing your parent is like losing your past, losing your spouse is like losing your present and losing your child is like losing your future. No one is supposed to outlive their child. The pain is just so unimaginable. It's hard to know how to even go on from that."
Most surprising for Larson was the fear she experienced while beginning to grieve.
"It's expected to have immense sorrow and sadness, even depression, but the fear was unexpected. I had a happy family, my husband, three biological children, my foster son and me. I had a career as a pediatrician that I loved. Everything changed in a blink of an eye. So that fear sticks with me, the fear that tragedy happens. It can happen to anyone at any moment."
Larson sought therapy and counseling but found the initial approaches and methods ineffective. She eventually found the right fit with Starlight Ministries' grief support groups, finding them a lifeline for her family.
"Some of my very closest friends I met while there," said Larson, who began seeing a personal therapist specializing in grieving mothers.
"Although our stories are very different, our loss is the same and that bonds us together. Now I'm even in a book club that includes widows. We all have things to learn from each other."
Sometimes the grief is so dark, it can be hard to find a way out. That's why leaning on others who are also grieving is important.
And it's exactly why Larson started the Always Andy's Mom podcast and founded the 501(c)(3) organization Always Andy's Mom. "On the show, I talk with other parents and allow them the share the stories of their children and their grief journeys. It's amazingly helpful for these parents to share their stories and for others to hear them."
Larson offers advice for others who are experiencing grief: Try not to do everything on your own and accept help from others, whether it's from a therapist, fellow griever, family member, friend, or even a stranger on a podcast.
"It may feel like you aren't able to do anything, but you need to celebrate little victories. Getting out of bed can be a victory. Taking a shower. Making dinner. It's a marathon and not a sprint.
"I will grieve every day of my life. But today is not as painful as it was 18 months ago and, likely, 18 months from now won't be as painful as today. You have to think in those terms, though, and not have unrealistic expectations."
For those trying to support grieving loved ones, simply showing up is huge.
"The best thing anyone said to me was, 'I am so sorry. I have no words for you.' That was so true. Don't try to put a silver lining on it right now. For them, their world has crashed and you talking about it being part of God's plan or the good that may come from this will not help."
Grief is a long journey you don't get over and will always carry, thought it changes over time.
"It leaves you tired—more tired than I imagined—but there are happy times again," said Larson, noting you can laugh and be happy and grieve at the same time.
"I think of the movie Finding Nemo and Dori singing, 'Just Keep Swimming.' As long as I keep moving, I can go on. Sometimes, I may be moving backward or sideways, but as long as I keep moving, I can get through another day."
Written by Sarah Suydam, Staff Writer for West Michigan Woman.
Photo courtesy of Marcy Larson.
This article originally appeared in the June/July 2020 issue of West Michigan Woman.