Rx for Readers: Coping with loss

How do people deal with tragic circumstances such as the death of a child?

Mourning the Toulouse shootings 370 (photo credit: REUTERS)
Mourning the Toulouse shootings 370
(photo credit: REUTERS)
Along with all of Israel, I read about the unimaginable tragedy of Avivit Shaier of Rehovot whose husband and five children were killed when an electrical failure burned down their small apartment. I live not far away and want to speak to her, but I don’t know what to say. What could she be thinking? How would an expert in bereavement go about it?
-T.K., Rehovot
Dr. Pini Cassouto, a senior medical psychologist at Kaplan Medical Center in Rehovot who has experience in treating people who have suffered loss and bereavement, answers: The loss of a child is one of the most difficult events that can happen in the life of a parent. Avivit is alone after having lost five children and her husband. Mourning such an event continues lifelong. Mourning is a reaction to the loss of a loved one that is aimed at helping the person to continue life without those who are no longer alive. While the experience is unbearable for everyone, every person reacts differently.
There are numerous emotional, somatic and cognitive reactions in reaction to tragedy and loss. When the person begins to be aware that the loved one is gone, the main feelings are depression, anger, anxiety, helplessness and blame. Sadness and depression are very common after loss. They often focus on the question: “How can I live without them?” One may also suffer existential anxiety, when a person confronts the awareness of the finality of life. The sudden and penetrating change in the person’s life usually leads to anger. The feeling of loss is personal, unique and intimate. No one else can understand bereavement until he reaches that place himself.
We know that the symptoms of bereavement have an aim. For example, depression is a mechanism in which the bereaved cuts himself off from stimulants and makes it possible for only a small amount of external forces to penetrate so that the mourner can protect herself from the terrible pain.
When one child – or several – die, the pain is unbearable.
It is against nature for parents to bury children instead of the opposite. The loss of a child turns in many cases to a central organizing factor in the life of the parents, and their reactions to this loss change them in various aspects. Children represent the future. They are meant to be part of our lives until the end. The loss of a child is like the loss of the future itself, causing hopelessness.
At first, the mourner thinks it is just a bad dream. “He can’t really be dead,” the person tells herself.
She believes the person will “wake up” and reappear. But gradually, the mourner is forced to face the fact. The fact that Avivit Shaier has already appeared in the media and spoken with such conviction of her faith that God had his reasons for the tragedy indicates she is a very strong person. After the shiva, all emotional and practical assistance that can be given helps the mourner.
I’m almost 55 years old and am in general good health, as I am active and swim, walk and run. Since December, I’ve been taking Euthyrox for hypothyroidism after the “Eltroxin Affair” in which the pills were altered without the public being informed on time. The new drug has been fine for me. But last month, while eating a sandwich including pickles at a cafe, I suddenly felt my tongue burning, swelling and getting hives. I quickly drank some water, and it calmed down. I thought the reaction came from the pickled cucumbers being too acidic, but my doctor told me I had had angioneurotic edema and sent me to an allergy doctor. I’m allergic to dust and cat hair and suffer from hay fever, but tests showed I did not have a food allergy. The doctor gave me an Epipen for an emergency situation, but I wonder why I had such a reaction. Could the Euthyrox have made me super-sensitive?
-D.T., Ramat Hasharon.
Veteran pharmacist Howard Rice comments: After reading your story, it appears to me that what you were told and what was recommended to you was correct. The allergy tests indicated to what you are allergic but as a precaution the specialist prescribed the Epipen in case of emergency. Allergies occur, and we do not always know why. We invariably are wiser after the event.
It is true that one of the (rare) side effects of l-Thyroxine sodium – in all its present tablet forms – is allergic reactions, which can manifest themselves as hives (urticaria). But your having used l-Thyroxine for some time would indicate that this is not the case with you.
Furthermore, had the brand of Euthyrox been the cause, after almost four months you would almost certainly have felt the difference.
It is not so much the taking of hypothyroid medicine that may have caused the hives, but the fact that you were suffering from hypothyroidism – which can itself cause hives. If your thyroid function is balanced, this will not be the case. The question is whether it was balanced after changing your medication from Eltroxin to Euthyrox. Hypothyroidism (too little thyroid hormone) can cause a rash, just as can those medications used to treat hyperthyroidism. You have to find the correct balance.
Your body will eventually do this, but in the interim you will suffer a little.
You must remember that since you are prone to allergies, you must be on guard. Look out for possible dangers such as cats or other animals roaming around restaurants, eating food that has not been stored correctly, and dusty or dirty places. Carry your Epipen with you and perhaps a couple of prednisone or other steroid pills in a small pocket pack that can be crushed and swallowed in case of need. Without being overconcerned, you should monitor yourself and report to your doctor or pharmacist any unexplained symptoms, until you are sure after a period of a few months that your system has adjusted itself to your medication regime.
Rx for Readers welcomes quesries from readers about medical problems. Experts will answer those we find most interesting.

Write Rx for Readers, The Jerusalem Post, POB 81, Jerusalem 91000, fax your question to Judy Siegel-Itzkovich at (02) 538-9527, or e-mail it to jsiegel@jpost.com, giving your initials, age and place of residence.