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Loss of a Child: When the Miracle Doesn’t Come


Posted: March 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Updated: March 23, 2014 2:00 a.m.
Jeff Zhorne holding his daughter Amelia, with his son Jeremy at his side. He lost both of his children at age 18 months and 4 years old in a car accident in 1991. Courtesy photo Jeff Zhorne holding his daughter Amelia, with his son Jeremy at his side. He lost both of his children at age 18 months and 4 years old in a car accident in 1991. Courtesy photo
Jeff Zhorne holding his daughter Amelia, with his son Jeremy at his side. He lost both of his children at age 18 months and 4 years old in a car accident in 1991. Courtesy photo
Jeff Zhorne Jeff Zhorne
Jeff Zhorne

My family and I had just finished a day of touring the Cotswolds when rain started to mist the windshield on that Friday night in England 23 years ago.

As I guided the rental car through an intersection, a large car barreled over a hilltop and broadsided us at full speed.

My daughter, Amelia, 18 months old, was killed instantly. Jeremy, 4, went into a deep coma from brain hemorrhaging and was hooked up to life support in a nearby hospital.

My wife, Wendy, suffered internal injuries, a broken leg and multiple fractures. I experienced herniated disks and later underwent surgery.

Words cannot express what it feels like to have your entire family unconscious - Amelia would not be coming back, Jeremy might come back. Wendy almost certainly would recover, but was to experience incredible pain and suffering. The anguish is still very real.

Jeremy’s case was straightforward - straightforwardly bad.

“I have to say the outlook for survival is not good,” said the orthopedic consultant.

It looked as if Jeremy was just asleep. He had many signs of life: warmth, pink cheeks, respiration. But his chest moved only with the ventilator.

Our families were notified and immediately flew to England to help us.

They sat beside Jeremy and talked to him. We tried to raise one another’s hope: “All we need is a flicker in his brain.” But it never came. He died within three days.

I wanted to say a few words of tribute over him, but I could only weep, not caring who heard or saw.

Wendy, momentarily taken off morphine, managed better and said a prayer of thanks for his short life. She sang a hymn.

We thanked the nurses, collected a pathetic bundle of clothing and spent the next two weeks waiting for Wendy to recover enough to return to our home in Los Angeles.

There I felt utterly helpless. I didn’t know where to turn. So I went on missions to ‘feel good’ to escape the painful devastation.

But my personal life spiraled down with the loss of my marriage, loss of my career and loss of health. I came to the point where I had to recover or die.

People tried to help us cope by offering phrases of supposed comfort like, “Be grateful you still have your wife,” “It could’ve been worse” and “You just have to let go and move on.”

Let go of what? Move on to where?

Like so many others drowning in grief, I didn’t lack the courage to recover; I just didn’t know where to turn. I did what everybody wanted me to do: Try to get over it. Acting as if everything’s all right and putting on that “I’m fine” face.

After stints with therapists, support groups and books on grieving, I stumbled onto the process of ‘Grief Recovery.’

There I found a way to “finish the unfinished emotional pain” and end the isolation and loneliness.

Jeremy and Amelia will never occupy their rooms again, never take their places at the table or play in the sandbox. But, by becoming complete with their deaths I am now able to cherish their fond memories. They both leave a legacy of love, not pain.

That healing has opened the way to peace of mind, and even joy, for me.

Being able to freely express all the thoughts and emotions connected with loss, including the regret, and acknowledging the loss of unrealized hopes, dreams and expectations.

Grief recovery provided me with the correct tools. At last I’m happy to be reminded of them.

Not that I somehow ‘got over it;’ that event is still very much a part of me. But I’ve learned to incorporate that loss and my enduring love for them into my life.

I needed to enjoy the fond memories of Jeremy and Amelia. I needed to remember them not only for the way they died, but especially for the way they lived.

Grief recovery is a step-by-step method to help those stuck in confusion and loneliness move beyond loss by completing emotional relationships.

The program provides the correct skills we were never taught. By saying good-bye to conflict, pain and isolation, we are able to hold the fond memories of loved ones forever.

Editor’s Note: Jeff Zhorne, MA, CGC, made his research formal, earning a Master’s in Clinical Psychology and becoming a Certified Grief Recovery Counselor. He went on to form The Grief Recovery Program, an organization dedicated to guiding grieving people step-by-step to a richer quality of life.

Zhorne is giving a free presentation on the tools and skills needed for working through any significant emotional loss at 7 p.m., Thursday, March 27, at The Education Center, Christ Lutheran Church, 25816 N. Tournament Road in Valencia. For more information call 661-733-0692.


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