Coping with the Aftermath of Another’s Tragedy: One Parent’s Experience

By Laura Chackes, Psy.D.

It’s been one week since three young teens were killed in a car accident in our community. All three were sophomores at the same high school that my son attends. My son is the same age as they were. He wasn’t close friends with any of them, but he knew all three of them. It was a tragic loss for the family and friends of those three boys, as well as the community at large.

I’ve been reflecting on why this has impacted me so much. I didn’t know the boys at all, nor their parents; yet, I have struggled with many emotions over the past week that have surprised me. After talking to my therapist about it this morning (yes, most therapists also have their own therapist), I have gained some clarity that I’d like to share in hopes that it could help others who are feeling similar things.

For me, it started with a phone call last Wednesday morning from my son who said, “Mom, three of my friends died.” From that moment on, I went into fight or flight mode. For the rest of that day and the next, I could barely think of anything else. I felt a lot of anxiety that I couldn’t explain, and felt like I was in a fog. I had so many questions that I first fired away at my son, and then, when he got sick of my questions, I obsessively searched online for answers. I talked with other parents and therapists to try to make sense of this.

My son kept telling me that he was okay and didn’t want to talk about it, but I could not let it go. One therapist wrote something to me that really helped explain some of this for me. He said, “it will likely be much harder for you than your son. Fifteen year olds think ‘I would never do that,’ but you are dealing with the feeling of not being in control of his choices. It’s so much scarier.”

“Yes, that’s it,” I thought. I was feeling out of control and scared about this happening to my own son. At the same time, I kept putting myself in the shoes of the moms who had just lost a son, and the sadness I felt for them seemed unbearable. My therapist helped explain that my search for answers and need to do something to help was part of my fight response. She explained that others will experience more of the flight response, avoiding thinking or talking about it. I think my son is experiencing some of that avoidance, as he keeps pushing me away when I try to talk about it; however, he may also not be as affected by it since he can tell himself, “my friends and I don’t speed, so this won’t happen to us.” While I know this is not entirely true, I do think that this experience will encourage him not to drive as fast. I have also felt guilt about acknowledging this bit of silver lining to this tragedy. 

It is natural for us to try to “other” these boys as a coping strategy. Many parents may even think, “my kid would never do that,” but the truth is that teens’ brains are not fully developed, and they often make choices that we, as adults with fully formed brains, have a hard time comprehending so see them as “bad” or “wrong.” Whatever choices these kids made that morning do not make this their fault. It doesn’t allow us to explain it away or call them “bad kids.” It is a natural instinct to blame the victims to help protect our own emotions; however, this is not fair to the victims or families. These boys did not deserve to die, and their parents did not deserve to lose a son.

I felt compelled to write about this today because I think that expressing our emotions and sharing them with others is one of the most powerful ways to heal. I’m not an expert on grief, loss, or trauma. I’m just a parent who also happens to be a therapist with a platform to write and share my writing. I often process my emotions through writing, so if others of you feel the same way, I hope you will journal or even share your writing with me or others. There is no right or wrong way to feel or cope with something like this.

As we all struggle to make sense of this tragedy and cope with the various emotions that come up, I hope that we can continue to come together and support those who were close with the victims, as well as everyone else who was affected in some way. We all know intellectually that life is short and accidents like this can happen, but when it happens to people closer to us in some way, it all becomes much more real. 

Many in the community are finding it helpful to donate to the parents’ Go Fund Me pages to help with funeral and living expenses while the families cope with this devastating loss. I think that this is a good way to contribute in some way. If you’d like to contribute, here are the links for each of the teen’s pages.

Part of my coping has also been to offer free therapy sessions to those who have been affected by this. That has given me something to focus my energy on, and I feel good about being able to help in some way. By sharing this offering to those in the district and community, I’ve gotten a lot of support that has felt good. I understand that we can’t all offer to help in some way, but I guess what this has really helped me realize is how helpful it is to connect with others who are also grieving this loss in some way. The Ladue School District has done an excellent job of providing communication and support to parents and students, and they are continuing this effort on an ongoing basis as we all know that the suffering extends well beyond the initial period of shock. If you are a parent of a child in the Ladue School District or live in the area and want to connect with others, I’d encourage you to join one of these Facebook groups to connect with others.

As a practice, we value engaging with our community. In this case, the accident impacted me and my child, as well as others in our practice who have children in the district. However, we’d like to extend the offer of free services to those throughout the St. Louis area who have been affected by this and other tragic events. Please reach out to us if you are in need of services, and we will do our best to help. I hope that you all find reading this to be helpful in some way. I’d love to hear from you if you’d like to share your thoughts and emotions. If you don’t feel comfortable sharing with a group, feel free to email me at We are all in this together, and it truly takes a connected community to heal from something like this.