39 - I Didn’t Think I Would Survive: An Interview With Heather Renfroe After the Death of Her Son

In today’s podcast, I interview Heather Renfroe, whose son Adam, died by suicide approximately 15 months ago. Heather courageously shares her son’s mental health struggles, criminal background, and her beliefs about receiving support after his death. Heather talks about the conscious decisions she made to change her grieving patterns to be a better role model for her daughter, how she ultimately found her voice, and her plans for helping others in the future.

Key Points:

There were so many important and interconnected themes that were touched on during today’s interview. These themese includes the intensity of trauma symptoms that can occur in the immediate aftermath of a traumatic death, police and media involvement, healthy and unhealthy coping mechanisms, isolation and the power of human connection, how grief evolves over time, and shame.

In the podcast I share several excerpts from a letter that Heather wrote to me in September, during National Suicide Awareness month, to bring some of these themes together and also introduce disenfranchised grief. In this letter Heather shares more about her son’s criminal history and her perceptions that his actions impacted her ability to ask for or receive help. We have Heather’s permission to post her letter in our Facebook Group – Talking About the Podcast Untethered with Dr. Levin.

Heather described her experience of disenfranchised grief, a term coined by Kenneth Doka in the late 1980s. Disenfranchised grief occurs when grieving does not fit into society's acknowledgement of the death because it is not socially acceptable or publicly supported. Disenfranchised grievers like Heather can experience additional negative consequences on top of their already stressful circumstances including increased loneliness, anxiety, depression, or shame. Heather knew that she was not getting the help she needed but the shame, overwhelming pain, and burden associated with disenfranchised grief kept her feeling trapped.

Heather’s experience has ignited the passion and calling for her future that she shared today. Heather found the strength within to make different choices. She started therapy and journaling and stopped watching the video tapes of her son’s death. She took risks and wanted something different for herself and her children. She still continues to struggle, misses her son greatly and experiences grief on a daily basis but is able to utilize healthy coping mechanisms. She has now found her voice and is able to be verbal and ask for support, cultivated an amazing support community, and is committed to helping others.

Heather is resilient. She is a fighter, and she is able to acknowledge that she is going to be okay and even thrive after the sudden death of her son. She is now more willing than ever to step out of her comfort zone and try something new. She admits she sometimes struggles to see her strengths in the moments when she needs them the most but has surrounded herself with people who she loves and trusts. Adam’s death, like all sudden and unexpected deaths, changed Heather’s life forever. But in today’s interview, Heather said it was in a good a way, which was hard for her to admit.

If you or someone you love is feeling suicidal or in need of crisis support - text or call Lifeline 24/7 at 988 to speak with a counselor

If you would like to connect with Heather, please join our Facebook group Talking About the Podcast Untethered with Dr. Levin.



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