ADA TOWNSHIP, Mich. (WOOD) — Dr. Marcy Larson is a pediatrician in Forest Hills, but her preferred title is Andy’s mom. She did not attend the graduation ceremony for Forest Hills Northern High School this week. However, she did hear about it, which brought tears to her eyes.
“All of Andy’s classmates he had gone to Forest Hills Northern with from kindergarten graduated at (LMCU) Ballpark,” said Larson. “They had a moment of silence to honor him. I had no idea they were going to do it. I got a text from the mom of his best friend after the principal announced it.”
The location of the graduation ceremony was poignant for Larson. Four years ago, Andy died in a car crash feet from the property line to LMCU Ballpark.
“You think people forget, and a lot of times people do forget. But it’s really nice to know he was remembered and that all those kids he went to school with had a minute to think about him,” Larson said.
She uses the lessons she learned about grief in the last four years to educate other medical professionals on how they can treat families going through similar losses. She also started a podcast in the year following her son’s death.
“You feel so isolated and so alone when you’ve lost a child because, in general, people don’t want to talk to you. They feel very uncomfortable,” said Larson. “I wanted to be able to talk to these parents and let them tell their stories to people who want to listen.”
With every story she has told, Larson has helped bring families a little healing and herself too. She has also noticed a recurring theme.
“Talking to other families made me kind of realize that the medical community is really ill-equipped to be able to handle (parents dealing with loss),” she said.
Larson shared a story from her residency training in the pediatric intensive care unit involving a 9-year-old girl who she had grown close to and cared for throughout the year. The girl died, and it hit Larson hard.
“I was devastated because I had grown close to this family and this little girl. I kept thinking to myself, hold it together, don’t cry, don’t cry. I walk into the room. I looked at the mom, and I immediately started to cry,” she said.
The mother told Larson she was going to be a great pediatrician, but Larson did not believe her. She always looked at that moment as the one time in her residency she screwed up.
It was not until she was sitting in a parent support group that she realized what the little girl’s mom meant. Another parent in the group talked about their loss, how a doctor had cried when seeing them, and how that stuck out to them.
“That mom appreciated the fact that I teared up and was willing to give her a hug that day. She knew that I cared and thought I would do a great job caring for other kids,” said Larson.
Her experience has already helped in her pediatric practice. Larson said patient families who know about her experience with grief often share more personal details about themselves.
“Once you open up a little bit, once they realize that you care about them as a person, they will start telling you things that are very important to their health that they may have held back in embarrassment or who knows the reason,” said Larson.
Larson and her colleagues will be speaking during an event called Grief: Preparing the Pathways to Healing for the Bereaved and the Professional. It will be held on Saturday from 8:30 a.m. to 11:30 at the Heritage Life Story Funeral Home in Grand Rapids.
Her part of the presentation will focus on how to show humanity as a care professional and walk alongside a grieving family.
“Whether they lost a child, husband, wife, sister or whoever, just how to walk along that path with them and be able to give them the support they need,” she said.
Gwen Kapcia, a thanatologist, will focus on how medical professionals can help themselves, too. Thanatology is a scientific discipline that examines death from many perspectives, including physical, ethical, spiritual, medical, sociological and psychological.
“That’s hard. She talks about ways to help yourself because you do need to kind of feel it and know how to handle that. I think that is a reason why (doctors and nurses) might stop showing that humanity because they don’t want to feel it,” said Larson.
Those interested in attending the event can find more information, including how to register, on the Kent County Medical Society’s website.
Larson’s podcast and blog can be found on her website AndysMom.com.