Life can change in the blink of an eye, like it did for Sandra Maddox when her only child was tragically killed in a car accident. But as Sandra faced the darkest of times, she found a new path to becoming whole again. In the second episode on the process of grief, Sandra is joined by Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen to chronicle the changes, both bad and good, that can result from such a catastrophic event.
Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to The Brain Warrior's Way podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.
Tana Amen: And I'm Tana Amen. In our podcast, we provide you with the tools you need to become a warrior for the health of your brain and body.
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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome back. We are in day two of grief week and with our friend Sandra Maddox who has been educating people around the world about grief, and that's part of something we're going to talk about called posttraumatic growth, because obviously what happened was seriously traumatic. You are using it for good, but I promised you guys a story. I was in our northern California clinic giving a lecture, and after I was done, this woman by the name of Chris came up to me, and she just started crying. And that happens way too often to me where people come up, and they just start crying. And I've been doing this long enough, I just stand there until they stop. And then she told me this story.
She said two years before, her 12 year old daughter died of bone cancer. Her 12 year old daughter, Sammy, died of cancer. And part of her was glad she died because Sammy had been in so much pain. Bone cancer's just one of the worst cancers for pain. And she said, "And then I just ... I went to bed and drank alcohol, way too much and ate bad food." And on her five foot two frame ballooned over 200 pounds, and on the two year anniversary of Sammy's death, she decided to kill herself, despite having three of their children and a husband.
And she said, "Then I saw you on public television." My program, Change Your Brain, Change Your Body. "And I decided I would get your book, and if it was a bad book, I would kill myself tomorrow." And I'm standing there going, "Oh my goodness." Because I write in my chair. You know my chair at home. Right?
Tana Amen: [crosstalk]
Dr Daniel Amen: I'm writing now. I'm like feeling all this pressure. And she said, "But it was so easy, and I just did everything you said. I stopped drinking. I started eating the right things. I started walking. I started running, and now I've lost like 24 pounds. And I know Sammy would not have wanted me to engage in the behaviors that actually made everything worse."
Tana Amen: But what I liked was that she said within eight days she began to feel better. That's important. So, she noticed a change pretty quickly.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, grief is something ... I mean you can't stop it because we are bonded species. That's how God made us. We are meant to be connected. In fact, loneliness and being disconnected is a major risk factor for Alzheimer's disease. And so by you talking about your friend coming over, your husband inquiring on how you are, it's so important to build that community.
Tana Amen: And can I ask Sandra, 'cause I already know the answer to this, but I just think this is so important for people listening, because I know how strong you are. You're just this very strong woman. As gentle as you are, you are strong. So it's a quiet strength. But you did something that, in my mind, 'cause we talk about pain to purpose, which I have done in a very different way. But what you did is just amazing. So, tell us a little bit about the ministry you started in the books and how that has helped you because then you can talk about posttraumatic growth 'cause this is what she did. You grew through this process.
Sandra Maddox: So I had, again ... It's always so important to have those friends who come and like just sit and not really push you or do anything. But it had been about a month or two months, and I had a dear friend. She's a pastor's wife. She invited me to just come and sit in the back and go to the Bible study and I'm grateful for that because it got me back into the world because I was at home, just taking visitors and all that kind of stuff. But it got me to get up, and I knew I had to do it. I knew, in my wrestling, that the Lord was calling me to do something big because I remember, when I was telling you that I was sitting in front of Tiffany's grave, I remember Pastor Rick's book, Purpose Driven Life. I remember there was a poem by Russell [inaudible], I think his name is, and it says, "You are who you are 'cause I made you. You're part of the master's plan. The parents I gave you are for a reason, and they're stamped with the master's seal."
So, I knew what God was calling me to do. Not to sit there but to share my story with others. And so, when I went to this Bible study, I started feeling better and decided, like it was maybe a year later, and the women's ministry leader came in, and I had been doing some of the mentoring in there, and she said, "You know, we really want to start a mom's program." And at first I thought, "Are you crazy?" Like, you want me to start a mom's program with girls that are my daughter's age, 25, having babies, and that's not something I'll ever do. I'll never be a grandma.
So, for myself, it was a loss of a lot of different things. You know, I'll never see my daughter get married, I'll never be a grandma. But then, it was like, I said, "Okay, well I'll just pray about it." But I knew it was from the Lord. I knew, 'cause he takes you to something that's really hard and transforms you, transformed that grief for me. I knew it was from him. I knew he wanted me to walk in that. And now I've been leading a mom's ministry for 14 years. It's going to be on 15 years.
Tana Amen: You have a lot of moms there.
Sandra Maddox: I have a lot of moms there.
Tana Amen: I've spoken for you.
Sandra Maddox: Yes you have.
Tana Amen: There's a lot of moms.
Sandra Maddox: I have about ... The class runs from anywhere, 168 moms to like 197 or almost 200.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, you went from one child to 200.
Sandra Maddox: Yes. Yeah, multiple. That's what everybody says, like thousands of them all the time. And then I started speaking in mom's conferences, so I do that with a gal. Then I speak many times a year in big arenas in Dallas and other places and have been to Korea, and I even got to go speak at a Purpose Driven conference, my first Africa trip, and I went to Malawi, and they asked me to speak on grief, and I went, "What? What am I going to teach these people who grieve everything all the time?" But I spoke to a bunch of pastors who cried and said, "We are alone in our grief. We are isolated."
The mom stays isolated. Everybody stays isolated there, and they were crying knowing that there's a better way, that they could have community and trying to break that cycle. It was shocking to me. They told me that when someone loses a child or just grieving in general that they leave those people to mourn by themselves.
Tana Amen: Oh my God. One of my favorite sayings is pain shared is pain divided.
Dr Daniel Amen: There's nowhere in school. So, even though grief is universal, there's nowhere in school where people teach you how to do this-
Tana Amen: And how to help others.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, it's so easy to go to food or so easy to go to drugs or alcohol or psychiatric medication. And I'm actually really good with psychiatric medication, but it's never like the first thing I think about. And what you did is you went to this thing called posttraumatic growth because obviously it was terribly traumatic.
About 10% of people who go through a trauma, develop PTSD, develop a psychiatric disorder related to it. About 80% of people don't, which is interesting. So, we always think, "Oh well you went through this traumatic event, therefore you're going to suffer." Not for everybody, but there's about 10% of people, and you fit in this, that go to post traumatic growth. And I created a little mnemonic for helping remember the components of it. SPARK.
So there are spiritual changes. I don't know if you can relate to that.
Sandra Maddox: Yes I can.
Dr Daniel Amen: Even though you were devastated and questioned God, it seems like your relationship with God is actually better.
Sandra Maddox: It is. I got to know him because I kept saying, "Okay, I'm just going to get in your face, and I want to know everything about you." I did, and I just kept telling myself, "Okay, I'm not going to look down. I'm going to look up." And really, it was the closest I've ever felt him too me.
Tana Amen: That's powerful.
Sandra Maddox: I mean really felt him really close to me. And I just was obsessed with reading the Bible and reading the Word and trying to know who he is and know who I was to him, that he loved me, that I was his child. He wasn't there to hurt me, and there was a plan and a purpose for all of this.
Tana Amen: See I love that. Pain to purpose.
Dr Daniel Amen: So, Martin Luther gave his life to God, and a religious order after he survived a life threatening thunderstorm. So often that trauma then turns [inaudible].
The second thing in spark is possibilities, is you see new possibilities because of the trauma and grief. That's clearly what you're doing. The third part is an increased appreciation of life. You're better at appreciating each moment. I don't know if that happened with you.
Sandra Maddox: Well you just ... Things don't things ... Things you thought were important before became less important. And the people in your lives-
Tana Amen: Sort of material things?
Sandra Maddox: Yeah. And the people in your lives become more important knowing that every day, you never know, so you better tell your husband that you love him. You better tell your children that you love them that day 'cause you don't know.
Tana Amen: You don't know.
Sandra Maddox: You don't know. And so yes, that's what I tell my girls because a lot of them want to ... And when I say my girls, I'm talking about the ministry and the women that are in my ... The girls that are in my ministry, and I tell them all the time, "Today's the day the Lord has made focus on that child today." They want to rush. In today's culture, everybody wants to rush to grow their kids faster and do more and more and more. In reality, they should just sit. I have no regrets of any of that I poured into my child. I mean, she gave her life to the Lord. It was just like, I don't have regrets of that, which some parents, when their children die, they do have some regrets that-
Tana Amen: They could've done it better.
Sandra Maddox: Right. Right.
Tana Amen: Or differently. Spent more time.
Dr Daniel Amen: The R is a change in relationships where you relate to others in more meaningful ways just like you said, and the K, I love this, is kick ass personal strength. If I can live through this, then I can live through [inaudible].
Tana Amen: I've thought that so many times in life.
Dr Daniel Amen: When we come back, we're going to talk about more tips to survive grief. In fact, we're talk about things to not say to people when they are struggling with grief and some of the things you might want to say.
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