Grief: What Do You Say To Someone? with Sandra Maddox

Dr Daniel Amen and Tana Amen BSN RN On The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast

When someone close to us is going through the grieving process, we often want to do what we can to make that person’s experience a little more bearable. Sometimes we succeed, but sometimes we end up making it worse. In the third episode of a series on grief, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Sandra Maddox, who gives examples from her own tragic experience to help teach the right and wrong things to say to someone in pain.

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Dr Daniel Amen: Welcome to the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast. I'm Dr. Daniel Amen.

Tana Amen: I'm Tana Amen. In our podcasts, we provide you with the tools you need, to become a warrior for the health of your brain, and body.

Dr Daniel Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, is brought to you by Amen Clinics, where we have been transforming lives for 30 years, using tools like brain SPECT imaging, to personalize treatment to your brain. For more information, visit

Tana Amen: The Brain Warrior's Way Podcast is also brought to you by, BrainMD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals, to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to

Welcome back to day three of Grief Week. This has been such an emotional week, and I'm just so grateful to how candid our friend, Sandra has been, and I just want to say one thing. You can have a mentor. I think I've said this before, but you can have a mentor, that doesn't know they're your mentor. You can follow people, and model your lives after people that don't even know, that you're following them.

That's sort of what I did with you, because your story has always been one of my greatest fears, so I never wanted to say anything to you about that, because I always thought, what do you say to someone, which is what we're going to talk about today. What to say and what not to say, to someone grieving. I never really wanted to say anything, but I always looked up to you. I thought, wow, she's got so much grace, and so much strength, and she's just got such an amazing character, and if that happened to me, I don't think I would be that way. You find people that have the strengths you want. I love that.

Dr Daniel Amen: I have a fun mentoring story. Tana and I got in to a fight about something. We were not doing well, and she told me she sort of went to you, and complained about me. Rather than what many friends do, which is, oh yeah, he's really an awful human being, and you should be mad.

Tana Amen: Yeah, never have friends that do that.

Dr Daniel Amen: You reflected back, how she could respond in a helpful way, that completely diffused what went on between us.

Tana Amen: By the way, that is why I go to friends like Sandra, and I don't go to friends that I know are going to say, "He's a jerk. Let's go have a drink." I don't do that. I don't believe in having friends like that, when you're married cause it's not helpful. Think about the friends you have, it's important to have friends who elevate you, and respect your marriage. That's a huge thing.

Dr Daniel Amen: I'm eternally grateful, and I think your fear about losing Chloe ... 'cause when we first that was huge ...

Tana Amen: I had to go to therapy over it. Yeah, I went to two years of therapy.

Dr Daniel Amen: But it's common. It's what I've heard as being a psychiatrist last 40 years. It's a very common fear, because when you love someone so much, the fear of losing them can really drive you a little bonkers.

Tana Amen: I had a childhood that was full of trauma, like you did. So you wanted to be this mother. See I related to your story, on so many levels. I wanted to be a mother. My mom was a great mom, but she wasn't there, and she was young, and she didn't have education.

Dr Daniel Amen: Your Mom was not a great mom. She's a great mom for what she had experienced, but she was not a great mom.

Tana Amen: But she was young. I'm finishing. I want to honor my mother though, okay?

Dr Daniel Amen: And I love your mother now. She's a great mother-in-law.

Tana Amen: Right. She didn't have an education. We didn't have finances. She was gone all the time. So, I wanted to be something different, if I could. That's why, and that fear and I wanted to create that and I ended up with this fear, that I didn't even want her out of my sight, and it was hard. When I saw you, and I saw something different, I'm like, oh, there's someone I can model myself after, and that's what's so important.

Dr Daniel Amen: Actually, I have a podcast review I want to read. Overcoming ADD. I love Tana Amen's no sense, no nonsense approach to nutrition, and listening to the podcast has taught me many valuable lessons, to help my brain, my life, especially when it comes to dealing with my ADD. This is from Alisha from the U.S. Thank you for listening. Please lead more podcasts.

Now, in my new book, Feel Better Fast and Make it Last ... please get it. There's all whole section, on post traumatic stress disorder and grief, because there's so many people suffering with those issues that I thought, well what are the ways you can feel better quickly, and part of it is a process, but there are clearly things you can do to unhurt yourself, and clearly things you can do to help yourself. Anna, while I was thinking about it, I thought, what are the things you really shouldn't say to someone, who's grieving?

Sandra Maddox: Well, one of the things somebody said to me was, "I just lost my dog. I know how you feeling."

Tana Amen: Oh my God. No.

Sandra Maddox: So, don't say that to somebody.

Dr Daniel Amen: Don't say that.

Tana Amen: Don't say that.

Sandra Maddox: [inaudible] or something, and you're kind of like, Ah, you know.

Dr Daniel Amen: Loss of pet is real, real important ...

Sandra Maddox: Yes, it's really important.

Tana Amen: It is.

Dr Daniel Amen: But it is not the same thing.

Sandra Maddox: No, it's not. The comparing to different ... their losses.

Tana Amen: And you can't compare losses.

Sandra Maddox: No, you can't.

Tana Amen: Ever.

Sandra Maddox: No.

Dr Daniel Amen: So, what do you think about the list? How are you doing? That's one thing not to say, 'cause they're doing terrible.

Sandra Maddox: Yes, right.

Dr Daniel Amen: You'll be okay after a while.

Sandra Maddox: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: I understand how you feel. You shouldn't feel that way. Stop crying. At least she's in a better place. At least she lived a long life. Many people die young. I've had so many mothers who've lost babies. She brought this on herself. Aren't you over it yet? He's been dead for awhile.

Tana Amen: People don't really say these things.

Dr Daniel Amen: They do.

Sandra Maddox: Yes, they do. They do. They really do.

Tana Amen: I'm just horrified.

Sandra Maddox: They really do.

Dr Daniel Amen: God's in charge. She was such a good person, God wanted her to be with him. Just give it time. Time heals. Time does not heal, unless you take the right steps. You're young, you can still have other children. You'll do it better next time. It was just a dog or a cat, you can have another one. Stay busy, don't think about it, which is actually how Lincoln handled it.

Lincoln lost one of his children, while he was in the White House, and his wife actually became psychotic after that happened. He dug his son up several times, because he couldn't let go. That's so sad, and he worked to get over his grief, and he never really got over his grief. You have to be strong for your spouse, your children, and just move on. We sort of ...

Tana Amen: Did anyone say anything to you? I wanted to see if they said anything else to her.

Sandra Maddox: No, those are pretty things that ... and actually they're hurtful. I remember one time I was at the grocery store, I was at Bristol Farms, and it was really early on, and a woman that I knew very well saw me and she turned around and went the other way. She actually saw me, I saw her and she turned around the other way.

Tana Amen: She didn't know what to say?

Sandra Maddox: She probably didn't know what to say.

Dr Daniel Amen: It made her uncomfortable.

Sandra Maddox: It made her uncomfortable ...

Dr Daniel Amen: Conflict of which.

Sandra Maddox: ... Which grief does with people.

Tana Amen: 'Cause it's our fear.

Sandra Maddox: Yes, it is, and you don't want to look at that in the face, kind of thing. That in itself was hurtful. She probably just could've come up and just hugged me. There are no words that anybody is going to say to you, to make you feel any better than the ache in your heart, but when you don't say anything, and you just ...

Dr Daniel Amen: But when you get disconnected from the people that you know, it's worse.

Sandra Maddox: Yes, yes, yes, and that happens a lot in grief. I've been able to counsel a few people from ... Saddleback has said, "They just lost a child in a car accident. Can you go and talk to the parents?" I'll wait for a while, and call them, and a lot of times they're dealing with relatives and family that aren't cooperating, or think it's all about them as well. A lot of times you have to put boundaries with certain people too, because the grief is if you're wanting to be in that place of grief, and experience everything, which is healing, crying.

Tana Amen: Letting go. It's closure.

Sandra Maddox: It's closure, right.

Tana Amen: Yes.

Dr Daniel Amen: One of my very first patients was a Lieutenant Colonel. I was in the Army when I trained. I was at Walter Reed. He just had this rash all over his body, and they couldn't figure it out. So, they go, "It's psychosomatic." And he'd lost his wife two years before, and had never cried. So, it comes out in other ways. That's stress, and your skin is actually one of the organs, that when stressed.

Sandra Maddox: Neck and back problems are common too.

Tana Amen: Yes. One thing, Sandra, that I find interesting, because I watch you and how you handle things. I know that that's probably a pain. I don't know if it's a pain that doesn't go away. I would assume it is, but you're always going to think about her, and love her, and be a little sore.

Sandra Maddox: Yes.

Tana Amen: Right? You're going to have that scar.

Sandra Maddox: Yes.

Tana Amen: But what I have noticed that you still do, is you honor her. You still acknowledge her birthdays, and I know you came up to me in January, and you asked me to pray for you, and you said it's going to be a hard day, because I just, I just want my friends to pray for me, and be around me.

Sandra Maddox: Yes.

Tana Amen: Because it was January, the date. You said it was the anniversary of when the accident had happened, and I just thought that was amazing. I'm like, you got your family together, and you celebrated her birthday. You still do these things, but they don't seem, from my perspective, seem to impact you negatively. In fact, you seem to gather your tribe around you. You honor her, and it strengthens you.

Sandra Maddox: Yeah. I learned it was easier for me to embrace my grief on holidays, and just let everybody know, hey, you know what? Yes, it's a happy time and my family's here, but someone's missing. It's like a limb. Someone's missing from our family. So, we acknowledge the fact, but we don't stay in it. We acknowledge her birthday, My siblings, we do things like, she liked going to PF Chang's and listening to Counting Crows. So, we kind of have our little things that we kind of do, on that day of her birthday, on April 5th. Then, I do ask my family and my friends to pray for me, because it is a struggle.

Grief will never go away from my life. Thinking about her, you just get ... it's not that you move on from it, or anything. It's still there, but you are able to function in life, with the reality that someday, I am going to see her again, because I have a big picture of her in my hallway. The last picture that we had all taken, that was really a gift from the Lord. She had come home for my birthday, and we took that picture, and it went out for everybody in January because I give out New Year cards. Everybody had that picture of Ron, Tiffany and I, in January, as our New Year card. So, that picture hangs in my hallway, and I walk by it all the time, and I always say to her, "I'll see you in a blink of an eye." Because that's kind of what the Lord says, you know?

Dr Daniel Amen: Because of what happened, her life has touched millions of other people.

Tana Amen: What is the name of your book?

Dr Daniel Amen: It's that little shift. I want us to talk before we stop, and then we'll stop and come back. What are some things to say? I'm sorry for your loss, because you are, and it's just honest. I wish I had the right words. Please know I care, and I'm here for you. You and your loved ones are in my prayers.

I have someone who I'm very close to, whose husband's dying of cancer, and just the fact that I reach out and say, "I'm thinking about you today. Is there anything I can do to help?" They started a GoFundMe campaign, to help deal with some of the expenses, and I donated. Just so I'm connecting.

I can't imagine how you feel, which is enormous. I can't imagine how you feel ...

Sandra Maddox: Right. Be honest.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... unless I've gone through something similar.

Sandra Maddox: Right.

Dr Daniel Amen: I'm here for you. Can I go to the funeral? Which is an often important sign of support. Want to talk about what happened? Just be present like your friend was. Share a memory. Be empathic. It's okay for you to show your feelings. Continue connecting, even after months. This is so important, because they'll say one or two things, and then they'll let you go, because they don't know what to do.

Listen for guilt. People who are grieving, often feel guilty, and wish they had done something different. I've seen that so often. An example from one of my favorite books ...

Tana Amen: You touched on that.

Dr Daniel Amen: ... called, The Grief Recovery Handbook.

Griever: "My son committed suicide. I feel so guilty."

Grief Recovery Specialist: "Did you ever do anything, with intent to harm your son?"

The griever: "No."

The dictionary defines the definition of guilt, "implies intent to harm. Since you had no intent to harm, can you put the G word back in the dictionary? You're probably devastated enough, by the death of your son."

I never thought of it that way.

When we come back, more practical tips on dealing with [inaudible 00:14:36], something wrong, or how you've dealt with grief.

Tana Amen: If you are enjoying the Brain Warrior's Way Podcast, please don't forget to subscribe, so you'll always know when there's a new episode, and while you're at it, feel free to give us a review or five star rating, as that helps others find the podcast.

Dr Daniel Amen: For more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.