How One Mom Survived An Unthinkable Tragedy with Sandra Maddox

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

In this episode of The Brain Warrior’s Way Podcast, Dr. Daniel Amen and Tana Amen are joined by Sandra Maddox for a discussion on how to cope with loss and grief. Sandra tells the heart-wrenching story of the night that her life was changed forever, and making the choice to adjust altered her life’s trajectory.

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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.

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 Brain MD, where we produce the highest quality nutraceuticals to support the health of your brain and body. To learn more, go to

Welcome everyone. Today's a really special day for me. We are here with someone who is so special to me. Not only a dear friend, Sandra Maddox, but she has been my mentor, and she might not even know that. For a long time, she was my mentor because when I met her, I was stunned by how well she handled something, just the unthinkable for a mother, any parent actually. She handled the unthinkable in a way that I can't imagine. So, she lost her only child in a terrible accident. In an auto accident, I believe it was a drunk driver.

Sandra Maddox: Yes.

Tana Amen: She was young. She was a young adult. That, for me, as someone who's suffered a lot of childhood trauma, for some reason that's the one thing. Well not for some reason. I think a lot of parents have this. That's the one thing I could never fathom, was the idea of losing a child or seeing my child suffer in some way like that, and then losing them. I just never thought I could survive something like that. When I met you, to not only see that you had survived. Clearly it left a mark, but you thrived, and you went on not just that, but to really help just hundreds of thousands of women, or millions, because your story has been told in Chicken Soup for the Soul. You wrote a children's book series, which is beautifully written. It really helped my daughter out. It opened a lot of questions that were interesting questions. You've just done this in such an amazing way, and I know you actually question, like a lot of us do through grief, that where is God in all of this? How can he be a loving God and let this happen?

So, welcome Sandra. You're just so special to me.

Sandra Maddox: Thank you. Thank you, Tana.

Tana Amen: And you've become a dear friend.

Sandra Maddox: Thank you, Tana.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Welcome to grief week. I know that's odd, but over this week, we're gonna talk about what it is, how it impacts you, some practical things to do about it. It's something that affects nearly all of us at some point-

Tana Amen: In different ways.

Sandra Maddox: Definitely.

Dr. Daniel Amen: In our lives. Before we get to it though, I have one of our podcast reviews. "Can't get enough," from Erica in the United States. "Heard you speak at the Nerium Conference," which was so much fun for me. It was 26000 people at the American Airlines Arena in Dallas. "Didn't know my grandmother would pass of dementia, and now my mother was diagnosed two years ago."

Tana Amen: That's hard.

Dr. Daniel Amen: "And now lives with me. Your podcast is truly helping us change the legacy of our family."

Tana Amen: Awesome.

Dr. Daniel Amen: That's why we do it.

Sandra Maddox: That's great. That's great.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Tell us a little bit about what happened.

Sandra Maddox: Sure. It was January. A cold day in January as I remember it. I always get up really early in the morning because I like to have that really special time with the Lord. I have this special place I go to, so it was just routine for me. I had just taken the dogs out and said ... was just sitting there, and I got a knock on the door. Actually I didn't get up. I got a phone call from an old neighbor of ours. We lived next door to her, and they apparently had ... the police had apparently gone to her house first because our address was there and they wanted to know ... I hadn't really changed my driver's license at that time yet, so it still had the old address, and we had just moved to our new house. So, they came knocking at the door. She's like, "I don't know. They were talking about do you have a daughter," or something like that. They didn't say anything to her, but she directed them to our house.

So, I had gotten a knock on the door. They came to the door and asked if anybody was home. I said, "Yes, my husband's at home. Should I get him?" He said, "Yes. We'd like to talk to him too." So, I had to go up and wake up Ron and come down. The two police officers told me what any mother's nightmare or father's nightmare would be, is that your daughter passed away last night in a car accident. She had been out with her friends. She was away at college. She was just shy of her 25th birthday and she was out with college friends. She knew she couldn't drink and drive, so she gave her keys to a friend, and that friend thought that the other friend could drive her home, and he really couldn't. He was just a new friend of hers, and he took hold of the keys, and he was recklessly driving. He was prosecuted years later with vehicular manslaughter and got the whole conviction time period during that time, so it was pretty devastating.

During those few days, the early days were very numbing. I didn't think ... It played in my head exactly what they said over and over, and it didn't feel real. It didn't feel real. It felt like, oh this is a dream and I'm gonna wake up pretty soon, but it really it wasn't a dream. It was reality because then it was the funeral and then it was all of this stuff, but I was pretty numb and just a lot of tears, as you can probably imagine. It was heartbreaking. She was my only child.

As the weeks and the days went by, it just really started to become more and more real. Lack of sleep, you know hardly slept. But I knew in that moment when I stood over her grave, I just knew it was God. It was like this whole, I knew he was there and I knew that he had a plan for her and her days were numbered as it says in the Bible, that we have our days are numbered and he knows every ... He knows the time for everything. I stood there and it was like a motion picture rolling through my head. My whole entire life started to flash before me, and it became like, "Oh I know. I see now, God. You gave me the mom that I had."

You know, my mom left us when we were young. I was 10 and I sort of became the mom of my family at a very young age. We lived with my dad. I knew that I wanted to do everything I could to be that mom that I didn't get during that time. I wanted to be that mom for my daughter, and he knew that I would do that for those years that I had her. That I would pack her lunch. That I would be there at every dance thing. That I would do all this. So, it just all these events that happened in my life, I could see God's hand in my life. That's what got me through at first.

Did I wrestle with the Lord? Yes. I sat every morning and really would wrestle. Then my husband would come home and he'd say, "What did you do today?" I'd say, "Well I just wrestled with God today." He would say, "How did that go?"

Tana Amen: Who won?

Sandra Maddox: Exactly. I'd say, "He did." So it felt like that whole story of Job in the Bible where he goes on to say this and that, and then the Lord just pretty much stops him in his tracks and said, "But who created the stars and who created the moon and who did," you know. It's like, okay yeah I get it. I get it, I get it. That's where I was at in those early days. It was extremely painful.

Tana Amen: How long did it take you to get back on your feet?

Sandra Maddox: Months. It was months. I had a dear friend who would come every Tuesday and she would just sit with me. She would just sit with me. She had family, children of her own. She would just come and sit with me for every Tuesday, and gently got me to like, "Oh do you think you might want to cook today? Let's go to the grocery store. Do you want to go for a walk today?" Then that was the healing, for me the healing part was walking on the beach. Friends would offer, do you want to go for a walk today? So, I would go and walk with them on the beach and not say a word. They didn't ... and it was like months of that.

Then just too raw. It was really raw. And it ached. My body felt like if somebody touched me, that I was just gonna fall apart. Like it was gonna melt my body. My heart felt like it was going through a meat grinder every day. It just hurt. You know how you have a broken heart? If you've ever felt that experience.

Dr. Daniel Amen: It's a real thing.

Tana Amen: It is.

Dr. Daniel Amen: So what happens, because I went through a period of grief before I met Tana. I had crushing chest pain. If you have crushing chest pain during grief, you should go to the doctor because, you just met my assistant who lost her fiance, and then she had crushing chest pain. I went, "Oh that goes with grief, but you should get it checked." It turned out she had a 98% blockage in her coronary artery, and his death actually saved her life because she had it fixed. So, chest pain is normal in grief because your ventricles, so that's the bottom two chambers of the heart, they start beating funny. And because they start beating funny, you're not getting enough blood to your heart. It just hurts as if you're having a heart attack.

Sandra Maddox: One of the experiences I had with that, so I went to go see my doctors the week after, just for a checkup. It was actually my ob-gyn. She said to me, "Sandra, grief sometimes will" ... I was 45. I was gonna turn 46 when Tiff died. She said, "This may kick you into menopause." Sure enough, everything just quit in my body.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Right, the chronic stress. It's not the chronic stress, the flood of stress.

Tana Amen: And that's not-

Dr. Daniel Amen: And it doesn't stop.

Tana Amen: No, and that's not uncommon.

Sandra Maddox: Yeah. That was, and I-

Tana Amen: So you just had a double hit.

Dr. Daniel Amen: If it kicks you into menopause, then you can't think.

Sandra Maddox: Exactly. That's what she said.

Dr. Daniel Amen: You're sad.

Tana Amen: But you're more sad then.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Getting your hormones balanced actually helps you grieve more efficiently. So people think there's goodness in grief, and there is, but you'll go through it faster if you begin to take better care of yourself physically. Here, we always talk about four big circles that make us who we are. There's a biology to us, so we're talking about hormones and ventricular arrhythmias. There's a psychology, so what are you thinking and how does that connect to your childhood wounds. There's a social circle.

Tana Amen: You had amazing friends.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Your friend coming over, that's healing. Then there's the spiritual circle, which is wrestling with meaning and purpose and God. But it's getting all of those circles optimized so you can manage it, so you don't want to kill yourself.

Tana Amen: It sounded like you did a pretty good job of that, even though it was hard.

Sandra Maddox: It was funny because, I don't know why I went to the doctor's. I just felt like I wasn't feeling well. Someone said, "Well maybe they'll give you Ambien because you're not sleeping."

Dr. Daniel Amen: Oh my goodness. Don't take it. Don't take it.

Sandra Maddox: And I didn't take it.

Dr. Daniel Amen: Trazodone, which is an antidepressant, that actually is not very effective, is a great sleep aid, is my often go-to for grief, is Trazodone.

Sandra Maddox: Well, and I told myself. I was like, "Okay I'm gonna get through this. I want to feel everything I need to feel. Everything I need to feel."

Tana Amen: That's amazing.

Sandra Maddox: That's what I told myself.

Dr. Daniel Amen: When we come back, I'm just gonna tell you a story that probably told before about grief of someone who didn't do the right things. Stay with us.

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. 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: IFor more information, give us a call at (855) 978-1363.