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Biggest Loser's Abby Rike: Dealing with Trauma

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What would you do if you were faced with the loss of everyone you loved?

Abby Rike

Michelle Golland: I keep hearing from clients and friends that they couldn't imagine being Abby Rike on "The Biggest Loser" -- who lost her husband, Wallace, 5-year-old daughter, Macy, and 4-week-old son, Caleb, in a car accident. Every single person said to me, "I would just kill myself. I couldn't recover from that." She is truly an inspiration for all of us mothers for her enormous courage of simply going on living, putting one foot in front of the other every day.

Abby's overwhelming loss of her entire family stops each of us in our tracks because of the intense trauma of losing all of them at one time. A sudden, accidental, unexpected, or traumatic death shatters the world of the survivors. A sudden loss is one that occurs without any forewarning. A traumatic death is one that is sudden, unanticipated, violent, random, and/or preventable, involves multiple deaths, or is one in which the mourner has a personal encounter with death.

When dealing with grief, a survivor of a traumatic death deals with a number of complex issues. This type of grief process is different than an expected or anticipated death. The grief response is usually intensified since there was no opportunity to prepare for the loss, say goodbye, or prepare for bereavement. Both family and friends are forced to face the loss of a loved one instantly. This type of loss can generate intense grief responses such as shock, anger, guilt, sudden depression, despair, and hopelessness.

Sudden and tragic deaths destroy our sense of order and can challenge the survivor's religious and spiritual beliefs. Many survivors suffer an existential crisis while they struggle to search for meaning through the intense experience of loss. The survivor can experience perpetual disarray and a lingering sense of unease and disorganization. Experiencing a traumatic death will increase the mourner's risk of "complicated grief." This is defined as delayed or incomplete adaption to the loss, or failure in the process of mourning. Traumatic losses usually require professional help from those knowledgeable in the field of grieving to better cope with the loss.

Often the mourner is left with the question "Why?" but it is almost impossible to find an answer. Any answer to the question doesn't even make a dent in the pain and suffering of the survivor. The question of "Why?" is a heart-wrenching plea for meaning and understanding.

Rabbi Earl Grollman has a useful perspective for coping with this difficult question:

"'Why?' may be more than a question. It may be an agonizing cry for a heartbreaking loss, an expression of distress, disappointment, bewilderment, alienation, and betrayal. There is no answer that bridges the chasm of irreparable separation. There is no satisfactory response for an unresolvable dilemma. Not all questions have complete answers. Unanswered "why's" are a part of life. The search may continue, but the real question might be "How do I pick up the pieces and go on living a life as meaningful as possible?"

When we watch and cheer on Abby Rike on "The Biggest Loser," we are all witness to an amazingly courageous mom struggling with "How?" -- not "Why."


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104 comments so far | Post a comment now
m September 17, 2009, 5:08 PM

Her son Caleb was 19 days old, not 4 weeks

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Michelle December 8, 2009, 6:30 PM

Her husband’s name was Rick, not Wallace, and he was my freshman speech teacher. He always saw the possibilites in students instead of limits. I’m so happy Mrs. Rike is doing well, I went to Canton and remember the day of the crash. It affected the entire school in such a terrible way. I like to see that her smile is real :)

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