Sudden Tragedy, Lasting Grief

December 19, 2012
Less than one week before Christmas, the nation is still trying to come to terms with Friday’s horrific tragedy in Newtown, Connecticut. The loss is unthinkable and unimaginable. Dr. Phil says, “We continue to pray for the families as they begin to pick up the pieces and start the long and complicated grieving process.”

Dr. Phil helps his guests conquer their feelings of guilt and grief to help ensure they don’t journey down an endless road of despair.








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JacksonJacksonJackson and MadisonJulieSmithMadisonWreckage from Madison's accidentGarrisonLori's mugshotLori in courtGregNickDr. Phil and Robin read a poem in honor of the victims of the Connecticut school shooting.

A Terrible Accident


In 2004, just two days before Christmas, Julie and Smith's 4-year-old son, Jackson, was accidentally struck and killed by an SUV driven by Jackson's grandmother.

“It was just a terrible accident,” Julie says.

The couple’s then 14-year-old daughter, Madison, recalls what happened that night. She says Jackson tripped, and the next thing she knew, he was under the tire. She remembers, “He was just motionless. That night, I remember thinking, God, why would you do this to me? Why would you take my brother?”

Madison says that she's been overcome with guilt ever since, and even blames herself for the accident. “I was the older sister — I was supposed to take care of my siblings. I was the one who was supposed to take him out of the car.” She confides that struggling with the guilt has made her grieving process unbearable — and unattainable.

To deal with her pain, Julie says Madison started acting out, drinking, and even cutting herself. “Eighteen was the beginning of self-destruct mode,” Julie says. “She wanted out of the house, but I think she wanted a way out from the pain.” Julie says she gave Madison an ultimatum to get help or leave — Madison left.

“I didn’t want to be controlled by them anymore,” Madison says. “But when I would drink, I wouldn’t know when to stop — and it wouldn’t solve anything. I would have flashbacks of Jackson getting run over.”

It had been two years since Julie and Smith had seen Madison. Then, they got a call from the hospital saying that she had been in a terrible automobile accident.

“My face was mutilated,” Madison says of the car crash. She says the accident was an awakening, and she knew it was time to face the grief she still felt over Jackson’s death.

“I knew this would be a new beginning,” Julie says.

“Nobody grieves at the same time or in the same way, and that makes it really hard and confusing.”

Madison explains why she blames herself for Jackson’s death. Plus, why does she say she had to take care of her parents?




Is Madison ready to let go of her grief?


“This little boy was not put in this world — put in your life — to be a perpetual source of pain. You’ve got to come back to him. He’s here; you’ve gone away. It’s your job to work your way back to him.”

Dr. Phil gives Madison some advice: “Pain creates a wall between you and the source of the pain — it creates distance. If you give yourself permission to heal that wound, then every time you think of him, instead of it being a source of pain in which you recoil from, it can be a memory that brings you joy.” He continues, “How long you hurt, how deeply you suffer, does not reflect how much you loved. Healing this and giving yourself permission to have true joy does not ever mean you’re not going to forget your little brother.”

Dr. Phil offers Madison help to overcome her grief. “I want to lead you back to your brother. You’ve hurt long enough. Don’t you want to laugh when you think about him — instead of hurt?”

She accepts.

A Family Forever Changed


Gregory says he returned home one night to discover that his now ex-wife, Lori, had killed their 17-month-old son, Garrison. Lori was sentenced to 25 years to life in prison.

Lori’s then 15-year-old son, Nick, says he was home at the time and heard a sound in the bedroom that he replays constantly in his mind. He says he’s not yet ready to visit his mother in prison.

Dr. Phil encourages Nick to take care of himself first, and visit her only when he knows that she is in good mental health.

“If you don’t want to, you don’t ever have to see her again,” Gregory tells Nick.

“I support that 100 percent," Dr. Phil adds.

Gregory walks through the night that his 17-month-old son, Garrison, was killed. And, he openly speaks about his grief. “My grief was grieving what never was.”

Dr. Phil presents Gregory’s stepson, Nick, with an action plan for getting back to better days. And, Gregory tells Dr. Phil of some red flags he says he may have missed.

A Very Special Tribute


Dr. Phil and Robin read a re-crafted version of the classic holiday poem, 'Twas the Night before Christmas, shared by viewer Trina, and written by Cameo. Then, Dr. Phil and Robin depart the stage while a bell is rung for each victim of the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy.

"Their smiles were contagious."