Recently I was sitting in my office on a break when I got a call from a friend. He and his wife had just suffered the very devastating loss of her son to a drug overdose. My friends understands that I have an extensive background in Hospice care and addictions counseling. They know that I used to facilitate a support group for families who had lost a loved one to addiction. I realized throughout my personal journey and professional life that this kind of grief (loss from addition) is much different than someone who had a long battle with any other terminal illness.
Cancer (and other life ending diseases) and addiction are both diseases. They can respond treatment, and both are most likely deadly if left untreated. When we read the obituaries we rarely see that that someone died after a long battle with alcoholism or addiction. You are much more likely to see some vague line or two about the death. With other illness you will read that that the person had a brave battle with an illness.
My work has included working with families who have lost someone they love to cancer and addictions. The most salient difference that have I observed is the shame that they are experiencing as a result of the over dose. Families have often told me that when they have gone to general grief groups that the moment they mentioned that they’re loved one died of a drug over dose or alcoholism there seems to be an instant barrier between the group and themselves. They report that they at times feel judged, because of what they have just shared and that the other group members seem uncomfortable or uncertain how to respond. Families have also often expressed that they feel stigmatized by their loss as well as lost in guilt, confusion, shame and disconnected from others.
Addicts are the same as anyone. They can be mothers, fathers, daughters and sons. As with a terminal illness, addiction caused devastation to their lives. Unlike terminal illness families, are robbed of time to say goodbye.
To lose someone we love is devastating. All families need compassion and understanding, but perhaps these families need to more assurances that as with cancer, there are something’s in life we cannot control. We can listen, support and consider that addiction is not something that happens to other people, weak people or bad people. It can happen to anyone.
With respect and compassion,
“People in Grief need someone to walk with them without judging them.” Gail Sheehy