Matt, I could never have imagined the impact your death would have on every aspect of my life. Never did I ever think my grief would turn me into a leper. It seems people are terrified of those who are grieving. Scared to death of contact with me or have that famous opinion on how long grief should last. I’m guessing my time is up. Even strangers run when I bring up addiction and your death. It’s almost that I carry a contagious disease and if they get close enough they will carry it home to their family. Like the flu, only worse.
Unfortunately, your disease still carries an ugly stigma. I see the look on peoples faces when they learn how you died. They can’t get away fast enough. Quickly changing the subject as they scurry away. I feel like I have that huge A branded on my forehead. Except my A stands for Addiction. I still find it mind boggling that even today as we continue to lose people from all walks of life Addiction is still thought of as a dirty mans disease.
Experts on grief tell you to find a support group. Sounds easy right. I had a better chance of being struck by lightening. You see Matt, my grief comes with a ton of baggage. All those what if’s and I should have’s cling to my heart and take turns tearing little pieces away. Death due to overdose comes with such regret. Things said and done dance with those things not said and not done. Until you have lived that rollercoaster with your child one could ever understand the helplessness and hopelessness parents feel as we struggle to save our kids. Death from overdose is unlike any other loss. Not only do we struggle with grief but the stigma continues to rear its ugly head throwing daggers in our direction.
My attempts to find that group where I would fit in was futile. Believe me I tried for several months. I sat next to mothers who lost their children to cancer and felt the compassion ooze around the room. I remember sitting there feeling that all familiar tightness grip my throat. Then it was death by car accident. Once again compassion. I wanted to be Alice and slide down that rabbit hole. I wanted to be Jeannie wiggling my nose and disappearing into thin air. I wanted to be anywhere but in that room when I said that ugly word and felt the compassion wash away with the breaths of shock and stares.
Then it was off to another group that actually dealt with addiction. Oh I had such high hopes. Finally a group that got it. Imagine my surprise when I was subjected to another parent beaming with joy. My mind whirling as I realized this group was largely made up of parents who’s kids were either in recovery or still active in their addiction. My mind whirling, my gut revolting as I heard her voice praising God for saving her child. I felt like I’d been slapped. How dare God save her child and not mine. I remember wanting to run. Wanting once again to disappear. I made myself sit for an hour hearing more stories of recovery. Stories of continued struggles that I knew too well. I left sobbing and defeated.
I hid for months, licking my wounds feeling isolated and alone. I scoured bookstores. My shelves now lined with books on grief and grieving. Reading the stories of other parents whose children also died from addiction gave me the push I needed. I once read that when God closes one door, He opens another. As a nurse I’ve spend many years holding hands and shedding tears with people who have lost their loved ones. As a NICU nurse I’ve also helped grieving parents say goodbye to their child. I remember praying asking God what my purpose was now that you were gone. I spent the last 7 years fighting to save you. Now I had all this time to discover my new path.
Support After Addiction Death (SAD) was born on a rainy, bitter day. Sitting at my computer I designed a pamphlet. Explaining how and why I was starting a support group exclusively for parents who lost a child to the misunderstood disease of addiction. Our pastor offered our church. The same church I said my final goodbye to you. The same church where your ashes were scattered in the garden I tend as we celebrated your first birthday in Heaven.
Today I have a new family. Mothers and fathers who know and live the same grief that envelopes my life. We gather together and shed our tears. Our eyes mirror images of unfathomable pain. Lifting each other on those dark days when one of us is drowning. I look into their eyes and know no words are necessary. We have lived the nightmare. Our ending is not the one we dreamed of but together we find strength in the blessing of finding each other. There is no shame, no stigma. Sharing pieces of our broken hearts we begin to slowly heal. Our children gone but never forgotten. Pictures are shared. Birthdays are remembered. Names are spoken. Many tears are shed. Memories are cherished.
God did close the door for me when it came to saving you. God also opened a new world where I can once more reach out, offer a hug and just show up. Grief doesn’t scare this group. Grief is a part of who we are. Grief is the unwanted, unspeakable place that bonds us more than blood. As long as I live I will be grateful for the people who say your name, offer a hug and stay……….