Grief and Loss: The Rise of Heroin Deaths

Author: Kathy Cherven | Date: February 24, 2017

With Heroin deaths on the rise, I feel compelled to write about the grief experienced by family and friends, especially parents.

For 3 years I facilitated a grief support group through HEROS for parents who had lost a child to heroin. I had run many grief support groups and felt confident that this would be similar, but I was very wrong. The grief is so complex and traumatic. What I want to share is not from me as a professional, but what I have learned from parents.

Most parents blame themselves for their child’s addiction and their death. Father’s feel they failed their job to protect their child. Mother’s feel they must not have been nurturing enough for their child to choose drugs to feel better or numb.

Many marriages struggle because one parent wants to do the “tough love” approach whereas the other can’t kick them out. Either way, when their child dies they feel they should have chosen the “other” way.

Many of the parents suffer from PTSD after several incidents of finding their child unresponsive and then revived with medication, just for it to happen again. Then the day comes when the police come to the door, or receive that call from the hospital, or even more tragic, find their child dead in their bedroom.

Families are torn apart by the addiction. Some siblings are angry that parents focus attention on the one w the addiction, not understanding that parents would give their lives to save their child. One sister shared her anger that her sibling was given a party for 30 days of sobriety. Where was her party? She didn’t use!

Sometimes the siblings know more of the secrets kept from the parents to protect them. These secrets fuel the anger and resentment as parents invest retirement funds and savings meant for vacations, college and more.

Even though their child’s addiction caused so much pain, suffering, and chaos for the entire family, parents would do anything to save their child and also to protect their reputation. All shared how wonderful and loving their children had been and how good they were. Many would be willing to go back to the chaos because there was always the hope for recovery, now there is just emptiness and sadness.

It is difficult for parents to attend an “open” grief support group, feeling they don’t fit in, comparing themselves to others who have lost a loved one to a more “honorable” death, whether by illness or accident. The burden that their child died from addiction is almost too much to bear, leaving many to feel isolated and alone in their grief.

This is the reason I am writing this! Within the past few days, I have had someone ask for my card and another tell me she needs to call me and sign up for my group, but the calls usually don’t come. I think it would be one of the hardest calls to make because of the vulnerability, shame and guilt experienced by many and the thoughts of sharing a story that for many has been kept secret, is terrifying. But when that first step is taken, it is also the beginning of feeling connection, acceptance, and compassion. That’s when healing can start, hearing others stories of ‘survival” and sharing ideas of what has and hasn’t helped along the way. 

So please, if you know someone who is grieving the loss of a loved one through addiction, try to reach out to them and if it means offering to come with them for support, please do so. At this time. I don’t have a group specific to addiction loss due to lack of participants but if you private message me, I will start again. Please know I care.

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