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Grieving a Loved One Lost to Addiction: Silent No More

Silent No More

As I sit here and begin to write my debut article as a contributor to AddictionBlog.org, in many places around the world “International Overdose Awareness Day” is being recognized. This event originated in Melbourne, Australia as a backyard event of a suburban crisis center in 2001, according to its website. This year –sixteen years later– from Kabul, Afghanistan to Lillehammer, Norway to Knoxville, Tennessee in the United States, countless people will be gathering to mourn, to remember and to hope –

…to hope for the kind of world where the shame and stigma of addictive illness will no longer be tolerated, a world in which their loved one might have survived.

The Work of Grieving

The work of grieving is difficult no matter what. At first, the road is utterly dark and barren — you feel only thorns beneath your feet. No sun, no moon, no stars. The sky above you is empty and you are completely alone with your pain. No one can reach you, for the best part of you is chained to another place in time, searching for a face you will never see again. It’s all you can do to remain in this world and keep putting one foot in front of the other.

But by and by, a daisy or two may appear unexpectedly along this desolate path – you may hear a songbird sing for the first time in months. These are your happy memories, offering a bit of warmth after such endless cold. Your heart beats lighter for just a moment, just long enough to breathe without crying.

“Maybe I can do this,” you think.

Instead of Empathy…

Now imagine for a moment, you have lost your son to an overdose – the little boy who used to give his lunch away at school to the kids who didn’t have enough to eat; the teenager who, without being asked, shoveled your elderly neighbor’s walkway after every winter’s storm; the young man whose smile was so beautiful it often took your breath away. Imagine after many months of solitude and despair, you find the strength one day to reach out to an old friend, mustering just enough courage to carry your fragile bones out the door, certain your friend –who knew your son since the day he was born– will be a source of comfort, maybe even help you find a lost daisy or two.

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This is what awaits you instead:

Clearly ill at ease, in a tone laced with something akin to annoyance, your “friend” says,

“I wish I could be more sympathetic but, I mean, what did you expect? He did this to himself.”

He Did This to Himself

He did this to himself.

The words fall upon you like boulders from the sky. That lovely daisy, fighting bravely to push through the frozen terrain of your grief, is crushed in an instant. The melody of the songbird is strangled in mid-flight, as your despair returns with the weight of a thousand unlived moments. Your happy memories are driven out by blackness once again.

This is the reality for an ever-growing number of bereaved living with this kind of loss:

Your loved one is stolen from you by the illness. Then, your memories are eclipsed by the judgement and shame imposed upon you by a society that bolsters itself on the condemnation of its most vulnerable and disenfranchised.

The Word Remembered

Often, I hear those left behind defending their loved one, offering up proof that their lives had value. I observe their genuine smiles as they recount stories of good deeds, of academic accomplishments, of successful careers and great talents. And then I watch their eyes drift to the floor, hear their voices falter. Shame hijacks their memories along with those few sweet moments of reverie. Because all too often, the face looking back at them does not register any of this. The only word remembered, is the one that was never said at all: addict.

The Stigma Has Not Let Up

Much has changed in the past sixteen years – as evidenced by the events taking place all around the world today. But more people are dying from overdose than ever before. Access to compassionate, effective and affordable treatment is challenging for some, and downright impossible for many more. And as far as stigma is concerned – one need only read a message board on social media involving a high-profile overdose death to grasp how deep the disdain and how blatant the prevailing disregard for those suffering from addictive illness.

I have been at this for nearly seventeen years, since the death of a man I loved in September of 2000. In spite of all the barriers to ending the stigma, I have more hope now than ever, and I will not be dissuaded from this fight.

The Invisble Thread That Connects Us All

I know that there is an invisible thread that connects us all, and that each time I speak out, my voice may comfort someone who now stands where I once stood all those years ago, at the edge of grief’s dark abyss.

Back then, my voice was one of only few and the silence surrounding us was vast. But today, we are many, and we are – at last – silent no more.

Marie Sheva
August 31, 2017

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9 Responses to “Grieving a Loved One Lost to Addiction: Silent No More
Bonnie
2:22 pm September 13th, 2017

Often times I share things on my FB page. Most often they are only read by those who have walked this path. Sadly it’s all the “others” that should read these, that could benefit the most. Those “others”, If they only could take a moment to read, could help us all cope. It’s SO Frustrating. This is one of the best small writings that helps describe our struggle. I wish All the “others” in this world only knew, we are fighting every day to go on, how badly we need their compassion, just a small amount helps us get through this difficult, stigmatizing journey…..

Peggy
10:05 pm September 13th, 2017

Thank you for putting in words EXACTLY what it is and what it’s like.

Betti
7:31 am September 14th, 2017

Marie is a gifted writer. Writing about her experiences with someone who had an addiction problem helps the reader to better understand how deeply addiction affects those who have close ties to the addict.

Lydia @ Addiction Blog
4:59 pm September 14th, 2017

Hi Betti. I totally agree with you. Marie is awesome writer, and I believe that she can help others to get a better understanding of addiction.

Gina
2:44 pm September 14th, 2017

Thank you for being a voice for those who can no longer speak for themselves and for the family members and friends who must suffer in silence rather than deal with the stares, glares and whispers of those around us. I was recently reminded of how insensitive people are when a few weeks after my brother-in-law passed from a heart attack my MIL said she didn’t understand why he was taken, she said she could understand it happening to drug addicts but he was a good person. I had just lost my son 5 months before and this was her way of getting her dig in at me as if her grief (which she showed absolutely none of) were more deserving than mine. She has since moved in with us and I can barely stand to look at her.

Marie Sheva
4:53 am September 18th, 2017

Thank you all for reading my post and for sharing. We are all in this together and when we share, the load becomes just a bit lighter. My goal is to see the day when — as with AIDS and HIV — discrimination against those struggling with addictive illness will simply no longer be tolerated. Not just because it is morally wrong, but because it is wounding us deeply as a society on so many levels. We are losing our future. Peggy and Bonnie, I am deeply sorry for your loss. And Betti, I am am profoundly grateful to you for having a heart that is willing to hear. Peace, love and light.
-Marie Sheva

Debbie
3:03 am September 19th, 2017

Dear Marie,

Joan sent this to me today at work, I had no idea what she had sent ,maybe some silly facebook dog picture. But it was you. I am sure Joan told you that my son Matthew died of an addiction / overdose. !!!!!!! Still waiting for actual cause old deal and it’s been a month. The state of RI shows no mercy..

Anyway you touched my heart today, this is how I feel.. I am a very strong woman, but this is tough.

TY this was beautiful to me

Deb

James
2:44 pm September 19th, 2017

From my perch on top of The fence of this subject addict in recovery brother to a addict who fell and never got up words spoken so true i thank you !

Marie Sheva
5:30 pm October 6th, 2017

Gina, Debbie and James,
Thank you all for sharing your loss and pain, and for your courage! There is strength in sharing, and though we cannot bring our loved ones back, we honor their struggle by reaching out to one another with kindness and caring. There will always be those who are not enlightened enough to respect our loss, or to evolve beyond their small-minded judgement of those suffering from addictive illness. We need not bother with them, because we can’t change them. That kind of change can only come from within. If we allow our love to lift us high above that darkness, even with great sadness in our hearts, we can live in the light. That is the best tribute we can pay our loved ones and I believe that is their wish for us. <3

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About Marie Sheva

Born in New Jersey, author, singer and songwriter Marie Sheva lived abroad in Stuttgart, Germany for eight years. She settled in Rhode Island in 1995 and currently resides in East Greenwich, RI. Her first published memoir, The year of the dogs, is a compelling account of Sheva's quest to find peace and redemption in the wake of her boyfriend’s fatal drug overdose, journeying from the hope of newfound love through the darkness of sudden loss. Tempered with humor, this tender memoir shows the simple pleasures of a starlit sky, a dog’s smile, even a last goodbye.

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