Mourning an addict’s death in the midst of stigma
Put yourself in these shoes
Imagine this scenario: Your child dies from lung disease at age 22. When people hear how they died they tell you “Well, serves him right.. those smokers deserve to die.” Somehow minimizing the traumatic event that you have just gone through.
This is a reality that many parents face today.
In 2015 there were 1531 confirmed cases of unintentional opioid overdose deaths in Massachusetts alone. That is an 18% increase from 2014. The increase from 2013 to 2014 was 41%.
Worldwide approximately 187,000 people die of a drug related overdose. That is close to 200,000 people a year who had dreams, aspirations, a family, and I think may be the saddest thing of all: they had something to contribute to society.
Please read more about these statistics here: 2016 World Report.
Society’s contribution to the stigma
Everyday there is a new picture circulating on the internet of an overdosed mother, father, son, brother, uncle.. human being.. and everyone gets out their pitchfork to unleash the shame. If a kid is involved?
“She or he should never be able to see that child AGAIN!”
“Oh, they died? Well.. GOOD!”
“Another scum ridden from the earth.”
WOW! No wonder why these families feel the need to hide the reason their loved one had died. By the way, these are actual comments, from other human beings, about other human beings. It. Makes. Me. Sick.
Sadly, it doesn’t stop there. Now the criticism turns to their loved ones.
Somehow, after these addicts die everyone has these theories as to WHY they were an addict. It must have been the parents! Or her boyfriend was the one that got her into it. Therefore, inadvertently admitting to the fact that their ADDICTION was caused by something EXTERNAL and therein is CURABLE.
Nurture vs. Nature right?
So really… all of you out there saying that addicts should die and then criticize the way they were brought up.. you are all hypocrites. Congratulations on continuing to keep yours and anyone you influence eye’s closed.
Open your eyes and talk about addiction
We are robbing these families a proper mourning of their loved one. We are also doing a disservice to the deceased by not talking about this epidemic. And the GREAT lives that it has taken from us.
How would I know?
In the past 12 months alone I have personally known 10 men and women who have unintentionally overdosed on heroin. Their families were heartbroken. The youngest one was 19 — oldest was 35. I think one out of those 10 families publicly admitted the cause of death. Everyone else? They only talked about the cause of death to the people closest to them, they knew. Otherwise, it was not ever mentioned.
These families do not want other families to go through what they have gone through. But they cannot openly come out trying to help others because they will get ridiculed. Shame on us as a society that we could be so judgmental that families are afraid to grieve in the way they wish to grieve.
I have spoken to three (3) families who have lost a loved one to an overdose who wish to remain anonymous. Each of them with a sad story and a broken heart. These people were in the middle of mourning but wanted to talk to me to get their voice heard that something has to be done.
“Stop stigmatizing our children,” one heartbroken mother said.
“No one helped him,” a grieving sister announced.
Each of their stories made me even more passionate to write this article.
If you do not want to honor the deceased, fine. But the least you can do for these poor families is allow them to openly mourn. To stand up against this epidemic. Let them have their voices heard.. because believe me, yours have been heard enough.
5 ways to grieve your loss
Are you going through the loss of a loved one to overdose? Here are five (5) suggestions that we have for you to get through it.
1. Seek out support groups.
Go to your local library, police station, or town hall to see if there are any groups in or around your area that offer support to other family members grieving the loss of an overdose victim
2. Don’t be ashamed.
Let your voice be heard (When you are ready). Myself and the addiction community stand behind you and will not let your loved one’s death go unnoticed.
3. Reach out.
Reach out to family members, friends, friends of the deceased.. Try to understand more about the addiction side of it.
It’s OK. Do not allow the negative cognitions that are attached to the stigma of addiction not allow you to cry. You lost your loved one.
5. Honor your loved one.
Talk about the manner of death (not details). Advocate for this awful epidemic to end. Make sure no other person has to go through what you go through.
Photo credit: BrookeLaValley