This may have been a tough journey with your loved one through their addiction. Maybe it has been a long journey or maybe you have just found out about their struggle. You may have learned to deal with them in a healthy way- to support but not enable, to live your life and practice good self care, to let go of the anger and have hope for a positive future; or you may have been completely blind-sided because you had no idea your loved one was using. And now, your loved one has lost the battle with the addiction and has died.
The loss of a loved one to addiction is heart-wrenching as with any death. Similar to suicide is the unanswered “why” question and the guilt which may be accompanied by shame. You ask yourself questions like “what more could I have done;” “what didn’t I do;” “I should have done _____;” “maybe it’s my fault;” “if only;” along with so many lies that run over and over in your head.
There is a lot of social stigma and misunderstanding when it comes to addiction. Loved ones can feel very judged when it comes to dealing with the loss of a family member from addiction. A pastor once told me he got a call from an extended family member of a person who died from a drug overdose, and the family member told the pastor not to talk about the deceased’s faith because he was not a good example of that faith. My response was that this person was a perfect example because we are human and we all struggle in one form or another. The pastor agreed and celebrated the deceased’s faith and life at the funeral. People who struggle from addiction are a lot more vulnerable to overdose, physical illness, mental illness, accidents, and violent crime. Most families would agree that they never thought this would happen. They may have feared the possibility of something terrible could happen, but maintained the hope their loved one would overcome the addiction.
So how can you begin to heal from this loss? First, realize everyone grieves differently, and there is no set timeline. Keep yourself around supportive people; try not to isolate too much. Realize this was not your fault. Take care of yourself – think of it like putting yourself in intensive care. Continue the good self care habits you have learned (see family help part 3). Focus on your loved one’s good character qualities - who that person really was, not what took his/her life. Stay away from drugs or alcohol to cope. Seek counseling therapy for prolonged depression or other issues.
Resources to help you when you are ready:
- Support Groups: Grasp Group – specifically for families who have lost a loved one to addiction or substance abuse. www.grasphelp.org
- Compassionate Friends – for families who have lost children. www.compassionatefriends.org
- Grief support/recovery groups at a church or through hospice
- Read books such as, I Wasn’t Ready to Say Goodbye by Brooke Noel and Pamela Blair Ph.D. or Streams in the Desert by Mrs. Charles E. Cowman or Untimely by Anna Carvlin.
If you know someone who has lost a loved one from addiction, how can you help? Listen to them; support them; be loving and kind; do errands for them, yard work, childcare, meals (not too many at once); take them out for coffee or a meal when they are ready; don’t be afraid to mention their loved one’s name; share good memories; go with them to a support meeting; cry with them and laugh with them; pray with them. Take your cue from the grieving person and make the commitment to be there for the long-term.
There are some things that do not help someone who has lost a loved one to addiction. It is important not to judge or add to the stigma. It is not helpful to ask too many questions about the details of the death – they will share them if/when they are ready. Telling the grieving person they have grieved too long and need to get on with their life or telling them how they should feel or the emotions they should be displaying or getting angry with them is not at all helpful. It is also not helpful to tell them you know how they feel because you have experienced a loss. The focus needs to be on them right now. This is not the time for you to share about your loss. Whether you have lost a loved one to addiction or know someone who has, patience with the process of healing is key.
If you are struggling with your grief process related to losing a loved one as a result of addiction, and need help on your journey; please call us at the Village Counseling Center. Our professional counselors can help you move toward healing and peace in your life.