By Ellen Schoonover
C.S. Lewis, who wrote the famous The Chronicles of Narnia, including The Lion, the Witch, and the Wardrobe, lost his beloved wife, Joy, after only a few short years of marriage. He said, “No one ever told me that grief felt so much like fear.”
I, unfortunately, know all too well that this statement is true. Five years ago, on May 11, my husband, Paul, and I got a knock on our door that no parent ever wants to receive. After only one day out of rehab, our 21-year-old son, Matt, overdosed on heroin. We, like so many other parents who have lost our beloved children to this epidemic, were broadsided. When we buried our youngest child that May morning, our lives were changed forever. It is devastating beyond words to lose a child. Adding to the sheer loss — the shame, confusion, and anger of losing our son to a heroin overdose was overwhelming.
We did not know where to turn. While we were blessed beyond measure with our dear and loving friends as well as Matt’s wonderful friends, we had such a need to connect to others who had lost in this same way. We needed to talk to other parents to see if the crushing emotions that we were experiencing would ever go away. For so many of us, we wonder if we can even go on without our child. We needed to see how others dealt with complicated grief and the ever-present guilt that parents who have lost a child to an overdose experience, always wondering if we did enough to save our child. We play a broken record in our head that constantly asks what we could have done differently. Paul and I, not only needed to talk with others who had this same kind of grief, but we needed to understand opiates more. Mind you, five and a half years ago, the news was not reporting on opiates as it is now.
As we got involved with Drug Free Action Alliance – now called Prevention Action Alliance – and The G.A.P. Network, an idea arose in making peer support available to parents or family members who had lost a loved one to addiction. And two years ago, this idea came to fruition in the way of a resource packet with a condolence letter, information on grief and addiction as well as a business card with peer support contact information. These packets have been and continue to be given freely to our Franklin County Coroner, Funeral Homes, Columbus Health Department, Cemetery Administrators, and many opiate conferences. G.A.P. has also purchased a supply of resource books entitled Surviving the Grief of An Overdose Death that can be mailed to anyone who seeks support from the Network.
This type of information would have been invaluable to us when we lost Matt so that we could have connected with other grieving families for peer support and received resources on grief. As Paul and I became more involved with The GAP Network, we saw a different type of healing begin as we moved from receiving resources and support to giving them, and we were able to reach out to others to help them in those early stages of loss. Additionally, through the multiple G.A.P. Network Summits, we have been able to glean valuable information from noted speakers on grief, addiction, and prevention issues. Being on the G.A.P. committee has also provided us the opportunity to help plan the topics and speakers for these summits.
Healing is a journey. While we will never move PAST our grief and loss of Matt, we are moving THROUGH it. We are grateful for the resources and the people we have met through The G.A.P. Network who have come alongside us. It has been a valuable support to Paul and me in a journey that we never imagined we would be on but, unfortunately, is one that all too many parents are taking because of the current opiate epidemic.
To learn more about or join The G.A.P. Network, contact us at (614) 540-9985 or email us at firstname.lastname@example.org.