15 Things Moms Who Have Lost a Child to Overdose Need you to Know.

Recently, while attending a funeral for a young man that I had worked with, several conversations were struck up. The conversations were a familiar theme of navigating past trauma and loss, particularly of children. Sharing and being present for the loss of another parent’s loss, has a unique way of unlocking personal loss all over again. This pain can also be more intense since a person might have started to let down their guard down.

Through the rollercoaster of a child’s addiction, parents become accustomed to pain and chaos. After their death, the pain and chaos transform into something new and unfamiliar. There are many misconceptions about the loss of a child to an overdose.

There is nothing more unnatural than the loss of a child. The expectation is that parents are to be buried by their children, not the other way around. Each year in the United States, 70,000 people die as a result of an overdose. For this series, I asked three amazing women to share pieces of their children with me. Also, they share 15 things that people should understand about parents who have lost children to overdose.

The more that I talked with these amazing mothers, it is clear that there are commonalities among them. There were some general things that they wished people understood about what had happened to their families. Below is a list of 15 things people need to understand when a person has lost a child to overdose.

15. Missing Piece
When you lose a child, you lose a piece of your soul. Things will never be the same.

14. Every day, we think about what could have been done differently.
We replay moments in our mind, thinking about what we could have done differently. Along with grief and grieving, there is a sense of guilt that we always fight. That is the reason that many of us devote our lives to helping other parents who are in similar situations.

13. Share your stories of our child, with us
You knew our child, and you were their friend. As a parent, there are things that children never divulge to their parents. You might have a funny story or remembrance that we have never heard.

12. We are still mothers, although sometimes we don’t feel like it.

11. We are not fragile
Everyone walks around on eggshells because they know that my child has died, but it is something that we are acutely aware. Life stops after the loss of a child, at least for a while. While we are not fragile, everyone around us is since simple conversations are no longer that simple. We spend a lot of our time comforting everyone around us when sometimes, we are the one that needs comfort.

10. Do speak of our child. Say our child’s name
Please! He/she did exist, and they will forever be a part of our everyday life. We fought their disease (Substance Use Disorder) the same as if it was cancer.

9. Do not tell us, “it’s God’s plan” or “everything happens for a reason.”
Bullshit. For many parents, their faith is in limbo. As a parent, I will never understand what plan, or what reason ever involves a parent burying their child.

8. Be patient
Our decisions, our emotions change from day-to-day, minute-to-minute. We may accept an invitation, or agree to help with a task; but come the day of, we can’t. We just simply can’t. There is no bartering. Sometimes we need to lay in our bed, to cry, to be mad, or stay home with our family [because we don’t have to pretend for them]. It’s not personal.

7. Don’t assume
Because we canceled plans the last ten times, does not mean we do not want to be invited to the next outing, get together, etc. Not receiving an invitation makes us feel like no one wants us around because they think we are not fun anymore, or they cannot have fun with us around [because they think we might become a blubbering mess any time our child’s name is brought up]. Whether or not this is true, who knows? However, this is how our grief-struck brain reacts.

6. Who we were before, is not necessarily who we are now, and may never be
We lost a piece of us. We are broken people, and although life moves on, our hearts carry that brokeness. We fought a long, exhausting, emotional roller coaster battle before their death. Now, we fight with the what-ifs, the should’ve, would’ve, could’ve AND the loss. Again, be patient.

5. Do not compare
Please do not say “I know how you feel” when the only loss you have endured is a death caused by natural causes. Our heart empathizes for your loss however it will never be the same unless your child overdosed.

4. We wear a mask
We must put on our brave face. See number two.

3. Do not tell us that time heals all wounds.
Do not say it. It is that simple! If you find yourself struggling for what to say, simply tell us that you are thinking about us.

2. We are not strong
We have no choice. We force ourselves out of bed, to push forward each day. We have responsibilities that do not go away because our child died.

1. Just because
Our child died from an overdose, does not make his/her life any less meaningful. They had a life before the disease. They were somebody! We are not ashamed of whom he/she was, and most of us want to share their story with the hope that it helps one person find support and recovery, and one less parent from feeling the heartbreak.

I would like to take a moment to thank Rhonda, Becky, and Kathi for sharing about their sons with me. Thank you for being vulnerable with the world and for sharing of yourselves so freely. -Aaron

I am a psychotherapist who writes about mental health, addiction, recovery and the impact of substance use from personal experience. Views are my own.

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