We hope to offer insight and helpful information to grieving families and friends who have lost a loved one to addiction or to related mental health conditions. It is our intention that this page may be a kind of "road map" through the grief journey, offering support, strength, empathy and understanding, leading to peace and healing.
May this page be a road map for your grief journey because different journeys require different routes. Regardless of your loss, your journey through the bereavement process is yours to take, your way. It is as unique as your fingerprint. It is our hope and belief that on this site, you will find unconditional support, empathy, strength, understanding, peace and healing as you move forward.
Grief is simply the natural reaction to loss. It is both a universal and a personal experience: we all will, at some time, experience the feelings of sorrow that follow a loss; yet, each grief experience is unique and is influenced by many factors, including the nature of the loss.
The Bereavement Process
Death is loss but loss does not have to be death. This being said, for the intent of this webpage, our discussion of the bereavement process will pertain to death.
We have feelings associated with our losses. While the multitude of feelings silently churn inside of us, it is known as grief. When our grief is shared, or is visible to the world, we have now mourned our loss. Dr. Alan Wolfelt says it best when he describes mourning as "Grief Gone Public". A few examples of mourning are tears, punching a pillow, tattoos regarding our loved one, wearing their personal clothing, funerals, rituals of remembrance, etc. Mourning is healthy and we want to provide people, especially children, with opportunities to mourn. As we are able to properly mourn, we are able to process loss as our bodies are designed to do. Within every human being lies the ability to process our losses naturally, even those involving a traumatic death.
The bereavement process is just that...a process. There are no stages involved with this natural process. As human beings, our brains are designed to establish meaning as it relates to any losses and change in our lives. However, there are strategies that work to move us forward through the natural process and there are strategies that work to prevent us from moving forward through our natural process. When we numb our pain with any of a myriad of negative coping strategies, we are actually working against the natural process of bereavement.
If one were to examine the bereavement process closely, they would observe a linear process that is often repeated in the course of a day, a week, months or even years in their lives. We loop back through the process due to triggers or additional losses. We find ourselves wondering why we feel better on some days as opposed to others. We wonder why we can't stop crying as we stand in the grocery store looking at their favorite cereal on the shelf! We wonder why guilt is eating us up even though we know we have nothing to feel guilty about.
Leslie Delp, MA, a Bereavement Specialist for over 20 years in the field, explains the bereavement process in the following way.
"We all have a protective part of our brain that is at work as we go numb shortly before or after the loss. It is as if our brain center that is connected to feelings knows it must shut itself off to protect us. Imagine our brain like a computer that just shuts down and goes off line. No matter what we do, we can't power up and reboot. We begin to feel like a walking zombie, unable to think straight, feeling little or nothing. If we have the privilege of knowing a person's life is going to end soon, we can begin to prepare for their death. This is called anticipatory bereavement. However, it is often stated that no matter how much time a person has to prepare for a loss, they are never really ready."
Delp says, "The linear process involving Shock and Numbness during bereavement can last for minutes to months. This is why the natural process does not feel so natural. Everyone is different and each loss or death one experiences is different. There is nothing one can do to prepare for your intense feelings and thus, our brains protect us for a while."
Once our brain has given us enough time to adjust to the situation, it will begin to function to allow us to feel our feelings. Leslie Delp calls this "The Good, The Bad and The Ugly". It is good because you can say to yourself, "I am moving forward in this process!" It is bad and ugly because the feelings are usually intense and spiked like a jagged rock. The feelings are the most excruciating part of the bereavement process. We have a multitude of feelings as we process loss and death. We feel everything from anger to guilt, from relief to sadness, from support to isolation, from frustration to fortitude. It is a rocky road full of high highs and low lows.
The best news Delp shares is that, "The part of this linear process involving feelings is necessary for one to learn how to live again without the person who has died. We must feel our feelings. We must slow down long enough to identify how we feel and then process that feeling into a constructive experience. If we keep so busy, running at 100 mph or numb our pain by abusing drugs or alcohol, we risk our health. We also rob ourselves of our body's natural ability to heal itself by processing the loss."
The following list of coping strategies are considered harmful and should be avoided if one wishes to process their loss effectively.
1. Drug or alcohol abuse.
2. Shopping to extremes.
3. Indiscriminate sexual activity.
4. Abuse of food, either over eating or under eating.
5. Over scheduling your calendar on a regular basis.
Once we are able to feel feelings and move through them, we are able to naturally move through our assimilation of the loss. We all can choose to recreate the relationship we had with the person who died from a physical one to a spiritual one. We no longer have the gift of them in our lives physically however, that does not mean they are not in our lives. We carry them with us daily as we recreate our relationship and share them with others in very strong ways. The word assimilation is important because it means, "to take into one's self". We take them into ourselves.
They become assimilated into who we are now. We even ask ourselves, "Who am I now?" Who am I now that my child died, am I still a mother?" The answer is yes!
You will always be their mother but they will now be your spiritual child not your physical child. You will carry them with you as you share them in a variety of ways, as you are a stronger more giving person with them in your heart. You will bring love and wonder to the world as you live now with their spiritual being as part of you!
When you start to live with the spiritual relationship guiding your life, you will create meaning. Your life will take on a different light and you will be able to share the many lessons this meaning brings to your life. Sharing our loved ones through the meaning of their existence in our lives is a gift we receive. Once you have learned the meaning behind this loss, you are then free to share it in a tangible way with the world, reconstructing your life to live with them in it. This reconstruction during bereavement is necessary for your healthy living. Mind you, we don't have to build a monument or climb Mt. Everest in their memory to mark our reconstruction, although both of those examples are fine, we can simply change our life to be a stronger Dad or a more patient person. Little changes that are obvious can show that they are working in your life daily and walking with you each step of the way!
In addition to being a therapist in private practice, Leslie Delp also taught the Death and Dying Course within the Nursing Department at a local college. It is her experience as a bereaved parent, as well as a professional in the field of mental health, that everyone processes loss uniquely, like their fingerprint. She has seen over and over that adults and children process loss in a similar linear fashion however children also have developmental tasks that are worked through while processing loss until they reach maturity. For important information concerning children and loss, log on to www.oliviashouse.org the official Olivia's House website to learn how to help the grieving children in your world.
COMPLICATIONS TO BEREAVEMENT
Stigmatized or Traumatic Death
In one of his many website articles, author Howard Lunche, MSW, LCSW, writes that, "Deaths that carry some sort of social stigma add complication to grief and the period of bereavement. It is unfortunate that some deaths are considered shameful or in some way unworthy of grief and mourning. Deaths by suicide, drug overdose, AIDS, and smoking are a few that give rise to societal judgments associated with mental illness, weak or flawed character, religious beliefs, sex, living a bad life, and bringing this fate upon oneself. It is not uncommon for the bereaved to be reluctant to disclose the true cause of death when it will bring judgment and shame to the deceased and family. It may also be feared that the loss will be nullified by others who adhere to the societal stigmas associated with the cause of death. Shame, guilt, ambivalence, confusion, and anxiety can be pronounced depending upon the extent that we believe in these same societal values too." Read more...
Grieving a death due to suicide, including intentional drug overdose, may include complicated feelings of guilt, confusion, anger and shame. Sudden and/or violent death also may cause survivors to experience symptoms of Post Traumatic Stress Disorder - numbness, shock, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks, or physical stress reactions.
In 2004, Carol Loehr, a mother, shared her thoughts after the death of her son to suicide. Read more...
Experiencing a loss due to drug overdose leaves one shocked and angry. Family members and friends often experience a confused mixture of feelings that are complicated with layers of guilt, shame and anger. The aspects unique to sudden and violent death are also present including; PTSD, symptoms such as numbness, shock, flashbacks, nightmares, panic attacks and physical stress reactions. Read more...
GRASP- Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing. Grasp was created to help provide sources of help, compassion and most of all, understanding, for families or individuals who have had a loved one die as a result of substance abuse or addiction. Grasp is part of the website Broken No More.
Death is not a time for blame. It is a time for reflection. And then, it is a time to speak... read The Stigma of Drug Overdose: A Mother's Story.
Saving lives by empowering youth to be drug free and encouraging parents to communicate effectively with their children about drugs.
The Courage to Speak Foundation was founded in 1996, shortly after Ginger and Larry Katz lost their son, Ian to a drug overdose. Since then, The Courage to Speak Foundation has been dedicated to fulfilling a promise Ginger made to Ian: She promised to do everything in her power to prevent this tragedy from happening to another family.
JOURNEYS THROUGH GRIEF NEWSLETTERS
Resources for Coping with Grief, Loss and Traumatic Stress
Bereaved Parent - written for bereaved parents by bereaved parents
A unique blog featuring articles and resources on topics such as post-traumatic stress, addictions and suicide intervention for all emergency responders and their families.
Sometimes in life, events occur that fracture the very foundation on which we stand. Our life, as we have known it, is forever changed and we find ourselves in an unexpected struggle, first just to survive and then to move forward. Alliance of Hope - Healing support for those grieving loss by suicide.
Bereaved Parents of the USA (BP/USA) is a national non-profit self-help group that offers support, understanding, compassion and hope especially to the newly bereaved be they bereaved parents grandparents or siblings struggling to rebuild their lives after the death of their children, grandchildren or siblings.
Copying with Loss: Collected here are some of the best online resources for coping with grief and bereavement. Many people suffering from loss have turned to the internet to find help, support, or someone to share their pain with. From professional grief counselors to individual bloggers sharing their own experiences, there is an amazingly supportive community online for those learning to cope with loss. These sites can be useful both for people suffering from grief, and those who offer them support. The sites are sorted by category and listed in no particular order within their groups.
GRIEF: A Look at Holistic Healing
When we are able to take a healing attitude holistic wellness approach to our bereavement, it becomes far less painful and we are grateful for the time we had with our loved one. It also makes integrating the loss and moving on to love again much easier. Many people get stuck in grief and become depressed as a result. There are many ways in which you can assist your emotional stages of bereavement. Below is a list of suggested holistic resources that will help you with the process.