It is the 146th day since my son died from an accidental overdose of Fentanyl. Jack had a Substance Use Disorder that grabbed him in his early 20s and never let him go. Opioid addiction is much more challenging to recover from compared to the abuse of alcohol or other drugs. As long as he was alive (though there had been many close calls) we had hope. But now we are left grieving the loss of a child.
They say losing a child is the most devastating type of loss to experience and I wholeheartedly agree. I’ve suffered other losses in my life like losing my grandparents and my parents, but nothing prepared me for grieving the loss of a child. Unlike other losses, this is not one I will ever get over, but instead, I have to learn to live with it.
As I see it, a parent’s sole responsibility is to support and protect their children. Based on that hypothesis we failed Jack miserably. Even though we researched and provided every possible resource to him to recover from this debilitating disease (Substance Abuse Disorder has finally been classified as a disease) we feel like a failure because he ended up dead. And our first instinct is to blame ourselves because we didn’t live up to the singularly most important goal of protecting our child. That’s why grieving the loss of a child is so devastating.
So How Does One Actually Grieve?
So how does one grieve the loss of a child in a way that simultaneously provides room for overwhelming feelings of sadness and the ability to go on with a happy and productive life? I am still trying to figure that out. I’ve chosen to seek help by joining a grief group called Compassionate Friends – a global non-profit strictly for parents who have lost a child and I see a therapist once per week. These are both helpful and I highly recommend them. But neither is a panacea for grieving the loss of a child.
Experts say there are 5 stages of grief: denial, anger, bargaining, depression, and acceptance. These stages are our attempts to process change and protect ourselves while we adapt to a new reality. While there are consistent elements within each stage, the process of grieving looks different for everyone.
I would say I have experienced aspects of the first four stages since Jack’s death. It is not a linear process. Grief comes over me in waves like the ocean. I tend to go back and forth between the various stages, depending on the trigger. A trigger can be a sad thought such as I will never hug my son again, to missing him terribly during the holidays.
Tools for Grieving the Loss of a Child
In addition to group meetings and individual therapy, I use two other tools for grieving the loss of a child and I hope they can help others who are also grieving the loss of a child. They both require staying in the moment as much as possible. Practicing meditation is a good way to get strengthen this process.
Tool I – DECOMPARTMENTALIZATION – By staying in whatever moment I am experiencing I allow myself to feel sad when I am sad about Jack, but I also allow myself to feel joy (which I initially felt guilty about) when I am experiencing a joyous moment. It’s strange to allow yourself to swing between these opposing feelings, but it is essential if you want to continue to live a full, productive life.
Tool II – DISTRACTION – Keeping yourself busy with work, spending time with friends, exercising, and traveling are all great methods for distracting yourself from the pain of loss. Being present in these other moments allows you to get away from the pain for a while.
One of the hardest parts about losing a child? Is how other parents behave. They can imagine the devastating pain they would feel if they lost a child. Because of that, they are afraid to approach the subject with the grieving parent and tend to stay off the topic or make themselves less available for comforting the bereaved. But, it is far more helpful to have support and be asked how we are feeling and have a comfortable space to express it.
Psychotherapist Megan Devine in her book “Its OK to Not Be OK,” debunks the culturally prescribed goal of returning to a normal, “happy” life, replacing it with a far healthier middle path, one that invites us to build a life alongside grief rather than seeking to overcome it, nothing takes the pain away forever. In my opinion, true grief is learning how to live a fulfilling life while the pain of loss is felt deep in your soul.
Know Anyone Who Lost a Child?
If you or someone you know has suffered the loss of a child, I am happy to speak with them and also offer productive resources. Just have them email me.
Note to Parents — it is imperative to educate your kids on the dangers of Fentanyl and the fact that it is in 94% of the illegal US drug supply killing over 100,000 people each year. It is often pressed into pills that look like real pharmaceuticals and also sprinkled into powder substances like cocaine. It is 50 times stronger than morphine and even a little bit can be lethal. Read more about Fentanyl here.
Teens are the most susceptible to Fentanyl overdoses since dealers use fake Instagram and Tik Tok accounts where they sell the drugs and send them to their homes.
Learn More About the Dangers of Fentanyl
It’s OK Not to Be OK
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