Continuing the Conversation on Addiction and Loss in the Community
Elizabeth Crawford struggled with opioids during her early adulthood. In 2015, she died from an accidental overdose. Her death deeply affected her brother, Dr. Mitchell Crawford, who ultimately chose to work in the field of addiction treatment.
“After she died, I remember feeling helpless, that despite all that we could think of to help her at the time, it didn’t seem to work,” said Dr. Crawford, Director of Addiction Services, WellSpan Philhaven.
Over the last several years, Hospice & Community Care’s Pathways Center for Grief & Loss has seen a significant uptick in the number of children, teens and adults supported who have lost a loved one due to overdose and addiction. Many of us have been impacted by the opioid crisis in some way. For Dr. Crawford, the opioid epidemic has impacted him in life changing ways. His sister was not the only person he lost to the epidemic.
“I completed medical school the year Elizabeth passed away and then transitioned to start my residency training in psychiatry,” shared Dr. Crawford. “Near the end of that first year, one of my colleagues asked me to cover a weekend shift for him so that he could go home to celebrate his birthday with friends and family. I covered the shift for him and then learned that he had been in recovery for many years but had died from an accidental overdose that weekend at home.”
“Unfortunately, these experiences are not unique in our society,” Dr. Crawford said. But, he has also seen many examples of long-term recovery, both in patients and in colleagues. While all types of loss are challenging, Pathways Center bereavement counselors are extremely sensitive to the needs of individuals grieving an overdose loss. Those grieving may feel anger because they missed clues that their loved one was addicted, blame themselves, or feel a sense of guilt and isolation.
“When Elizabeth died, I lost a part of myself,” commented Dr. Crawford. “I imagine that many who are reading this right now can relate to this experience that is hard to put into words. Her death challenged my conceptualization of what addiction was and to think critically about what I felt called to do with my life. My colleague’s death taught me about how we all have unique journeys in life and that we are all susceptible to addiction. Finally, the many experiences of long-term recovery gave me hope.”
Today, these experiences encourage him to continue his work.
There were two main coping skills that were critical for Dr. Crawford at the time of the deaths and still today. The first is to share open and vulnerable dialogue with his wife, with whom he is very thankful to share his journey. The second is endurance exercise, in particular triathlon events. The open dialogue helps him process his emotions and share his experience with someone he trusts. The exercise is therapeutic for him for many reasons, but most importantly, it provides a constructive outlet for him.
The Pathways Center for Grief & Loss offers a variety of ways to support this type of loss – from short-term individual or family counseling to a closed Facebook group called H.E.R.O. (Heal, Endure, Restore after Overdose), from in-person and virtual support groups to online videos. For more information, visit www.PathwaysThroughGrief.org or call (717) 391-2413.
Thankfully, we have come a long way in the past few years to erase the stigmas associated with overdose and addiction, but there remains a lot of opportunity for improvement.
“Our community can continue to grow by remaining curious and empathetic as we learn more about addiction together,” commented Dr. Crawford. “We are very fortunate to have many strong health systems and treatment providers in our region, and I encourage outreach to these experts to engage in dialogue.”
International Overdose Awareness Day – August 31, 2020
To help families and friends commemorate their loved ones, the Pathways Center is hosting a virtual event on International Overdose Awareness Day on August 31. The program will feature Dr. Mitchell Crawford as the keynote speaker.
“The more we can gather together and learn together the more we can grow together,” shared Dr. Crawford. “There is a real power in having an event like Overdose Awareness Day because it provides a safe space and also helps others see that they are not alone. Each time we speak about addiction in this way, we normalize it in our community – helping us acknowledge that addiction is a chronic brain disease that has treatment available. So each time we gather to remember those we have lost, we honor them by encouraging the community to grow and allow those seeking recovery to feel more comfortable to engage in treatment.”
For more information or to register, visit www.HospiceCommunity.org/OAD or contact the Pathways Center at (717) 391-2413.