A Different Kind of Grief

Many of us have been impacted by the opioid crisis in some way. For Marj Paradise it impacted her in a more personal and life-changing way than anyone could describe. “I had no idea that the disease of addiction was so strong. It is a completely different ballgame than any other serious illness,” Marj describes. “When we lost Liz, I knew my husband and I needed help to deal with all of the emotions and moving through our new, foreign life.” They attended the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss’ Loss of a Child support group, and found they were one of the only couples who had experienced a loss due to addiction. Continuing to find the Pathways Center a wonderful source of support, they attended its Coping with the Holidays and Growing Through Grief Series, but they still needed something more specialized to help with their unique type of grief.

Marj participated in a Community Forum offered by the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss, ‘Substance Abuse and Overdose, When a Loved One Dies’. The panel discussion which was open to the community and held at the Pathways Center in September 2017, offered the opportunity to hear from experts and provided an opportunity for family members to share their personal stories. Speaking as someone who lost a loved one to addiction, Marj said, “I heard the community, and what they needed was a place to share their grief and not feel alone or different.”

A woman also on the panel led the Berks GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) support group which is for those who have lost someone to substance use or addiction, and Marj felt a similar group in Lancaster was perhaps what the community needed. “This group sprung from the Forum and a collaboration with the Pathways Center,” she describes. “I have always held the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss in high esteem and had been more significantly associated since Liz died so it made perfect sense.”

“Survivors are not only mourning the death but also the life of their loved one,” commented Patti Anewalt, Director, Pathways Center for Grief & Loss. “They often struggle with the fact that their loved one had such a hard life, and they wanted to get better but died. Often there has been years of betrayal from the person who died. The survivor has tremendous guilt—thinking they could have prevented the death. So many of them feel very alone in their grief because they sense judgment from others – they feel others blame them for the death.”

The first GRASP group was held November 14, 2017 at the Pathways Center for Grief & Loss with an attendance of 17 family members. Open to anyone, some who attended had experienced hospice care for their family member while for others, their loss was more immediate. Everyone had one thing in common: loss due to addiction. This was a group where members didn’t have to feel nervous about sharing how their loved one died. “You tend to get a lot of sympathy when you lose a child to cancer, or an unexpected tragedy like a car crash. But it is less acceptable to lose a child to addiction,” Marj explains. “You’re told or feel that somehow it was their choice. You are left wondering, if you share that your child, or brother, or parent died from overdose you’ll be looked at a bit differently or wonder what others will think.” Not in GRASP. Members know that their loved ones are not defined by how they died. Marj never talks about Liz as an addict. She describes her as a beautiful, athletically talented, giving, funny human being who offered so much.

New members attend GRASP every month, with some continuing to attend faithfully each month while others find what they need at that time and are ready to move beyond the group. Regardless of how they came to the group, or how long they attend everyone needs to share their stories and the stories of those they lost. “This isn’t therapy,” Marj is sure to note. “But it is a place we come to offer opinions, process thoughts as a group and work through emotions with the help of others who truly get it.” Those words are a common theme in local and national literature about unique loss and loss due to overdose: be around those who really get it.