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Helping Families With Grief Support After An Overdose

Jun 26, 2018

WRITER’S NOTE: I set out to create what I could not find: a comprehensive list of resources to help those who are grieving after an overdose death. The following is a result of many hours of searching Google and scouring the web, but I realize there are likely to be many other organizations and groups out there I may not have found in my search. Additionally, as the need for support increases, I hope to see more organizations offering these types of shared grieving events for those impacted by a drug overdose death. Please check back for updates and please email any corrections or additions to jess@myASD.com.


FOREWORD

About once per week, there is a new email. They come from every corner of the country. From young people who were previously uninitiated with loss to older people who can’t understand this epidemic; from parents who have lost a child, brothers and sisters who have lost a sibling, children who have lost a parent, and countless others trying to support a bereaved friend. There is only one common denominator, one thing that binds me to this community of people who have become my grief pen pals: we have all lost someone we love to a drug overdose.

My greatest joy in life is writing. For as long as I can remember, writing down my emotions is the best way I can make sense of them and the world around me. Of all the stories, poems, essays, articles and blog posts I have written in my life, I believe there is one piece that has touched more people than any other. Last August, I wrote a personal essay titled, 7 Ways Grief is Compounded by an Overdose Death, about the experience of losing my father to an overdose and how the circumstances of his death complicated my grief process.

Since writing this piece, I have received so many emails from strangers expressing how much the post described what they were feeling. I use the world ‘strangers’ because there isn’t really a word in the English language that defines a person who has experienced the same pain as you. There is no term that accurately captures how an email from someone who I don’t know, whose face I cannot even picture, would lead me to start sobbing in my office. Megan Devine, a grief advocate whom I very much admire, refers to this as the tribe of after. It is those shared connections you find after a loss that you are simultaneously grateful for and wish you did not have to have:

“Much of what is beautiful in my life now comes from the community of other grievers: it’s one of the few true gifts of loss. Every one of us would have traded the community we found for the life we’d lost, and we can say so without remorse. After death, after loss, after everyone else has moved along, the fellowship of other grievers remains.” (Megan Devine).

Finally writing my full story after so many years and then having such a multitude of people reach out to me to share their own experiences really helped me to understand the value of shared grieving. Hiding grief away like a stain on the carpet you’re ashamed of can do a lot of damage, causing that stain to seep into other areas of your life and then come flooding out of unexpected corners. Yet, there is always that fear of uncovering the stain and being met with judgment or derision. I think this fear may be the strongest within my ‘tribe of after.’ Those who have lost someone they love due to substance abuse are so much more likely to keep their experiences and emotions concealed because of a societal lack of understanding.

“One of the underreported manifestations of the opioid overdose epidemic now sweeping the United States is the sheer volume of complicated grief experienced by the surviving loved ones of those who died of an overdose. Feelings of shame, stigma, guilt, anger, blame, shock, and isolation put a heavy burden on those impacted by an overdose death—including parents, spouses, siblings, children, grandparents, and friends, and they may not believe they have a safe place to talk about it.” (Larry Beresford, The Lancet)

Lately, I’ve been finding myself feeling a stronger need to talk about it. If I am in a social situation and I hear the words, ‘heroin’, ‘opioid’, or ‘fentanyl’, I don’t hesitate to interrupt and speak up about the fact that these substances claimed my father’s life. However, it has taken me 12 years to feel comfortable sharing openly, to finally feel free of the shadow of stigma. There were many years where I would sit in silence, dying inside, listening to the detached opinions of those who had no clue they were deeply wounding me with every word. It is a difficult topic to address, especially if I am not emotionally prepared for it, but I’ve finally reached a point where I would rather talk about it honestly and encourage conversations about solutions than keep my feelings locked up in silence.

Finding solutions to the opioid crisis is one of the greatest challenges our country has ever faced. I understand the need to search for an origin and why people want to find culprits that can be held responsible. Whether you want to blame the illegal drug trade, pharmaceutical companies, doctors who write prescriptions far too casually, police procedures or the legal system, the larger picture is often lost when the focus becomes figuring out who is culpable. I don’t have an answer to this question, but I can see a lot more attention is being paid to ‘who is responsible for these deaths?’ rather than ‘how can we support those whose lives have been shattered by this.’ What is the world going to look like with a generation of children growing up without parents? Why isn’t anyone analyzing the toll all this has taken on those left behind?

There is a cold cynicism that seems to permeate beneath the attitudes surrounding drug addiction. Many people are far too quick to write off the lives that have been taken by this epidemic as worthless or inconsequential. Below is a section of a poem I wrote a few years ago after encountering this type of indifference:

It may not be in fashion to wear
your heart on your sleeve, but one
day we’ll look down on a pile of ashes,
and wonder why

we didn’t take longer to grieve.

According to the CDC, between June 2016 and June 2017, drug overdoses killed more than 66,000 people in the U.S . 66 THOUSAND PEOPLE might still be alive today were it not for these dangerous substances. That’s more than the total number of U.S. casualties in the Vietnam War. When you think about the ripple effect of that—all of those people consumed by losses, whose lives today are forever altered because of a loved one’s overdose—it sometimes makes me wonder how our society can even function presently. How can the wheels keep moving on this train when everyone inside is weighed down with a thousand pounds of unspoken grief? It’s just about impossible to find a person in this country who has not been impacted, in one way or another, by addiction. Yet, we’ve allowed our culture to turn us into silent casualties, with no place or outlet to share our grief. Like hidden collateral damage in a war no one can win, our pain has gone unacknowledged for too long.

Throughout the course of my life, there have been several instances where I can recall feeling as though I was being pulled toward something, like God was directing me to a particular path or action. That is how I feel about writing this blog. Like something has been propelling me, directing me to do this. Since writing my last piece, I have received so many emails asking for recommendations for grief support groups for those who have lost a loved one to an overdose. It seemed like as soon as I was finished responding to one, another would pop into my inbox. Then I would go home, turn on the TV, and see Joseph Gordon-Levitt on my TV talking about his brother’s death. At one point I had a very stupid thought, which was, it’s following me everywhere, but then my brain quickly caught up and realized, No Jess, it’s just everywhere .

Though he never states how he lost his brother, I remember watching this and being able to tell by the look in his eye and the way he phrased his sentences, that he was a part of the same ‘tribe of after' as me. It’s like looking into a grief mirror; over time, you become able to recognize your own pain in others. I later researched it and learned his brother died of an overdose in 2010.

The emails I received from those who could relate to my piece sent me on a search for resources I could recommend to others who have lost someone to an overdose. I’m fortunate that ASD’s owners are so supportive of my endeavors to shine a light on this issue and raise awareness. They understand firsthand the widespread reverberations of substance abuse. Many of our employees have been impacted by a loved one’s addiction, to the point where we brought in a grief counselor for our staff last year. Some staff have had to answer calls related to drug overdoses after losing someone they love to one as well. As funeral directors know, it is extremely difficult to hear the tragic stories of so many people who should still be alive today. I so appreciate the Czachor family allowing me to take on this project on behalf of all of our employees and clients who feel powerless in the face of this terrible plague that has fractured our communities.

Within our profession, the issue is also at the forefront of everyone’s mind. So many of the funeral directors we work with have been personally affected by the drug epidemic and the profession as a whole is struggling to find ways to help families that have been devastated by it. About a year ago, I wrote a piece about funeral homes and the opioid crisis focusing on all of the valuable work funeral directors are doing across the country to help prevent drug overdoses.

Funeral directors like Kevin Walker of Walker Funeral Home, who created a billboard awareness campaign in Toledo, OH, or Kevin Moran of John Vincent Scalia Funeral Home, who regularly addresses those in recovery at addiction support meetings in Staten Island, NY, have spoken openly about how substance abuse deaths impact those in the funeral profession. So many directors are dedicated to making a difference as activists on the front lines of this issue. They see firsthand the fallout of the tragedies and the faces of family members who have been ravaged by a loved one’s addiction.

While many of the funeral associations offer a great deal of information, literature and seminars about the prevention of drug overdoses, there is little in the way of bereavement support for those who have already lost someone. Funeral Director, Charles Castiglia, who spoke at the NFDA event, Critical Issue: A 50-State View of the Opioid Epidemic , made a statement that really underlined why this is so crucial:

“You’re dealing with grief on another level,” Castiglia stated. “You’re dealing with grief where I don’t know if there is ever any consolation for these families.”

The need for specialized bereavement support for those grieving an overdose death is paramount, because this type of loss is different than any other type of loss. It carries with it complicated emotions and unresolved feelings that are often unaddressed in typical grief support settings. This type of loss is, truly, grief on another level .


Resource List For Those Grieving After An Overdose

National Resources

Local Grief Support Resources By State

Other Grief Therapy Forums

Funeral Home Association Resources

Click on any link above to explore different resources funeral directors (and anyone else) can recommend to families who have lost someone due to substance abuse. This list is by no means complete – I am hoping to see it grow as more grief support resources become available. If you or someone you know is aware of a grief support resource that is not included below, please send me an email at jess@myASD.com so I can add it to this list.


National Resources

GRASP: Grief Recovery After Substance Abuse Passing

Currently, there is only one organization that exists offering overdose grief support on a national level. Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP) was founded on the same principal which led me to share my personal blog post last year; the idea that the grief one experiences after a loved one overdoses is often compounded by societal responses and that coming together with others who have experienced a similar loss can bring a lot of comfort. GRASP was founded by a couple whose 20-year-old daughter died from a drug overdose in 1994, leading the couple to launch an awareness campaign. Over time, this has grown into a peer-to-peer support network with over 100 chapters in the United States and Canada.

From the GRASP website:

“Grief Recovery After Substance Passing (GRASP) was created to offer understanding, compassion, and support for those who have lost someone they love through addiction and overdose. Too many times we suffer not only the death of the person we love, but we become isolated in our grief. We feel, and too many times it is true, that no one understands our pain. But at GRASP, we do. We have suffered this same kind of loss and we have found the love and connection that only those who have lived this loss can give another.”

As a non-profit organization, GRASP’s leadership is comprised entirely of a community of volunteers, all of whom have lost someone they love to substance abuse. While trying to find a resource to recommend to someone, I stumbled upon GRASP and was able to connect with Laura Cash, a board member and chapter coordinator. Laura explained how the community is committed to bringing together families that have been impacted by an overdose death. The idea was to create a safe space, free from any judgment or disparagement, where those who lost someone to an overdose can share their experiences and unresolved feelings with those that have endured the same tragedy.

Hearing Laura talk, I immediately thought of my mom sitting in a grief support group for widows after my father’s overdose and not feeling free to share the anger that accompanied her grief. I believe our society owes a debt of gratitude to the founders of GRASP for being the first to recognize the massive need for this healing community.

Below are a few ways GRASP can help families who have been affected by an overdose death:

Local Meetings

Laura explained that GRASP is a growing movement and hopes to be able to offer grief support groups in every part of the country. Currently, the organization has chapters in 34 states in the U.S. and three provinces in Canada. Click here to find the closest GRASP chapter meeting to you. Additionally, if you or someone you know has lost someone to substance abuse and is interested in starting a chapter you can click here to begin that process. (Please note: New chapters may only be set up by those who have lost someone close to them to substance abuse).

Author: http://rebcenter-moscow.ru - Own work , CC BY- SA 4.0

Below are a few articles about families that have created GRASP chapters in their own neighborhoods:

Facebook Community

GRASP also maintains an active online community of grievers. Their Facebook group has more than 7,000 members. To join the group, you must provide a bit of information about yourself and how you have been affected by a substance abuse passing. This prerequisite ensures those who join understand the purpose of the group. There are hundreds of online grief support websites and forums on the internet, but the GRASP Facebook group is the one of the only safe spaces online for those who understand the complicated emotions surrounding an overdose death. Click here to join.

GRASP Book Recommendations

With more and more families coming through the doors of funeral homes after an overdose death, funeral directors are likely to be asked if they can recommend any literature or books to help with grief recovery. Who better to ask this question than an organization whose leadership is comprised solely of those who have been impacted by a substance abuse death?

Below is a list of book recommendations and descriptions from the GRASP website. Click on any title to read a full description on Amazon.

When A Child Dies From Drugs
Losing Jonathan
Living When A Loved One Has Died
Badger’s Parting Gifts (grief book for children)
When Someone Very Special Dies (grief book for children)
Tear Soup: A Recipe for Healing After Loss
I Am Your Disease: The Many Faces of Addiction
Symptoms of Withdrawal: A Memoir of Snapshots and Redemption
Life Between Falls: A Travelogue Through Grief and the Unexpected
My Daughter’s Addiction: A Thief in the Family – Hardwire For Heroin
Healing After Loss: Daily Meditation for Working Through Grief

Other Ways Funeral Homes Can Support and Endorse GRASP

  • Contact the closest GRASP chapter to you and ask if you can print up cards with information on their local meetings to give out to families who need support.
  • Hold an event or contest with proceeds donated to GRASP to help raise community awareness about the organization.
  • Write about GRASP on your funeral home’s blog, share information on your social media or send information in your funeral home newsletter.

Camp Mariposa

The most tragic victims of the drug epidemic in America are the thousands of children who are growing up without parents today as a result of it. More than nine million children in the U.S. are living in a home with a parent who uses illicit drugs. These kids have been robbed of their childhood, their innocence and any sort of normalcy. Organizations like Camp Mariposa are trying to help give these things back to the children whose young lives have been shaped from an early age by a loved one’s drug addiction.

From the Camp Mariposa website:

Camp Mariposa is a national addiction prevention and mentoring program for youth who have been impacted by substance abuse in their families. Camp Mariposa is offered free of charge to all families.

Children ages 9-12 attend transformational weekend camps multiple times a year. Campers participate in fun traditional camp activities combined with education and support exercises led by mental health professionals and trained mentors.

Additional educational, social and mentoring activities are offered for campers, teens, and their families throughout the year. These activities build knowledge, coping skills, confidence and an opportunity to connect with one another. Led by mental health professionals and trained volunteers, Camp Mariposa provides a safe, fun and supportive environment critical to help break the cycle of addiction.”

Currently, Camp Mariposa holds 68 camp weekends per year at their 12 camps, which are located nationwide. Click here to learn more.

Back to Top


Local Grief Support Resources By State

A look at the states most heavily impacted by drug overdoses.
(Image source: The Center for Disease Control, Public Domain)

From hospice organizations to church groups to social service initiatives, there is a growing grassroots movement surrounding overdose grief support. Many locally based organizations have begun offering classes and group meetings. Most are centered on peer-to-peer discussions so families who have lost someone to substance abuse can connect with each other and share experiences.

Below is a list organized by state after an exhaustive search. While some of these groups are held free of charge, others require a counseling session fee. PLEASE NOTE: If there are any overdose bereavement support groups you know of that can be added to this resource list, please contact me at jess@myASD.com with more information.

If you do not see a support group listed near you, please keep in mind the list below does not include GRASP chapter meetings, which are offered in 34 states across the U.S. Be sure to visit the Chapter Meeting page on the GRASP website to look up meetings in your local area. I would also recommend visiting the website Psychology Today and entering your city, state of zip code to see a list of grief counselors in your area and their areas of expertise. From there, you can see if any of them offer a group for those who have lost a loved one to substance abuse.


Arizona

Palo Santo Psychotherapy & Wellness in Tucson, AZ hosts a weekly class with Drug and Alcohol Counselor, Liana Joy Condello, as well as two licensed addiction professionals. The class, Grief After Loss of a Loved One Due to Addiction , focuses on the unique issues family members face after the loss of loved one due to addiction.

Contact: 520-447-2433
More Information

Connecticut

Center for Hospice Care and Norwich Human Services are currently co-sponsoring an overdose community bereavement group.

“I give participants an opportunity to focus on expressing their grief,” said group facilitator, Angela Duhaime, in a recent interview. “I bring a toolkit of resources on what to talk about, focusing on a specific emotion for group members to process—like guilt or shame. We’re slowly getting around to anger.”

Contact: 860-848-5699
More Information

Delaware

Support After Addiction Death is a group founded by MaryBeth Cichocki , a mother who lost her son to an accidental fatal overdose. MaryBeth felt isolated in other grief support groups where parents had lost kids to cancer or car accident because they made her feel more alone. This led her to create the Support After Addiction Death group, which meets at 6:30 p.m. on the first Thursday of every month at Faith Lutheran Church in Bear, DE.

Contact: 302-834-1214
More Information

Florida

An Opioid Loss Grief Recovery group will be held at Growth Point Counseling and Mental Health in Jacksonville, FL facilitated by Counselor, Margaret E. Johnston. From the group description: “Loss of a loved one through addiction to opioids is unfortunately common. Due to the social stigma of addictions, people with this kind of loss may not have the same social supports as others. The group now forming will be 6-8 adults in any stage in their grief process. The members will be working toward gaining the strength to carry their grief. You will not be asked to "get over it and move on."

Contact: 904-299-0928
More Information

Georgia

Quantum Counseling in Cumming, GA offers a weekly Survivors Who Have Lost Loved Ones To Addiction group meeting facilitated by Licensed Professional Counselor, J Cory Tarver. The class covers how to get past the anger stage of grief in order to begin healing.

Contact: 770-574-4837
More Information

Illinois

1) The Hero Foundation is an organization founded by two fathers who lost their sons to heroin overdose. Their mission is to “stop the growing heroin/opioid epidemic that has rapidly swept across our nation through our own programs and by supporting strategic pieces of legislation all while providing comfort and support to those who have lost a loved one to heroin/opioid or are currently helping a loved one who is struggling with this deadly disease.”

On the first and third Tuesday of every month, The Hero Foundation holds grief therapy classes on topics specifically suited to losses resulting from an overdose. The meetings are held at Calvary Church in Orland Park, IL.

Contact: 708-557-8394
More Information

2) Professional Counseling Solutions, based out of Alton, IL, holds a monthly group called Addiction Loss Support. This is an ongoing grief support group for parents, adult siblings and others dealing with the death of a child, sibling or loved one due to addiction. The group is a place to meet others dealing with a death due to addiction, find support or ideas for healing.

Contact: 618-984-5005 ext. 233
More Information

Maine

CHANS Hospice and Volunteers: Center for Grief and Loss holds a bi-weekly meeting in Brunswick, ME for families who lost loved ones due to a drug overdose or long-term substance abuse.

Contact: 207-721-1357
More Information

Maryland

1) Hospice of Frederick County in Frederick, MD holds an 8-week Overdose Grief Support Group. According to the organization’s website, the group is open to any adult over the age of 18 who has had a loved one die because of an alcohol or drug overdose.

“Just opening the Frederick newspaper, it was not hard to figure out the need,” says bereavement coordinator Linda Beckman. “No one came to the group at first, until we started publicizing it on local TV and radio.”

Contact: 240-566-3030
More Information

2) Healing Hearts, a bi-weekly meeting for those who have lost a loved one to overdose, is another support group available to those in the state of Maryland. The program is offered by Voice of Hope at the North East United Methodist Church in North East, MD.

Contact: 410-287-2220
More Information

3) RASP – Reconciling After a Substance Passing is a monthly grief support group that meets on the 3 rd Thursday of every month at the Hope and Healing Center in Centreville, MD.

“Our team recognizes the effect that drug overdoses have had on our community and want to make sure that our community has the support and resources available to them,” says Knotts. “This support group is a safe place for individuals to come to reconcile with their loss, and find compassion and understanding from people experiencing similar grief challenges.”

Contact: 443-262-4100
More Information

Massachusetts

1) Hope Floats Wellness (based in Kingston, MA) offers an Overdose Loss Bereavement Group for parents. According to their website, this group is open to any parent coping with the death of a child of any age to overdose. This is a peer led group; the facilitators are also parents who have lost a child. (Classes offered twice a month).

Contact: 781-585-4221 ext. 3
More Information

2) The Sun Will Rise Foundation was founded by a mother who lost her son to an accidental overdose in May 2015. This non-profit organization meets ever month in Quincy and Braintree, MA

"Knowing the value of peer grief support groups, and the need for some in her area, she decided to start a grief support group called The Sun Will Rise, for those that have lost a loved one to overdose or substance use disorder. She had attended a group in Brighton and found it so helpful, but knew that one was needed closer, and set out to initiate one, so those on the South Shore and Braintree/Quincy MA area would not be alone in their grief. In December 2015 the group held its first meeting at the Braintree Town Hall. (From the Sun Will Rise Foundation’s website)

Contact: 781-789-4604
More Information

Michigan

Americcenter in Novi, MI hosts a bi-weekly group meeting with Counselor, Deborah Grossi. The group welcomes participants to “grieve with others who truly understand.”

Contact: 248-599-2440
More Information

Minnesota

Survivor Resources, based out of Minneapolis and St Paul, holds grief support classes for those that have lost a loved one due to homicide, suicide, accidental death and overdose. Support groups meet several times a month in both cities.

Contact: 651-266-5674 (St. Paul), 612-673-3951 (Minneapolis)
More Information

Nebraska

Roper & Sons Funeral Services in Lincoln, NE recently started a grief support group designed to meet the needs of friends and families who have experienced the death of a loved one due to the use or abuse of drugs and alcohol. This specialized grief group will meet from 5-6 p.m. on the second and fourth Sundays of each month at the Roper & Sons South Lincoln Chapel. Click here to read the funeral home's press release announcing the creation of the support group.

“We are honored to be able to serve a population that is growing and has expressed a strong need in our community," said Jodie Freeman, Director of Outreach at Roper and Sons. "Unfortunately, substance use and abuse is a growing problem in our community and throughout the nation. We know that families and friends are struggling to accept the many complications, including death, which come when a loved one is addicted to drugs or alcohol. Our strong commitment to the community does not end with the funeral, but reaches far beyond, into support and aftercare."

Contact: 402-476-1225
More Information

New Hampshire

1) Concord Regional Visiting Nurse Association offers a drop-in monthly grief support group called Loss After Addiction. A recent article profiled the group and interviewed one of the participants, who explained, “What I was really looking for was listening to other people’s stories, to see how they’re handling the grief. Whatever emotions they’re feeling, this is the place to share that with the group. We’re all feeling the same emotions, I guarantee that.”

Contact: 603-224-4093 ext. 2828
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2) New Hampshire Center for Cognitive and Behavior Therapies holds a bi-weekly group meeting designed to help children coping with a substance abuse death. From the group description: “Youth impacted by a substance abuse death often have questions that are hard to ask, or may struggle to figure out how to think about themselves and the world. Our group, led by a substance use informed counselor, provides a safe, supportive peer environment to process.”

Contact: 603-605-0518
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New Jersey

1) The Gateway Center for Counseling and Recovery in New Providence, NJ holds a free Addiction Bereavement Group every week facilitated by a certified thanatologist.

Contact: 908-649-0688
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2) Willow Tree Counseling Associates created PELA – Parents Enduring Loss to Addiction to give parents “a safe place to grieve the loss of a son or daughter to alcoholism and/or drug addiction.” The group is co-led by two parents who lost their children and meets once a month in Morris Plains, NJ.

Contact: 973-577-4264
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3) Hope and Healing After An Addiction Death, a monthly support group held at Calvary Lutheran Church in Allendale, NJ, was created by two mothers who lost their sons to overdose in 2014.

Contact: 201-786-8572 (Lani Bonifacic) or 201-960-4146 (Gail Cole)
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4) A Healing Heart, a bereavement group for those who lost a loved one to the disease of addiction, was founded by two women who lost a family member to a heroin overdose in 2016. The group meets twice a month at St. Vincent DePaul Roman Catholic Church in Bayonne, NJ.

“We come together in the shared grief of having suffered a tremendous loss due to addiction and recognize that we are forever changed due to this loss. By coming together, we will remove the isolation and stigma as we work on our pain and grief so we can learn how to survive and have hope. We will work on transforming our feelings into hope and learn to live and love again, to find our new normal. We will do this together with friendship, understanding, compassion and comfort”

Contact: 201-577-8264 (Franca Kirsch) or 917-696-7935 (Aurora Chiarella)
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5) Based in Southern New Jersey, Parent-To-Parent is a Grassroots Coalition for parents and loved ones who are suffering the ravaging effects of substance abuse. On the 3rd Tuesday of every month, a Parent-To-Parent Grief Support Group is held from 6:30-9:00 p.m. in Marlton, NJ, for those who have lost children as a result of a drug overdose. (Special thanks to Shaun P. J. Martin of McGuinness Funeral Home for sharing this resource with us).

Contact: 856-983-3328
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New York

If you are located in the state of New York, we highly recommend contacting the New York State Funeral Directors Association. This association is doing more to raise awareness about the need for overdose grief support than any other state funeral home association. The NYS Tribute Foundation – the charitable arm of the New York State Funeral Directors Association - has contracted with leading experts on grief and bereavement to develop programs to help funeral directors and the communities they serve understand and heal from the losses caused by the opioid crisis.

Last fall, NYS Tribute Foundation sponsored a 2-hour training course for funeral directors to learn about the unique challenges of grief after a substance-related death, how to serve those bereaved by substance-related deaths and the grief support resources that exist. NYS Tribute Foundation has developed a best-practice training program for those who wish to facilitate a grief support group specifically for those bereaved by substance-related deaths. Developed by three national experts, the 2-day program has already trained 50 individuals since April 2018. Two additional training sessions are scheduled for this fall. More Information

Part of the NYSFDA training program included a 20-minute documentary produced by the NYS Tribute Foundation called “Our Stories” which features real stories of five families who have lost a loved one to the opioid epidemic.


“This training has been very well received by both funeral directors and community members,” stated Kelly Deitz, Director of the NYS Tribute Foundation. “This epidemic is growing exponentially, with very few resources. Our goal is to give hope to those who have been impacted and a way to feel like they are not alone”

Marianne Schrom, Director of Engagement & Outreach for the NYSFDA, elaborated on why then need for specialized grief support is so crucial: “Our member funeral directors recognize and understand the stigma that surrounds substance use deaths. We know this epidemic does not discriminate and every community has been impacted. Until our national prevention efforts are 100% effective, there are grieving families who are looking for support,” she stated. “I’m humbled and proud to be working alongside our members as we lead the way in developing grief support systems.”

Marianne explained that funeral directors who attended the training courses in April are in the process of establishing their own support groups. Additionally, several training attendees are currently facilitating GRASP groups in their local area. Beyond support groups, The NYS Tribute Foundation is preparing web-based and printed resources to help families and communities bereaved by substance use deaths. In addition, a toolkit to host a community healing event is currently being developed with plans to roll it out across the state this fall. Currently, the NYSFDA is the only funeral home association taking steps in this direction. They have certainly set the example for other associations and I really hope to see other states adopting similar programs.

We expect to see a growing number of support groups being established within the state of NY in the coming months as a result of the NYSFDA’s efforts. Below are two support groups that are currently meeting– please check back for updates and additions.

1) Save the Michaels of the World, Inc was created by two grieving parents whose son, Michael, took his own life after becoming addicted to prescription painkillers. In addition to offering resources to aid addicted individuals in their recovery, the foundation offers grief support to family members who have lost a loved one to substance abuse. Save the Michaels House of Hope and Community Resources in Buffalo was created to “provide a nurturing and supportive environment to parents, grandparents and spouses of addicted individuals.” The organization holds several grief support classes throughout the month, including one for parents and another for young adults who have lost a sibling to an overdose death.

Contact: 716-984-8375
More Information

2) Hope for the Bereaved, a non-profit community organization based in Syracuse holds a monthly support group on the first Tuesday evening of every month. The group welcomes anyone who has been impacted by the death of a child, sibling, parent, spouse, partner, relative, friend or co-worker due to a drug overdose.

Contact: 315-475-9675
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North Carolina

1) Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, based in Mount Airy, NC now offers two open-ended grief support groups for overdose survivors. SOLSTUS (Surviving Overdose Loss Sanely Through Unity & Support) meets in both Winston-Salem and Stokes counties several times a month

“We serve 17 counties in North Carolina and Virginia and we’re exploring the need for groups in the other counties, as well,” said Outreach Provider Representative and Social Worker, Selene Teague, in a recent article. Teague also pointed out that the current opioid crisis has "shredded traditional stereotypes about drug abusers—urban versus rural, socio-economic, age, racial/ethnic profile."

Contact: 888-789-2922
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2) Hospice and Palliative Care of Greensboro offers an ongoing Overdose Loss Support Group. Below is a video the organization shared of one of the group’s participants:

Contact: 336-478-2565
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Ohio

1) Western Reserve Grief Services, which is operated by Hospice of the Western Reserve, has a network of bereavement centers in the state offering support groups. At the Avondale Wellness Bereavement Center, a support group called Restoring Hope meets once a week.

“We determined that a number of people were interested in a specific grief program, so we developed a five-week series,” says the hospice’s bereavement coordinator, Diane Snyder-Cowan. “We’ve had employees here who lost a sibling or an adult child. And don’t forget the professionals, first responders, doctors, pharmacists. A lot of people are grieving these issues. It touches us in so many ways, that we just needed to respond. We also do groups in the schools.”

Contact: 216-486-6838
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2) Serenity Counseling Solutions in Mentor, OH holds a monthly support group for family and friends of those who passed from an overdose.

Contact: 440-328-4415
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Pennsylvania

Our home state of Pennsylvania has the fourth-highest rate of overdose deaths in the country. Fortunately, our state government is very committed to offering as many resources as possible to help those that have been impacted. From our research, Pennsylvania appears to have the most number of overdose death related support groups in any state. The PDF link below will take you to a list with dozens of PA Overdose Grief Supports Groups listed by county (including GRASP chapters). We hope to see more states following this example by helping residents easily find information on where they can find this type of support in their state.

Click Here For Complete List of PA Overdose Grief Support Groups

This article interviews several women from Pennsylvania who lost a loved one after a long battle with an addiction. The women discuss driving miles and miles to find a grief support group specific to the type of grief they were experiencing, and why it was so important to find that type of group. The article then goes on to explain the different support groups they were driven to create themselves.

"Losing a loved one to a substance abuse disorder adds another layer to your grief because of the stigma that you must deal with. Although I did not experience any of this stigma from the (general support group for bereaved parents) members, it was still important to me to attend a meeting geared specifically towards substance abuse loss." FULL STORY

Virginia

1) Beginning in mid-July, Full Circle Grief Center in Richmond, VA will be holding an 8-week grief support group for adults grieving the death of a loved one by accidental overdose.

Contact: 804-912-2947 ext. 104
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2) Bon Secours Bereavement Center holds a Hope and Healing After Opiate Death grief support group at two locations in Virginia. One class is held on the 2nd Monday of each month at First Church of God in Norfolk, VA. The other is held on the 4th Monday of each month at Bon Secours Hampton Roads Bereavement Center, located in Newport News, VA.

Contact: 757-947-3420
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3) Mountain Valley Hospice and Palliative Care, based in Mount Airy, NC, now offers two open-ended grief support groups for overdose survivors, one that meets twice a month in Winston-Salem, and the other in Stokes County. “ We serve 17 counties in North Carolina and Virginia and we’re exploring the need for groups in the other counties, as well,” says the hospice’s Outreach Provider Representative and medical social worker, Selene Teague.

Contact: 888-789-2922
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Other Grief Therapy Forums

As the monster that is the opioid epidemic continues to spread its long tentacles across the country, ensnaring countless lives in its grip, the collateral damage left behind will also grow. The need for grief support in the aftermath will become apparent in every corner of the nation and I expect more groups will emerge as time goes on. While all of us wish the need for such a group did not exist, the fact remains there are few solutions in sight to combat this problem, but we can ensure it’s victims do not go ignored.

In the absence of a grief support group with a specific focus on an overdose-related grief, families are still likely to benefit from a shared grieving experience with others who have lost a loved one. What matters the most in this scenario is the bereaved person feels like they are among those who can relate to their feelings and won’t judge them. This is a crucial consideration because a person who feels in anyway stigmatized by a grief support experience is not likely to seek out help again.

I spoke to Grief Therapist, Andrea Piccone, who holds an Art Therapy support group at Bartolomeo & Perotto Funeral Home in Rochester, NY. Andrea was kind enough to share some of her insights on this topic with us:

“There really are not nearly enough resources for grievers- especially for loss from addiction and suicide. And people have expressed in my group that they tried “verbal” or “talk” support groups where there is not much guidance nor professional facilitation. I use art therapy (that can be a big difference verses just talking) and I deliberately address dealing with loss from addiction and suicide, making it clear that these complicated losses are welcomed without stigma and judgment.

Andrea Piccone, Art Therapist at Bartolomeo & Perotto Funeral Home

Through my experience, art has a much more powerful way to help people deal with any complicated and traumatic loss. Hopefully professionals will start seeing this need to expand their resources and the ways in which they offer support. As I too get frustrated with the little support that is out there and the very unhelpful methods that end up repelling people away from support because they are not getting their needs addressed. I feel this problem is wide spread and speaks more about the lack of professionals creating and discovering better ways to support these families that are desperately seeking help. I am proud that I have been able to remove that stigma from my group so members can receive the support they need. I believe it is up to all professionals in the grief and loss field to begin to address the lack of true support for grievers from addiction and suicide, as we all know, these traumatic deaths are growing and the need is increasing.”

Andrea’s insights on this subject really give us all something to think about. The funeral profession is so closely tied to the loss and grief field, so it stands to reason that families would first turn to you to point them in the right direction. For directors, the key is finding a group in your local area you can knowledgeably recommend to families with peace of mind knowing it will provide the type of help they need. The other alternative is to work directly with a Grief Therapist as Bartolomeo & Perotto Funeral Home is currently doing. This option can help you ensure the person you are referring the family to will be able to address their specific grief needs.

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Funeral Home Association Resources

As we mentioned above, the New York State Funeral Directors’ Association has truly laid the groundwork in demonstrating how a funeral home association can help bereaved families struggling to cope after an overdose. Their work in helping to train facilitators to conduct these types of grief discussions is so commendable. They recognized a void that was not being filled by current resources and have taken great strides in helping to bridge the divide. It was the dedicated professionals working for the NYSFDA who first encouraged me to write about my experience losing my father to an overdose and I am continually inspired by their efforts. They have started so many important conversations and have set a wonderful example of how the funeral profession can help address this issue.

We have also seen several other associations working to create awareness about the devastating impact of drug addiction and opioids. Many are focusing efforts on prevention and helping funeral directors learn how to create awareness campaigns about the dangers of using opioids. Though this post was written mainly to focus on the need for more grief support, I also wanted to take some time to highlight some of these other important resources out there.

Written Resources

Last year, the Order of the Golden Rule (OGR) published the information booklet, Opioid Epidemic—How Funeral Directors Can Respond. This guide includes:

  • An overview of the epidemic and opioid addiction
  • Information about how to serve a family that has experienced the death of a loved one
  • Unique challenges you may encounter during the funeral
  • Resources to help families get the grief support they need
  • Critical information for embalmers and anyone who comes into contact with the body of the deceased
  • Ideas for increasing awareness in your community

The OGR’s resource book covers every aspect of how funeral homes might be impacted by the opioid crisis. When covering grief support, the booklet advises funeral homes to “display brochures at your funeral home that explain the complicated emotions many families who lose loved ones to drug overdose experience and steps they can take to cope with their grief.” Additionally, the OGR booklet instructs funeral directors to “ develop a relationship with one or two counselors who you can call upon in an emergency” and to “connect families to support groups such as GRASP.” These two recommendations really stuck out to me because both are very smart, productive ways funeral homes can work to launch a community support initiative to help those in their community who are grieving an overdose death.

Recognizing the valuable, potentially life-saving information contained in the booklet, the NFDA printed out copies and distributed them to all members and suppliers. If you would like to obtain a copy of the booklet, please call your NFDA member services representative at 800-228-6332. The NFDA has also created the resources website, nfda.org/opioids, which is filled with links and valuable information on proper safety protocols, grief resources and helpful articles.

In addition to the resource book for funeral directors, the OGR has also created a booklet that funeral directors can distribute to families who have been impacted by overdose. Opioid Epidemic: How Communities Can Respond addresses the growing opioid epidemic from the perspective of funeral professionals who have seen the devastating impact that addiction has on families.

According to the OGR, "the easy-to-read 44-page booklet offers information and tips on understanding opioid addiction and how it differs from other addictions; the challenges families face as loved ones struggle with opioid addiction and the complicated grief they often experience when loved ones lose their struggle; responses families can choose including funeral planning in cases where their loved ones die from overdoses; and ways that community members can work together to address this growing epidemic."

Click here to learn more or to order copies for your funeral home

Seminars

If you are attending any funeral home conventions this year, be on the look out for any classes or speakers that address drug addiction and overdose deaths. You can learn valuable information and make connections that can help you to create community awareness campaigns. At the Utah Funeral Directors Convention in May, we heard from speaker Angela Stander, Prescription Drug Overdose Prevention Coordinator, about the origin of the opioid epidemic and the conditions that allowed it to escalate. We heard about the common signs of an overdose and the importance of keeping naloxone on hand.

For those attending the National Funeral Directors Convention in October, three different classes will tackle the opioid crisis from a different angle. On Monday, October 15 th, Marianne Schrom and Kelly Deitz from the New York State Funeral Directors Association will present, Supporting Families After An Overdose Death. We plan to be in attendance and would highly recommend directors do the same to learn more about the facilitator-training program the NYSFDA has implemented.

On Tuesday, October 16th, the class Recognizing Substance Abuse in the Workplace as well as the conversation café, Community Outreach and the Opioid Epidemic will be offered to attendees. With three classes on the agenda tackling this issue, the 2018 NFDA Convention will undoubtedly stimulate many conversations about the opioid epidemic and what we as a profession can do to help turn the tide. Don’t miss it!

Webinars/Online Learning

When it comes to how funeral directors should respond to this issue, as we mentioned above, the Order of the Golden Rule literally wrote the book. The association has been instrumental in giving funeral directors the information they need to create awareness within their own community. As part of their On Demand Learning series, the OGR offers a course titled, Opioid Epidemic: How Funeral Directors Can Respond that directors can take anytime. The course is approved for CE credit by most states.

“This course will give you the chance to discuss special circumstances which may impact how you interact with the deceased's family and friends, identify potential safety issues to guests and staff, discover how you actively address the crisis in your community and find ways to walk survivors through this difficult and unexpected journey.” (FROM THE OGR WEBSITE)

Click here to register or learn more.

The video below, recorded at last year’s NFDA Convention, provides additional information and ideas for confronting the opioid crisis from the funeral director’s perspective. This video can be viewed anytime online and is a fantastic resource to share with your staff.

In addition to the OGR and NFDA, several other national and state associations have begun offering videos, webinars or online CE credits on this subject to their members. Contact the associations you are a member of to learn if they offer anything or plan to in the future.

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Final Thoughts

“We build too many walls and not enough bridges”-Isaac Newton.

When I think about the stigma and shame that surrounds families after an overdose death, and the lack of grief support initiatives to help them, this quote often comes to mind. Our society has put up many walls in the form of misinformation, judgment and indifference which often puts grieving families in an empty room with no way to connect with those who understand their pain. Funeral professionals, grief advocates, counselors and others who understand the impact of this epidemic can play a role in helping the bereaved find passage to a safe space to share their grief. By building this bridge for families, we can make a real difference in helping to repair the damage caused by the drug epidemic.


RELATED READING

7 Ways Grief is Compounded by an Overdose Death
Funeral Homes and The Opioid Crisis: Resources and Examples to Follow
The Grief of an Overdose Death: Part 1
The Grief of an Overdose Death: Part 2
ASD's Public Relations Specialist Shares Her Grief Playlist



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About The Author

Jess Fowler

Jess Fowler is a Public Relations Specialist and Staff Writer who has been a part of the ASD team since 2003. Jess manages ASD's company blog and has been published in several funeral trade magazines. She has written articles on a variety of subjects including communication, business planning, technology, marketing and funeral trends. You can contact Jess directly at Jess.Fowler@myASD.com


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