For those who have lost a loved one due to a drug overdose, there are many other feelings that may go along with this death. Often we want comfort them as they mourn, but we’re often at a loss for words and gestures. Here are tangible ways you can support your friend while he or she is grieving.

The Grieving Family

For the surviving parents, siblings, children, grandparents, other family members, as well as friends, this death creates not only the usual feelings of loss, but may include feelings of guilt, shame, and survivor’s guilt.

Guilt may be related to not being able to have helped the loved one with the addiction, especially if the family/friends had to separate themselves from the user and/or quit enabling behavior that allowed them to aid the loved one to continue their addiction. Likewise, if the family enabled the behavior by giving the addict money to buy their drugs or not requiring the user to seek treatment, they may feel guilty for not helping the person to work towards recovery.

Shame may be involved – this could be from being ashamed that their family member had an addiction, that they hid the addiction from others, or feeling the pain and shame of not being able to help.

Survivor’s guilt may be especially prevalent for other family members or friends who have also being using but didn’t die from their use or because they may have been using with the person who died. Also, their grieving may be different if the person died by accidentally overdosing or used the drugs for suicide.

Uncomfortable With Death

Unfortunately, Western society does not to cope well with death for we tend to be stoic and focus on just managing one step at a time. Eastern society, however, allows grief to occur, whether it is weeping or wailing in pain, focusing on life and love, and walking through the grief with feeling, not with denial.

Beware Of Offering Platitudes

Because Westerners are often uncomfortable with death, we tend to fill the silence. While we mean to help, some of our well-intended statements may be hurtful. Avoid stating things such as:

  • “He’s in a better place now.”
  • “God must have needed her more than you did.”
  • “It’s so good you have other children.”
  • “She should have stayed in recovery.”
  • “Time heals all wounds.”

These statements discount the sorrow one is going through.

Help By Being Physically, Emotionally, And Spiritually Present

By being physically present, you offer your presence and by just being there. This can be a great comfort for others as they can sense your love and strength as well as see that you are there for them. In this manner, they see that they do not have to walk the path of grief and loss alone, although they may need time to be alone for healing. By honoring their wishes about how much they need your presence, the loved one can set the boundaries of what will be comforting for them.

In being emotionally present, you offer them the gift of your support of their feelings. In this manner, you embody love and compassion. This may be done through silence in their presence or by offering a listening ear. Sometimes listening is all you need to do. Other times, solace can be stated by saying things such as:

  • “I’m sorry for your loss.”
  • “I’m here for you.”
  • “How can I help?”

Spiritual attention combines the above as well as may offer support in other ways. You may ask the loved ones if they:

  • Would like your prayers and blessings
  • Need your help in making memorial/funeral plans
  • Would like you to attend church/synagogue/mosque/spiritual programs with them (only if that is a normal practice for them.)

Other ways you could show your support include:

  1. Helping them plant a tree or garden in memory of the loved one.
  2. Walking with them in nature. It’s a therapeutic way to aid in their grief process, but this is always a decision for them to make.

Be There

These are some of the ways to help in supporting a person who is grieving the loss of the loved one who has died for an overdose. The most important thing is the process itself and honoring what the grieving person needs. Being physically, emotionally, and spiritually present is the gift you can give throughout the grieving process. And within this grief, you need to take care of your own sorrows and your own grieving process.

No Perfect Way To Grieve

Grieving is a tricky subject for at times, it comes on like a tsunami, and at other times, it may be a calmness before the storm. In exploring the basics of grief, there is no such thing as a five stage grief process – this is an outmoded study in grief. Grief comes of its own accord and at times, may feel like a surreal experience. We may find ourselves in the devastation of the loss, the overwhelming feelings of abandonment, the pain of the experience, the evolving acceptance, and eventually, the incorporation of living life without a loved one.

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Carol Anderson
Carol Anderson, D.Min., ACSW, LMSW, is a licensed clinical social worker with over 25 years of experience in the fields of mental health, addictions, and co-occurring disorders. Her other specialties include grief and trauma, women’s issues, chronic pain management, holistic healing, GLBTQ concerns, and spirituality and transpersonal psychology. Dr. Anderson has been educated and trained in the fields of education, social work, and spirituality, and she holds a Doctor of Ministry degree (non-denominational/interfaith) specializing in spirituality.

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