Our country is facing an unprecedented opioid epidemic unlike anything the world has ever seen. Teen drug abuse is not a new phenomenon, but the scourge of deaths from overdoses due to fentanyl and other prescription drugs is now reaching a fever pitch that begs us to find a new approach to this widespread problem. Countless parents are currently mourning the tragic and needless deaths of their children. This dismal truth highlights the fact that teen drug abuse affects many more people than just teen addicts themselves. Family friends and loved ones suffer greatly from the sudden loss of life. 144 people die each day from overdoses. Here are some things to keep in mind.
A Parent Never “Recovers” from the Death of a Child
Although, through the grieving process a parent whose child has died will hopefully, in some distant time find some degree of peace and acceptance, the option of simply “recovering” just isn’t available. Whenever anyone, but especially a child dies there will be intense feelings of guilt, anger or regret and possibly a sense of shame for not “being there” for someone who has deceased. In the event of an overdose or drug related suicide, it is not uncommon for parents to be haunted by a lingering sense of overwhelming guilt and self-blame. Parents feel enormous responsibility to and for their children in life and death in a way that is deeply personal and in the case of teen drug deaths, the sense of loss is truly unfathomable. Allowing parents of a teen with a drug death adequate time to grieve is essential. This will be a process and there are no shortcuts. To expect a grieving parent to recover from this degree of trauma on any kind of preconceived timeline is erroneous and almost certain to be met with resentment and withdrawal.
Talking to Parents about their Dead Children
This is no easy task for anyone. People will go to great lengths to avoid the discomfort and pain that they associate with any discussion or even acknowledgment of the teen who has died with the mourning parent. It’s as if it’s more convenient for the rest of the world to pretend the deceased teen never existed when interacting with their parents. This is an understandable, but massive fallacy that hinders the necessary processing of grief and eventual healing. To avoid the topic is in essence, to deny the existence of not only the child’s memory, but also the mammoth amount of spiritual work that is required to move forward. It is best to follow the grieving parents’ lead in this area, but don’t be afraid to ask about it or be willing to listen when the subject arises.
Parents want to Remember their Children
This doesn’t mean reliving only the painful memories such as when or how they found out. Parents want and deserve to hold on tightly to the cherished memories of their children that have passed. When they speak of something that reminds them of their children, don’t shy away or change the subject. This may take some practice, but it is helpful to listen and even ask questions when the, albeit loaded, topic comes up in conversation. You can be a huge asset in helping maintain a meaningful connection with the memory of a child when you make it clear that you are emotionally available to the parent who needs to share about their experience and not feel as if they are making anyone uncomfortable. As if grieving the loss of a child that died as a result of teen drug abuse isn’t hard enough, imagine feeling obligated to bury and deny those feelings and avoid talking about them only to coddle others from the “unpleasantness” you fear it might possibly stir in them.
Grief Support Groups
Although we live in an age where teen substance abuse is an increasingly alarming fact of life, it’s important to note that we also live in a time where education and support groups and organizations dedicated to grief counseling are more readily available and accessible than ever before. This is a resource that should not go unexplored. Though it might not be the first instinct of a grieving parent to go out head first to investigate this unfamiliar avenue, it could be very beneficial to suggest and even offer to accompany them if appropriate. It can be difficult to see from the position of intense suffering that there are other people who have suffered similar misfortunes, but when a parent is ready the support does exist and is there for them. As with many support groups and fellowships the first and often painful step is often reaching out and asking for help.