Bereavement Groups Allow Loved Ones To Remember Those Lost To Addiction

By Victoria Kim 07/07/17

These unique support groups offer a safe space for friends and families to grieve without encountering stigma.

a group of people holding hands while sitting in a circle

Families that are grieving daughters, sons, brothers and sisters lost to drugs are finding comfort in support groups catered specifically to remembering people who battled drug addiction.

“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,” reads a press release from A Healing Heart, a new bereavement group in Bayonne, New Jersey. 

The group, which will begin holding meetings in September, was started by Franca Kirsch and Aurora Chiarella, two sisters mourning the loss of Christina, Kirsch’s daughter. Christina had been receiving treatment in a Florida rehab in February 2016, but died of a heroin overdose a month later in March.

Another Jersey bereavement group, Hope and Healing After an Addiction Death, launched in 2015 with the help of two mothers who also lost young adult children to drugs.

And for those who can’t attend local meetings, there are several Facebook groups that offer a space to share memories, photos, and stories remembering those lost. The nonprofit Heroin Support hosts a few Facebook groups, some of which are private, for families left behind who wish to pay tribute and memorialize their loved ones—they include Lost to Heroin and Heroin Memorial.

Other groups around the United States include Let It Out, a boxing support group that gives families coping with the drug deaths of loved ones a unique outlet for their pain. It was started by Cathy Fennelly, who lost her son to heroin in 2015 on her front step, after years of trying to get recovery to stick.

GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) is another group, based in California, established by parents Denise and Gary Cullen who lost their 27-year-old son Jeff to a drug overdose. The group has since expanded to other states, with about 100 chapters spanning from Alabama to Connecticut.

Denise Cullen spoke with NPR about the comfort she found in sharing her grief with parents who went through the same experience. “It’s very isolating, so that’s why having GRASP, and having our Facebook page that’s closed but available 24 hours a day seven days a week with 3,000 members, that you have a safe place to talk about things that you can’t talk about in your real life,” she said.

The support groups are a safe space for families, minus the stigma that may be encountered in other bereavement groups. “There’s this misunderstanding about people who use drugs and it can happen to anybody,” said Denise. “And if it’s your kid then all of a sudden it’s your fault, you’re a bad parent, your kid’s a bad kid.”

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Victoria is interested in anything that has to do with how mind-altering substances impact society. Find Victoria on LinkedIn or Tumblr