Mourning the Loss of a Son: How to Support the Family of an Addict

BY IN Addiction Stories, How the Church Can Help, Supporting the Family of an Addict 6 COMMENTS , ,

This blog has been in my draft folder for almost two years, waiting to be finished and ready to make its way into the cyber-world. Up until recently, why would I think I could publish a blog about mourning a child and supporting a family with such a grievous loss? Something I had never experienced?

But now, with the freshness of losing my son this past year, it seemed appropriate to finish the preliminary version.

I have to admit, I always knew the day could come.

The possibility of losing my child to a heroin overdose was a constant thought in my mind. I tried not to think about it, but deep down, my heart was already grieving my son’s death, even while he was alive.

 

EAGLES1-articleInline Today a headline caught my eye.

I literally wept to read of Philadelphia Football Eagle’s Coach Andy Reid’s  29 year old son, Garret Reid’s untimely death from a drug overdose.

The above picture is of the Philadelphia’s Eagles Football Team kneeling in prayer for the Reid family as they learned of their coach’s son’s death.

Garrett died of a heroin overdose on Sunday, August 5, 2012.

Four years before his death, in 2008, his parents, Andy and Tammy Reid were interviewed by Philly Magazine in Philadelphia. They boldly speak out about their sons addiction, legal issues, lessons they learned, and shed light on the excruciating heartache of being a parent of an addict.
For ten years their son was in and out of rehabs and jail.

My prayers and support go out to the Reid family as they mourn the loss of their beautiful son.

Fear of death for that person you love in the miry pit of addiction is no different whether you are a well known public figure, or a parent unfamiliar with the limelight of the public eye.

Sometimes years of fighting the battle mentally & spiritually for your child can begin to wane. You become weary from the battle. You’ve seen them fight for their life to try to kick this demon that has snared them. You literally watch them self destruct before your eyes, feeling hopeless and helpless. You pray, but their substance use continues. You offer them help and treatment, only to watch them fall again. I remember one time my son saying, “Heroin is the devil.”

I believe him.

Heroin steals your life.

Heroin hijacks your brain.

Heroin lies.

Heroin is a serpent.

Emotional roller coaster rides are common as a parent of an addict. You lay awake at night wondering if your child is in a ditch dead because you have not heard from them in weeks.

You are overjoyed when they are clean for ANY length of time, because it gives you one more moment to bask in their accomplishment of being clean, even if just for a day, and to know they lived through the last 24 hours.

As a parent, the worst scenario you imagine is, your child may die.

You want to relieve them. But, the reality is, you don’t have that type of power in and of yourself to cure them. There is no magic dust to sprinkle over their addiction.

There are many success stories of those who made it out of heroin addiction, and we pray the victory story will be our child. However, for those who lose a child from an overdose, support is desperately needed. This is where you come in, the friend, the family, or the church and body of Christ.

If you are unsure of how to support a family who has lost a child to addiction, maybe the following practical suggestions may be of benefit.

Remembering

Remember the individual as a person and not his addiction. Humanize him. Don’t demonize the person who has died from an overdose. What other interests has he had in the past? What were his talents? Honor his memory by speaking of his good nature or qualities. Be compassionate. Be merciful. Be thoughtful.

Remember his birthday. Remember his anniversary death. Send a text. Send a card through snail mail. Pick up the phone. Write a note on Facebook. But don’t wait until those dates. Remember the person at other times too. Don’t be afraid to talk about the person. Tell a story you remember about him. Make a donation in their child’s honor to treatment research, treatment center, or to an organization fighting the heroin epidemic.

The biggest fear a parent has is their child will be forgotten by friends and other family members.

Pray

The family will be guarded if they sense you are wanting information about his death, as opposed to being sincerely concerned. Instead of saying you will be praying for them, actually take the time to visit and say a prayer.

Be extremely careful when sharing “prayer requests” with those in your church. Reflect on your motives. Make sure the information you share is not in the form of gossip. Not everyone needs every single detail surrounding his death.Refrain from judgmental comments to others. Those comments have a way of getting back to the family. Be careful what you share and how you share information.

Have you ever heard of a phone prayer chain? When my husband and I were involved in youth ministry we had a young man who was very ill and was facing a life threatening illness and surgery. The night before his surgery, from 7 pm- 8 pm, every five minutes someone called this boy. The rules were, you could only talk for five minutes.  You had to read him a Scripture, say a prayer, and offer words of encouragement only. The last person to call was the youth pastor.

The concept is to pray. Pray Scripture. Turn a passage into a prayer for the family.

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Let them hear you pray.

Listen

Let them talk about their child, their feelings.

Be careful of cliches such as “He is in a better place”…”You still have other children”…”Call me if you need anything” (think up something appropriate and do it)…”He’s an angel”…”He earned his angel wings” (The bible does not teach believers become angels when they die). It is understandable you are trying to make the family feel better. If you are unsure of what to say, then remain silent, offer a hug, or say I’m sorry.

Don’t try to fix them. Don’t feel like you have to have all the answers. Don’t bring the subject back to you or your family or go into a long dissertation about somebody else you knew who had a child who died from the same thing.

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This bears repeating: Don’t talk about you. Listen. Attentively.

Presence

I am reminded in the book of Job how his friends came to be with Job after all his ten children died in one day. When they were approaching Job, they hardly recognized him because of Job’s grief. What did his three friends do? They sat beside him for seven days in silence.

They made an appointment together to come to show him sympathy and comfort him. And when they saw him from a distance, they did not recognize him. And they raised their voices and wept, and they tore their robes and sprinkled dust on their heads toward heaven. And they sat with him on the ground seven days and seven nights, and no one spoke a word to him, for they saw that his suffering was very great. Job 2: 11-13

Have a ministry of presence.

Grieving

Understand grieving has no time limit. The worst thing you could ever say to someone who has lost a child, in a catastrophic way, is to tell them to move on. Parents who lose a child will never be the same, they will never get over losing a child, however, they can move forward as they learn to live life without their child. Please be patient with them. Weep with them, share their grief and their joys. Maybe offer to go to a grieving support group with them. Whatever you do, remember to “mourn with those who mourn….weep with those who weep.”

Romans 12:15

Supporting

There are so many ways you can support a parent who has lost a child to addiction. One way friends and family have supported us is by cooking meals once a month for a sober house which offered much help and grace to my son (you don’t have to do something once a month, but you could do something once). Another way others have offered support to my family is by donating personal hygiene items and cinch packs to men and women coming off the street seeking help to stay clean. Family and friends help monthly to stock inventory, fill cinch packs with the personal items, and help deliver the packs to sober houses as needed (The Gabriel ‘Stay Clean” Project 930). Again, consider doing something once.  Others have donated to a memorial fund in my son’s name.

Think of a way you can support the family by giving in their child’s memory, either monetarily or by giving of your time and resources, even if it is for one time. The family will remember those who reached out and cared.

Following Up

Keep in touch with the family. Check on them frequently. Take them out to lunch or dinner. Invite them over to your house, or to a gathering. Stay in touch with them if only every few weeks or few months.

I am sure there other ways not mentioned here to support the family who has lost a child to addiction. However you reach out, be sincere, and give of yourself wholeheartedly.

Grace to you. And thank you for reaching out to parents who have lost a child from addiction.

Arlene, Gabriel’s Mom

Gabriel Project 930 

Parent of an Adult Addict

What are some ways you have offered the family support after a loss of a child to addiction?

6 Comments

  1. Cindi |

    I raised my son Christopher a Christian, he died at age 36 on April 5, 2017 of an alcohol drug overdose, I have overwhelming guilt thinking I could of helped him more. I prayed a lot, told him to pray, I should of done much more.. Please help……Thank you..

    Reply
    • shyrice |

      Cindi,

      As I read your comment, my heart is full of sorrow at the loss of your beautiful son.

      Losing a child is so very difficult.

      The guilt we feel as parents can be overwhelming. I had a friend tell me “You don’t know what you don’t know.”

      I have shared in the same feelings and guilt. However, it is only by God’s grace I am able to move forward.

      I’ll never get over my son’s death. Never.

      You are in the early stages of grief, which is grueling and at times unbearable.

      I had a friend, who had also lost a son, challenge me. She said “Find one thing you are grateful for in Gabriel’s death.” I thought she had lost her marbles! My son died, and I couldn’t imagine there was any gratefulness to be found.

      But over the months, as I thought about her challenge, I was able to find gratitude. Not in my son’s death, but in circumstances surrounding his death.

      1. Gabriel’s friend stayed with him and tried to revive him. I am so grateful for that, because I got to hold him, love him, lavish him with kisses for 4 more days before he died.

      2. I am so thankful for the bigger picture if eternity. God made a way, and I truly believe I will see my son again on the other side of heaven.

      No matter where you are in your grief, I would challenge you to come up with one thing you are grateful for. Not that your son died, but anything which you can identify and can have gratitude for.

      Thank you for commenting and reaching out. I pray God’s mercy, peace, comfort, and strength for the days ahead.

      Arlene

      Reply
  2. shyrice |

    Hi Janice,
    Welcome to the Gabriel Project 930 site & blog! God is still good, even in loss. Blessings and much grace to you!

    Reply
  3. Diane Fargen |

    You did a good job. I know everyone has needed to share your burden and do what we can to help. Love ya girl friend.

    Reply
    • shyrice |

      Thank you Diane!
      My, oh my!! How the Women of Grace have walked with us over the last year. What a mighty support you and others have been.
      You, Bethlehem Church have been a tremendous example of what it means to support a family through losing a child to addiction. Weep tears of grief and joy each time we are able to fill cinch packs with items fro the many women and men coming off the streets of Louisville and Indianapolis as well as Covington. Could not do this without support of friends and family. Last month we were able to fill 46 packs!!! Blessings!

      Reply

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