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How Can I Help Her through This Nightmare ?

Mist Hills Grieving

Allies in Recovery member Rcvr posted a comment looking for guidance on how to support a friend whose son died of an overdose.

I have a friend whose son moved across the country a few years ago and fell into opioid addiction. She found out a year ago and tried to get him to come home, but he did not. He entered treatment a few times but then left the treatment center and went back to using; he just died of an overdose. I don't see many resources for those who are in this terrible spot after trying so hard to help their loved one. As a friend, I could use some advice on how to help out though I'm sure it is very personal. Any resources for this? It is all of our worst nightmares and I'm sure there are others who have lived through this horror.

I am very sorry to hear about your friend’s son. Death from overdose is particularly difficult for the family. Isolation is great, the family feels stigmatized or ashamed. There is the terrible feeling that more could have been done to avoid the death. Other family members may not be as supportive as they could be.

This two-part article does a good job of laying out the difficulties of losing someone to overdose. As a friend, understanding what the family is going through will feel important.

Perhaps you can also look for grief counseling in your area or a survivors' group. Leave your friend the list, let her find the time that is right to reach out. Above all, be patient. Grieving as you say is so very personal. 



In your comments, please show respect for each other and do not give advice. Please consider that your choice of words has the power to reduce stigma and change opinions (ie, "person struggling with substance use" vs. "addict", "use" vs. "abuse"...)

  1. The situation with my alcoholic adult son is ongoing, and every day I worry that I will find him dead. At first, out of shame, we did not talk about this to anyone outside of immediate family. My husband and I both have several close friends with whom we can now share and know that they will support us and not gossip. More importantly, they keep reminding us that we are great parents. We need to hear this often. We also need to hear that addiction is a disease that we can’t control through our own immediate efforts no matter how hard we try. It is not a reflection on us or our parenting.
    I have been in therapy for years, but also seek comfort from my pastor on a regular basis. I gain a lot of strength from both of these sources but in a different way. I have always been a very strong person, but I often feel weak and ineffectual when facing our family’s battle with addiction. My pastor, my therapist and Allies all serve to remind me that I am strong, and I am doing all that I can do for myself which is necessary in both facing addiction and facing grief.
    While my son is still alive, the son I raised has disappeared for which I grieve every day. I have friends who lost a son to heroin so I am familiar with the totality of their grief. They have used their grief to help others fight this battle hoping that others will not have to face what they have faced. They had to “come out of the closet” of unspoken truths to do this. It’s because of their bravery that I no longer hide from the truth. I am a good parent, but addiction is a powerful foe.

    1. esta4,
      i really appreciated reading this testimony. you are brutally and beautifully honest about the mix of shame, grief, weakness, struggle and pain that you experience. and you give us all strength and courage speaking of how you and your husband have come out of the shadows of shame and are embracing the truth that you are good parents, despite the uphill battle your son is facing and sharing with everyone who loves him. thank you for this truly moving testimony.

    2. My daughter died as a result of her addiction, and, yes, it is a terrible spot for any parent to be in. One thing which has helped me is a statement from the book “The Grieving Garden:”
      “We were unable to prevent our daughter’s death, nor was the mental health profession. We were not in control, nor probably was she. her disease was.”
      I felt vindicated as a parent. Perhaps this idea would also help your friends find some peace.

    3. Nothing compares with losing a child, and I don’t think you ever get over it, regardless of how the child died. Grieving is very lonely, especially after the funeral/wake/shiva when other people have gone back to their lives. Because it is so painful and ever-present, many of us will unintentionally distance ourselves from friends or family in that situation; the stigma of addiction makes it even worse. So perhaps you should periodically ask your friend to take a walk, get coffee, go to a movie etc. Just listen and be present even though it is difficult to bear. You don’t need to have answers because none of us does. If you need to say something, you can say that it is not her fault; that her son had a fatal disease, like cancer. But it should be enough for you to convey that you have not abandoned her.

    4. Dear esta4,
      I believe is is even more difficult for a “strong” person to accept the limitations of our ability to influence our loved one’s behavior. To help “save” them after all, we “strong” people identify problems, face them head on, find a solution and act.
      But now, in this process, we must learn (as my wife and I did through Allies) that we did not cause the problem, we can’t cure the problem and we can’t control the problem. The three C’s of our surrendering to this process. But, we are not impotent victims who must stand idly by while our loved one self-destructs. WE can set boundaries of acceptable behavior, WE can choose to support recovery and not addiction, WE can maintain hope when they have lost theirs. These things we can surely do, this we must hold on to. You and your husband are good people, of course, that is not the issue. So, too, is your son. Only right now he is lost and floundering. Anchor yourself in the knowledge of what you can do and stay in those boundaries. He will know, that when he needs to, he can reach you where you are. It is our loved one’s journey, his/her path to walk. Not ours. Yours in faith and hope.

  2. I am so sorry to hear about you friend’s son passing. I hate this disease. We are losing so many loved ones.
    I am not sure where you are located but I know in Massachusetts there are bereavement groups like GRASP you that you might recommend and I know there is a really large list on the learn to cope website:

    There is also a woman on facebook that has brought together a lot of people that have lost a loved one. They meet and talk, her name is Cheryl Rayner Juaire, maybe your friend could find her and join that group. Just a thought.

    Maybe with your caring friendship and finding support with others who are struggling with loss will bring her some sort of comfort.

    I am sure this mom is in a tremendous amount of personal pain and it is wonderful to see someone that truly cares and wants to reach out.