Reflections on Loss to Substance Use

Every time I hear of a loss to substance use, my heart breaks a little more. Another family shattered. Forever grieving the loss of dreams and celebrations.

It brings me back to that moment in the ICU and still in shock, I looked at the social worker with a little indignation, “Did I want thumb prints of son?” “Thumbprints to bring to family events in the future “ she said.  NO …I mean “Yes I’ll take the thumbprints” but, NO!! I want my son to be there at these “Graduations and Weddings” of the future. What the h** is a set of ceramics going to do for me, no..thank you. I want Sean there, happy, sober and healthy. Happy, joyous and free-just what the I thought rehab promised (and it does happen for many people).

Families suffer not just the loss of their child but, the stigma surrounding substance use compounds the loss. For many of us, the loss comes after suffering in silence for many years. Rarely, is there a “CaringBridge” site for families with children who have a mental illness. No fun 5K to support “Substance Use Disorder” or a Go Fund Me for the tremendous expenses.

No too many look away, it’s too scary. Too close to home. They don’t call or send a text. Sometimes they don’t even reach out when your child is in the ICU in a coma, waiting to have organs removed to serve a more deserving person who will, undoubtedly, care for them better than he has.

No, you are left with the emptiness of the loss and all the whispers. “Don’t worry we didn’t tell anyone” “You don’t need to tell anyone what has happened”.   Take a few days off, as in don’t take too long, you don’t deserve it because it’s not a real loss like cancer. No, your child was “bad” and his death was just what served him right.

Sadly, that is the reality that I experienced, just 4 years ago. We haven’t made much progress. It’s not like a cancer death.

Don’t misunderstand, I know if someone with cancer were told they could survive if they didn’t drink alcohol or take oxy they would absolutely stick to the prescribed regimen. I have every wish for people to live cancer free.  Substance use messes with your brain. It’s the brain disease that wants you to die, to fight everyday against your own self.  “You don’t deserve to live” “You’re just a bad egg” all words Sean told me about himself.

People with substance use fight every day to get healthy, it’s a momentous battle. Sean cried just days before he died “It’s just so hard, Mom” with tears streaming down his face. I tried to take him to treatment that Thursday. He didn’t want to miss work, he didn’t want to let his coworkers down. He was dead 5 days later. Fighting a battle no one could see.

Finally, there are lights in this darkness .. Many people did reach out and I am so grateful to them. My sister ,many  friends who dropped everything to help.. pick up a car, pick up Ned.  So many who visited Sean in the hospital to say goodbye. The people that tried desperately to save Sean after the overdose. (No one dose of Narcan isn’t enough.).the EMT’s and ER and hospital staff that fought hard to save him. So many who came to the funeral. Rearranging schedules to be there for us. Cheryl Juaire is one of those lights, there for all of us Moms of loss. The warrior Mom who cares for us.

Author: for-kindness

Sean Blake, our son was 27 when he died from an accidental overdose. Sean was for kindness. Writings, poems, and posts to keep his spirit alive. We share posts to remember Sean, advocate for better treatment for mental health. We share our journey through life after his death for parents of loss.

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