Chapter 2: Why your grief may be different
Lack of understanding
I knew they were having a lot of pain and trouble with their back, but I didn’t realize that they were taking such strong medication. I often wonder if they knew the risks of taking that kind of medication and what would happen if they took too much.
There needs to be more public education about drug use and addiction. No one gets up in the morning and says, “I want to be addicted to drugs.”
He started drinking at a young age. There was a lot of pressure to be cool, but then it became an everyday thing. It was a way of life for him until he got sick, but by then, he felt like he couldn’t stop.
When someone dies from their use of a substance, you may be left with many questions and a desire to understand what happened. You may find yourself struggling to understand why someone would use a substance in a way that is known to be harmful. You might wonder how something that can result in death could be so accessible. You might not understand how this could happen if it was the person’s first or only time. You may be dealing with questions about this yourself, or you may be facing other people’s lack of understanding or judgment.
People of all ages and from all walks of life can die from substance use. There are many reasons why people use substances and why death may occur as a result. These deaths are often traumatic for friends and family.
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The unsafe use of needles can cause diseases such as HIV, hepatitis B and C, and endocarditis (heart infection). Ongoing substance use may cause other life-limiting illnesses including cardiomyopathy and liver cirrhosis, which can eventually cause death.
What may help
- Acknowledge the complexities involved in substance use. This can help you to understand that there was more than one reason for the person’s death.
- If you want to deepen your understanding about the challenges associated with substance use or about your grief, consider talking with associates and friends of the person who died or joining a bereavement support group specific to substance-related deaths. This can also be a valuable opportunity for you to talk about the person who died.
- Reflect on the circumstances of the person’s life and on ways these might be affecting your grief or that of others. For example, you might have become exhausted by your efforts to help the person over a long period of time.
- Try to recall parts of the person’s life apart from their substance use. What did you appreciate about them? Who were they to you?
- You may be feeling too overwhelmed right now to do much, and that’s okay. Give yourself time and allow yourself to try different strategies so you can find what works best for you. Keep in mind that what works now may not be what you need in the future.