Chapter 2: Why your grief may be different

Sense of injustice

I've been there
Dana speaks about stigma, injustice and grief. (3:22)Video transcript
Jennifer shares about holding Robby's ashes. (3:22)Video transcript

There isn’t any other disease where we accept the fact that so many people will die without treatment and support.

Some people talk about “tough love” and not “enabling.” I think that approach reflects the idea that someone who uses substances is making a choice, that they could decide to stop if they wanted to. That is not what the science says, so I have used advocacy as part of my healing.

Inadequate healthcare and a lack of personal resources may have resulted in years of struggle and worry for the person who died, for you, and for others. You may recognize that substance use was a way to cope with pain or distress. After the death, you may have felt, or continue to feel, immense anger and frustration with the lack of support.

If the person died because of a lethal substance that was added to the drug they were using, you may feel enraged. You may view the person who supplied the substance to be responsible for the death and want to focus entirely on making sure that they are held accountable. You may have similar feelings if the person who died became substance-dependent after being prescribed pain medication by a physician.


What may help

  • Intense emotions can return even if you thought you could never feel them again. Rather than trying to ignore or change what you’re feeling, try to simply acknowledge it as a normal part of your grief. Over time, the intensity of your feelings will likely lessen.
  • What is helpful for one person may not be for someone else. Give thought to what might work for you. Reflect on your relationship with the person who died and how you want to remember or honour them.
  • Consider joining a bereavement support group for people who have lost someone through substance use. It can be helpful to share your story with others who can understand, learn from, and support each other.
  • You may find comfort or respite in spiritual or religious practices. These may be part of your life already or something new for you.
  • If you think you are “stuck” with intense feelings, an experienced grief counsellor may be able to help you.