Losing a loved one to an opioid overdose can be heartbreaking, but for friends and family left behind, processing the grief and other feelings that emerge can be equally difficult.
That’s why Jenny Howard, co-founder of Moms Stop the Harm, a family support and advocacy group for families in this situation, started the Healing Hearts bereavement group four years ago as the crisis around opioid deaths began gaining national and international attention.
“We recognize that for families who have lost a loved one, it’s a complex loss, it’s traumatic, and because of that trauma there’s a lot more layers of bereavement,” says Howard, who lost her son, Robbie Cunningham, to drug overdose in 2016.
Many people who find their way to Healing Hearts – meetings are currently held online via Zoom – have struggled to find a group where they can openly and honestly share their feelings and stories without judgment or stigma, she adds.
Facilitators often hear from newcomers statements such as, ‘I’ve finally found a safe place where I can be open about my loved one’s challenges with substance abuse,’ Howard says.
“People need a place to talk about that, to debrief and share their loved one’s story, the real grief around how systems failed their loved ones,” she says. “We have families who explored every avenue of how to help their loved one find wellness, only at the end of the road to lose them.”
The people who attend the group sessions all have valuable stories to share.
“It’s a room of lived experience. All of the facilitators are volunteers who have also lost a loved one.”
Moms Stop the Harm also realizes how tough the holiday season can be after losing a friend or family member. As such, the topic for the next meeting (Dec. 10) is “How do we get through Christmas and what do we need to do to honour our loved one over the holidays?”
Intake is done through emailing firstname.lastname@example.org, connecting with a volunteer and getting registered for the Zoom call. More information can be found at momsstoptheharm.com.
Moms Stop the Harm is also participating in the global candle lighting day virtual event on Dec. 13. The group encourages those who’ve lost someone as a result of substance abuse to light a candle for them and post a photo on social media to raise awareness of the issue. Find more details on the Moms Stop the Harm Facebook page.