Holidays – a time for family reunions, shared meals, communal celebrations, watching favorite movies together, reminiscing over photographs and discussing hopes and dreams for the next year.
For many families of opiate addicts, there will be an empty place on the sofa or seat at the table. If 60,000 individuals have died this year alone, the number of people affected by those deaths is multiplied by two parents, siblings, relatives, and friends: the circle of people who knew and loved our addicted ones could be in the hundreds. If even only 10 people were impacted by the death of one addict each year, there are over half a million new surviving and grieving individuals this holiday season alone. How many more from the last decade?
For my husband and I, this is our third Christmas without our son. We can say that it is not as painful as it was three years ago, but there is still the sense that things are not as they should be. This excerpt from Roger Edwards’ article “Don’t Grieve Like the Rest of Men” from The Barnabas Letter, July 2001, p 4-5 continues to help us:
“What is hard in microwave, quick fix, America is that grief takes time. By necessity, the implications must seep and settle into all the parts of our lives. The process is inherently long, occurring slowly and over real time. Twelve months is a wise time span to remember as you grieve. Give yourself at least a full cycle of holidays, birthdays, and seasons to suffer the loss. But a year doesn’t cover it either. There are longer cycles in our lives. Loss slowly infiltrates all the corners of our lives. It wakes us late at night with memories, reintroduces itself to us when we run across pictures or possessions, and recurs during cycles of holidays and anniversaries.
We wonder, isn’t there any other way to make it through loss? But there isn’t. There is just one honest way to respond to loss. That way is to grieve. Christian grief peers into the hideous face with brutal honesty and tells the truth by deeply experiencing the loss…it mourns, it sometimes even wails. Grief is there to walk with us through despair. Everyone else fights death and loss by pretending. The grieving fight death by the truth. Death is real and is as hideous as it is real. Grief knows that death is the enemy. And it tells the truth with sorrow.”
I wish I had a magic potion for all who are grieving a loss for the first time this holiday season. I don’t. What I can offer is what I have experienced: openly telling the truth not only helps us grieve, it helps others in ways we may never know. As we honestly (and selectively) shared our feelings, we availed ourselves of empathy and comfort from those who love and care for us. And they gained understanding about grief and joy from knowing they were helping us walk through our dark times.
And in the broader scope of a nations’ corporate suffering, it is only by openness and honesty that the tide will begin to turn as solutions are found that will prevent the scourge of addiction from robbing our families of their loved ones and the joy of holidays together.