Grief and Overdose Death


BY: By Diane Snyder Cowan, MA, MT-BC, CHPCA

CATEGORY: Grief and Loss

​We are in the midst of a heroin epidemic. Every day we see or hear about another fatal tragedy involving heroin use. According to the experts, we haven’t yet crested the problem and we will most likely hear about more and more deaths.

Grief reactions are often intricate and complex. When you add that your loved one died from an overdose, accidental or not, it complicates matters. There are a myriad of emotions that occur when someone dies, but when the death is from an overdose, the most difficult ones rise to the surface.

If you have experienced the death of a loved one from an overdose or substance abuse, your reactions may be unlike anything you have ever experienced when others in your life have died.  Your feelings and reactions are common in what feels like an abnormal situation. If you have experienced these or continue to experience these big grief reactions, please know that the intensity and duration change over time.

Sadness, anger, frustration, guilt, fear and anxiety are some of the more prevalent emotions families describe, with guilt being a front runner. Many bereaved re-live over and over the “should haves, could haves” and “if onlys.”  They may blame themselves or others. Many people focus on the negative rather than the positive. The burden of guilt is not surprising. Folks often spend a great deal of time and emotional energy wishing they had done things differently.They judge themselves for not doing more, saying more or being able to stop an unexpected death. It can be helpful to acknowledge the feelings of guilt as they are deeply embedded in the grief process. Be compassionate with yourself.

There is no right or wrong or good or bad way to grieve. It’s a unique experience that operates on its own time line. It doesn’t go away, but it softens over time. And for many, grief is transformative.

We have heard stories of change from parents who have had a child die from an overdose death. Some work diligently to help others who are actively using or are in recovery and some walk with others on their grief journey providing solace and support.

If you feel overwhelmed with emotion, trust the grief process and give yourself permission to be with ALL of your feelings. Know that there are others out there who feel the same. And there are counselors and groups that will welcome and support you. You do not have to grieve alone.

We Can Help

Speak with the referral team by contacting us seven days a week, 24 hours a day. Any first visit and admission can be made the first day.

Northern Ohio's Hospice of Choice

More than 1,000 Hospice of the Western Reserve employees and 3,000 volunteers live and work side-by-side in the same neighborhoods with our patients and families. We are privileged to have cared for more than 100,000 Northern Ohioans since our inception.