“People will never truly understand something until it happens to them.
Dealing with your own or a loved one’s addiction is all-consuming. We can’t expect everyone to understand. We just ask for less judgment, shaming and stigma. And, for those who are not affected with addiction in their lives… be thankful that you don’t have to understand.” – Unknown
Surviving The Funeral Of An Addict
If you’ve lived long enough, you probably know someone who has been challenged by addiction. Addiction is a disease that is hard to understand unless you have slipped into its torn, frayed, and muddied shoes.
It’s easy to wonder, “Why don’t they just stop?”
Attending The Funeral Of An Addict – A Room Full Of Questions
If you’ve ever attended the funeral of an addict, you quickly notice a distinct solemness as people struggle to figure out the ‘right’ words. And, if you observe people’s faces, you will find various expressions including empathy, guilt, and judgment.
For some, guilt weighs them down as stones, each marked with a question, fill their pockets.
One stone asks, “Could I have done more?”
Another questions, “Why didn’t I call last week?”
One more challenges, “Did I give up on them?”
For others, there is anger and confusion:
“How could they choose a substance over me?”
“Didn’t they know how much pain this would cause us?”
“How could they do this to their family?”
Finally, there are those who get off on the gossipy details.
“Did you hear where they found him?”
“How did she get the money?”
Then, they may smugly add, “It was only a matter of time, don’t you think?”
For those closest to the addict who understand the nature of the disease, a funeral can cause enormous stress. It’s easy to take on the shame and embarrassment that accompany death by addiction.
It’s not uncommon to overhear judgmental whispers or the character assignation of a loved one:
They were weak.
They were selfish.
They had no coping skills.
They had a death wish.
Navigating Through The Difficult Moments
For the family, the funeral may become less about the celebration of a beautiful soul and more about surviving the next few awkward days.
Keep your head up and stand tall:
Speak the Truth
The truth is there was much more to your loved one besides the addiction. There was a time before the disease controlled their life. Let’s honor those times. Remember when your beloved made special memories with friends and family, excelled in a sport, created art or music, starred in the school play, told corny jokes, could light up the room with their charisma, or volunteered at the local shelter. I don’t think anyone who has ever had a disease like cancer or Alzheimer’s would want the disease to define their life. Instead, celebrate your loved one’s beautiful soul.
Suggested Read: Why We Need End of Life Celebrations
Surround Yourself with Supporters
There will be people who are capable of understanding and empathy. These are the people who matter most. Losing a loved one to addiction is difficult enough, and if you know Aunt Mary or Cousin Bill will never understand, then walk away. It is important to set boundaries and refuse to take on shame, guilt, or any form of insensitivity inflicted by the ignorance of others.
Suggested Read: Empathy Versus Sympathy: What Do We Need?
There will be people who ask questions because they sincerely want to understand what happened. You don’t have to provide all of the details; however, address their questions honestly and forthrightly. Your knowledge could benefit others. By teaching others to recognize the signs of drug or alcohol abuse, you may just save a life.
More like This: I Love You, But I Hate The Choices You Made
Losing a loved one to addiction is confusing and may bring about a myriad of emotions. Don’t be afraid to seek outside support if needed. Remember, most people’s intentions are good; however, it is easy to fear what we don’t understand.
Click here for more resources to guide you when your loss feels taboo or overlooked.