For the last 27 years, Hospice of Frederick County has lent support to those grieving the death of a loved one — the partners, parents, children or friends whose deaths brought an irrevocable sense of loss. This winter, the nonprofit is reaching out to another specific group: the surviving family members and friends of residents who died from an overdose.
“So many times with overdose deaths, the friends and family members believe it could have been prevented,” said Linda Beckman, a grief counselor for Hospice of Frederick County and one of the main facilitators for the overdose support group. “They may think, ‘If I had just called that day. If I had just made sure my son or daughter went to another treatment center.’ It may not be realistic, but it’s common. Guilt is probably the most prevalent feeling.”
In meetings for the new support group, Beckman and other facilitators hope to help survivors work through those emotions in constructive ways. The group, which launches on the first Monday in February, will include modes of grief management including art therapy, music therapy, and teaching members how to honor and memorialize their loved ones.
Some of the most popular projects involve scrapbooking or painting memorial rocks for those who have died, Beckman said. In other support groups, she’s seen members who created quilts from their loved ones’ old T-shirts — a way of preserving their lives and memories.
For many group members, though, simply talking and sharing their stories can be the most effective way to process their grief. Beckman said that the need to share can be especially acute for surviving relatives and friends of those who have died of an overdose, who frequently feel the stigma that often surrounds substance abuse.
“A lot of people don’t want to reach out for help because they’re embarrassed,” Beckman said. “We all have to overcome that issue of not wanting to talk about it. Because that mirror effect — listening to other families share — helps people realize, ‘Oh, my God, we really did everything we could.’”
The experience is also more common than many people realize, even at a time when news about addiction is nearly inescapable. A total of 385 people in Frederick County died of a drug- or alcohol-related overdose from 2007 to June 2017, according to data from the Maryland Department of Health. Opioid-related overdoses — especially from the synthetic drug fentanyl — continue to rise across the state.
For every reported death, there’s a network of friends and family members who are affected by the loss, Beckman added. The greater numbers of such residents led Hospice of Frederick County to launch a closed, eight-week overdose support group this past fall, and to create a larger, ongoing group this winter.
“The No. 1 benefit is for people to share their stories and realize that they are not alone,” Beckman said. “That many other families have had those experiences, and that the feelings they’re going through are normal.”