Jamie Eaton

Licensed clinical professional counselor Jamie Eaton heads up Living Through Loss, which offers therapy to parents of children who died from overdose.

It was 2018 when licensed clinical professional counselor Jamie Eaton had a client who'd lost a child to an overdose.

Eaton said she thought group therapy would benefit this client, so she searched for a group to recommend. She didn't find any.

"So I just decided to start one, and it really took off unexpectedly," said Eaton, a therapist of 12 years with a private practice in Frederick.

Living Through Loss began with a six-week group, then added workshops, seminars, a monthly share group and found partners in the community to offer equine and art therapy, too. Living Through Loss offers services for free under the umbrella of Frederick-based nonprofit Second Street and Hope, whose mission is to alleviate suffering related to addiction and poverty, according to Eaton, who is a board member.

When COVID-19 hit, they pivoted to virtual meetings. Though online therapy may not feel as personal, Eaton said it allows her to welcome clients from farther away.

Living Through Loss looks at grief as a soul issue, Eaton said, rather than a clinical one.

"The loss never fully heals," she said. "But you can learn to live through the loss and still find life on the other side."

Now, Eaton's planning a free, three-day retreat starting Sept. 10 in downtown Frederick for parents who've lost children to overdoses. It's their first retreat. Parents will come for the day, be fed, make journals, try yoga, paint, explore overdose awareness and more.

"There's a lot of deeper work we can do with individual therapy, but the one thing you cannot get in individual therapy is community," Eaton said. "And so what happens in the groups is that people are with parents who have experienced the same loss and truly understand and they grow — they grow a deep bond, and they kind of do the grief journey together."

That kind of support might be needed now more than ever. Overdose deaths rose to 93,000 last year in the U.S., a 29 percent increase from the year prior, the Associated Press reported.

Local numbers, while still high, did not change as dramatically.

In 2020, the Frederick County Sheriff's Office responded to 118 overdoses, of which 30 were fatal. In 2019, they responded to 122, of which 24 were fatal, according to data provided by the sheriff's office. The majority of people who experienced overdoses in 2020 fell between the ages of 21 and 35, FCSO data shows. April marked the greatest number of overdoses locally.

The Frederick Police Department logged 120 overdoses in 2020, compared to 110 in 2019. Twenty-five of the overdoses in 2020 were fatal, and 17 were fatal in 2019, data provided by FPD shows.

What the numbers don't illustrate are the faces behind the losses. Westminster resident Sam Beeghley lost his daughter Hayley Nash to an overdose. He found her unresponsive on the couch on Feb. 25, 2020.

"I sat in my home and cried, I found myself spiraling into deeper and darker depths of depression. I was not able to function in any capacity," Beeghley wrote to the News-Post.

He found Living Through Loss, where he met people like him. 

"I was given the opportunity to share my story, to talk about how and what I was feeling," Beeghley wrote. "I quickly learned that I was not alone. I learned that the death of a child by overdose carries certain stigma that must be addressed and overcome to begin healing. I was with people who were just like me. I learned that my feelings were not unique, that the other parents shared similar feelings."

These experiences led him to seek additional resources to help him heal. Though Beeghley said he'll never be the same, he's learned his daughter's death does not have to define the way he lives the rest of his life. He recommends Living Through Loss to anyone who has lost a child to overdose.

"You are not alone," Beeghley wrote. "We are here right beside you."

Follow Mary Grace Keller on Twitter: @MaryGraceKeller 

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