On February 26th and 27th, the Drug Free Action Alliance hosted the G.A.P. (Grief to Action for Prevention) Network Conference at Dublin Crown Plaza conference center. Speakers from various organizations presented information and programs with the goals of:
- Understanding the impact of grief in creating community-wide change
- Increasing knowledge of effective prevention strategies
- Increasing knowledge of peer support strategies
Schoedinger (Julie Olds), in cooperation with Restore Counseling (Sue Mocniak) and Hospice Services at Methodist Eldercare (La’Tasha Goodwin), presented a program on “Addiction in End-of-Life Care.” This program took a close look at addiction in a family and how it affects decision-making when the family is facing end-of-life care, funeral services and aftercare.
When a family is experiencing addiction, the rules of daily living are different and affect the behaviors of all family members involved. The circumstances surrounding the death of a loved one affects the behaviors of the addiction family regarding funeral services as well. It is not uncommon for funeral directors to hear things like:
- “I wish we could have done more while he/she was still alive”
- “I don’t want to talk about it”
- “I’m not paying for that ____”
Just as life is full of emotions, in an addiction family, the emotions of funeral services can be widely varied. Some families are shamed by the circumstances surrounding the death of an addict and may choose to keep everything very low key. Other families, having dealt with denial for years with an addict, avoid coming to the funeral home to make arrangements. Then there are those families who choose to take this opportunity of using the funeral service to enlighten others to the dangers of addiction, turning the funeral service into a crusade.
When the Addict is a Family Member of the Deceased
- Late to or absent from important meetings
- Miss the services altogether
- Show up intoxicated or stoned – ‘self-medicate’
- Family members make excused like “Oh, that’s just Mikey. He’s always like that.”
- May exhibit inappropriate behavior – tend to be very loud
- Family members excuse the behavior as extreme grief
- May not pay the bill
When the Addict is the Deceased
- Some families overcompensate by providing elaborate funeral services
- “We couldn’t help them while they were alive. This helps us to prove we loved and cared about them.”
- Confusion regarding whether the death was accidental or suicide
- “I know my son was troubled but he would NEVER intentionally take his life.”
- Some relief that their loved one is no longer tormented or in pain
- Anger and unwillingness to make necessary arrangements
Grief is our human response to loss and is expressed with a complex combination of feelings: sadness, pain, worry, fear, anger, confusion or frustration, etc. The timing of the loss in the life of the survivor, the relationship with the one who died, concurrent stresses and/or losses and the personality of the one mourning all go in to explaining why every person’s grief experience is different.
Grief within a family of addiction adds even more complexities:
- Complicated grief – shame is a part of the addiction family. A family whose loved one died as a result of addiction may feel ashamed and feel like they failed the addict. In some families, grief may not get better over time but may worsen as a result of the addiction in the family.
- Anticipatory grief – families of addiction experience anticipatory grief throughout the life of the addict. Every time the addict is not home when they are supposed to be, and every time the phone rings late at night are examples of anticipatory grief that the family experiences.
- Family members may be reluctant or afraid to talk to anyone about their shame or other feelings, stemming from of life of addiction family rules of “don’t talk,” “don’t trust,” and “don’t feel.”
- Family members may be less likely to turn to each other for support or to take the view that they are in mourning together.
When working with families of addiction in end-of-life care, funeral services or after care, it is helpful to understand how the addiction can affect decision-making regarding all aspects of care. Many addiction families are very guarded and it may not be clear initially that addiction in the family is the cause. As with all families, the discovery process of learning about the family dynamic will help with being able to guide the family to services that are appropriate and within their emotional scope. Patience, compassion and understanding go a long way to being able to help families of addiction regardless of their healthcare or after care needs.
To learn more about other educational opportunities, visit www.thecaregivingtree.com and click on “Calendar of Events.”