A Stranger's Memorial Service
July 21, 2019

Within the last 6 days, I have attended two visitations.  One was at the same funeral home where we held Hagen’s memorial, the other was in the event center of a church.  Both were for beautiful young people.  Both were victims of the epidemic.  Yes, I consider them victims.

One was a 20 year old son, the other a 22 year old daughter who would have been 23 next month.  Both were from what society would label “good” families.  The types of families that some would consider marked safe from the insidious assault on this generation - the ones that live in the nice neighborhoods, take vacations, and attend church faithfully.  They are the families that live next door to you.

One family chose not to acknowledge the cause of death, the other, while not proud of it, did not hide it.  It was heartbreaking to meet those families, and more than a little difficult for me to find the boldness to walk through my own emotions and attempt to offer some small measure of comfort.

Why would I do that?  Why would I go to a strangers memorial service?  Because I had to let those mothers know they aren’t alone.  You can not compare loss or pain or grief, but you can understand it if you’ve experienced it.  It has only been 4 months since I was the momma standing next to my child surrounded by flowers and photographs and people, but I have learned so much.  I’ve seen the ugliness, felt the loneliness, been overwhelmed by compassion and blessed by the love of thousands, and at the end of the day, still had to live with the realization that my son’s life ended the way it did and to deal with the emotional toll of how his death is perceived.

I did not hide his cause of death and by announcing it to the world, I opened the door and put out a welcome mat to the venom that is spewed by narrow minded and self righteous people. I know the hushed conversations of acquaintances that whisper and shake their heads when talking about how he died.  Some comments, especially at the beginning, were well placed gut punches that took my breath away.  No mother or father, regardless of the reason they buried their child, should ever see or hear anything as vile as I (and others) have.  THAT is why more families than not, choose not to reveal how their child died, and for that I do not blame them.  But THAT is what has to change.  And THAT is why I will attend each and every memorial that I can.  Those parents deserve to be comforted.  They deserve to be able to speak freely about their pain, emotions and struggles.  They deserve so much more than what their friends, neighbors, and communities are giving them.  Drugs are stealing an entire generation from us and the stigmas associated are stealing not only loved ones but healing from the families.

In 2017, over 70,000 families were handed an official document with their loved ones name on it and at the bottom of that document was a cause of death.  Some said accidental overdose, some said multiple drug toxicity, some said drug poisoning and some said homicide.  The statistics for 2018 have yet to be officially released, and while unofficially it's being reported that the rates dropped by approximately 5%, in my home state of Arkansas they increased.  Why am I spouting statistics?  Simply because the number of drug related deaths surpasses the populations of many towns and in order to have a true indication of the devastating toll on our communities, you need to add the number of family members and loved ones to those statistics.

Those families need one thing and one thing only from you - compassion.  The absolute last thing they need is judgment and shame.  You don’t have to know what to say.  It isn’t about that.  It’s about what needs to stop being said.  Stop the finger pointing and name calling.

Stop turning your nose up at those suffering with addiction.  If you are sharing those negative opinions publicly, odds are you are sharing them with someone that has a loved one in addiction or may very well lose one to addiction.  Would you say those things to them if you knew that?

With each passing day my skin gets thicker.  I don’t let the things that are said bother me anymore because at the end of the day, those comments come from people that didn’t know my son or any of the tens of thousands that died the way he did.  As my skin gets thicker, my determination to be a voice against intolerance gets stronger.  Every grieving parent, grandparent, sibling, significant other and child that came before me and will come after me deserves a fair shot at navigating life without their child, grandchild, brother, sister, partner and parent.  No one should be made to feel they have to hide what killed their loved one. This is an ugly and cruel world as it is. You do not have to contribute to it.  It is not difficult to be kind.  It just isn’t.

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