Like so many of you, losing my son changed me forever and I saw very quickly that my survival was tethered to one thing - grief. The question was, what to do with it. My son, Hagen, was always most comfortable when he was with his "brothers", whether on the football field, or later in the U.S. Navy. He believed in unity. He believed in encouragement and he believed in support. For several months I walked the lonely road of grief by myself, and in my solitude began sharing my journey on social media. It was during that solitude that I began to see what was missing for so many. Not being able to actively love my son left me feelinig inadquate and lost and I found that taking my immense pain and turning it into something meaningful helped me heal in ways I didn't quite understand, but the more I encouraged, talked, loved and supported, the less I hurt, and I was once again activley loving. As I watched comment after comment come in from those that blessed me with their attention, I realized that they too were sentenced to solitude by the stigma. It had placed us all in a cell with grief as our cellmate. Over the course of the first year without Hagen, I slowly met others that could not only understand my new found struggles, but also carried within them the key to my cell. Connection. We were created to be part of something bigger than ourselves, whether that is a family, a team, or a unit, so I set my sights on creating a family so big nothing could come against it.
I don't know that there has been anything as fulfilling and rewarding as discovering a new tribe of brothers and sisters bound by loss. In this tribe I am understood, accepted and loved and stigma has no place. In this tribe I watch grieving parents rise up to become SURVIVING parents who turn their pain into purpose, and I see life come back to them. In this tribe we walk hand-in-hand with all of those affted by substance use disorder, mental illness, and Fentanyl poisoning united in love and hope.
As a surviving mother, supporting recovery is where my pain is truly turned into purpose, and that is where I feel most near to my son. At each and every event I attend, I smile knowing that is where Hagen would be, and that is where he would want me to be. Through the lives and accomplishments of those that have defeated the demon of addiction, Hagen lives on. Seeing the light in the eyes of those celebrating recovery, and hearing their victorious stories, allows me to love and celebrate the son that I miss so much. Had his life here not ended, he would have found his way to recovery, and once again found a brotherhood that he was created to be part of.
Together, these two amazing groups of individuals -all survivors in the own rights - have formed a family with one voice united to change the course of overdose and Fentanyl deaths. Together we work to save lives. Together we show the world the reality of what the substance use disorder looks like. And together we silence stigma.