by Chelsea A. Laliberte
When my younger brother, Alex N. Laliberte, passed away from a heroin overdose on December 15, 2008, my parents and I were mainly concerned about the initial obligations that we as a family had to deal with. Telling the family, planning the funeral and the shiva, deciding what to do with his belongings and how to deal with reporters and police, talking to the coroner. Those elements kept us from dealing with the reality of Alex’s tragic death. No one prepares you for life changing moments like this. There’s not a class in school called “how to deal with your little brother’s death from drugs.” We as humans are just not wired to experience the journey of grief from such a tragedy.
At one point or another, we all must go through the long and winding road of grief. But, there is no rulebook, there’s no right answer, because at the time nothing seems familiar and everything feels like a punch in the gut. At least that’s how it felt for me.
It was recommended to my mother, Jody Daitchman, and I to join a grief support group. Before Alex died, I never thought about the existence of these “grief support groups” because I never thought something like this would happen to us. As the research unraveled and the options were laid before us, one question stuck out in our minds, “which one do we choose?” There are grief support groups for cancer casualties, car accident deaths, terminal illness deaths, deaths under 10 years old, unsolved murder deaths, the list goes on. There was not one for substance abuse-related overdoses. The general child loss groups were too general and one couldn’t help but feel a strange competition for having to defend why their child’s death was more difficult than another’s. And what about the siblings? Don’t we get a say? Why are we forgotten about when we play both the role of parent and friend?
Then we met Mary Thrasher who for the past 10 years has spearheaded the Hoffman Estates, Illinois chapter of GRASP. The minute we met the group members we felt like we were part of a very special, private club that no one wants to be a part of but has no choice in belonging to. Some of the members of this group had been attending the bi-monthly meetings at SHARE for years. It had only been two months since Alex passed and my mom and I were scared, nervous and curious about how this group would play into our lives if at all. They welcomed us to the meeting with open arms. They listened to us sob, encouraged us to reach out to them in any moment of despair, and never once judged or preached to us about how we “should” be going through our grief. We quickly learned that GRASP was not about finding an end to the grief, it was about the support, understanding and love shared between the members of the group.
We didn’t lose Alex after a long, tumultuous struggle with drugs because he was in college through the latter half of his addiction. We didn’t have to pull needles our of his arms or rush him to the hospital in the middle of the night because we couldn’t wake him up. We didn’t spend thousands of dollars on rehab, and we didn’t go through the struggle of watching him deal with attempts at getting clean. In fact, we didn’t know Alex was using hard drugs until the day he died. Most of the people my mother and I have met lost children who were long-time drug users. Alex didn’t even get a chance to help himself. So how could we relate to the struggle these other parents crawled through for years?
Well, to my surprise, no one treated us any different. My brother, like their children were suffering from a disease. No cycle is alike and no one addict mirrors another. At the end of the day, my brother died because he made a choice to use drugs, he made a choice of the lifestyle he led and it wasn’t until he made that choice did he know he had the gene...the addiction gene that no one wants but half of us are born with or develop. Eventually I was introduced to Denise and Gary Cullen who have persevered and never wavered from the mission of GRASP. They are fearless and are paving a path that I believe will add to the enlightening of the hearts and minds of America on the topic of addiction and grief recovery from a drug loss. It sounds odd to even have this thought, but if I had to do my grief recovery over again, I wouldn’t do anything differently. GRASP is a blessing to many people and gives the most weary of hearts even a fraction of relief. That’s hard to come by when you are dealing with a loss of this magnitude. I am grateful for GRASP and will continue to support their efforts as they have supported me unconditionally over the past three years.