By Theresa Anthony, author of Hope Springs from a Mother's Broken Heart
You just never know when the opportunity to meet a kindred soul might arise. I regularly take my coonhound, Morgan, to the local dog park. These play dates are always a highlight for him, a very social boy who loves to “go see his friends.” From the minute we turn onto Lion Parkway, Morgan is beside himself with excitement, sticking his long snout out the window in hopes of picking up their scent from a mile away.
Today only two dog owners were at the park, so it was an unusually small play group for Morgan. However, these two dogs were among his usual tribe, so off they went to tear the place up. As always, I have a seat on the bench. I learned not to stand out there among the craziness since I was plowed into by a 97-pound Great Pyrenees and landed flat on my butt. My knee has never fully recovered.
One of the nice things about visiting a dog park is chatting with the other dog owners while our pups frolic. Today one of the guys was telling us that he was about to start a new job. This led to a conversation about work, hobbies, and interests. He then mentioned that he and his wife have a soft-spot for at-risk youth and like to volunteer time for those organizations.
And here is when the magic happened. I told him that I happen to write in the behavioral health space, that I began to focus on this field after losing my son. Without a moment’s hesitation, he chimed in that he, too, had lost his son. Immediately, we connected over this shared tragedy.
Sadly, this man lost his son to a heroin overdose. The heroin had been laced with both fentanyl and meth. He shared about the day his son confessed to him, “Dad, I’m a heroin addict.” You could literally feel the emotion in his voice as he relayed this memory to me.
I proceeded to share the basics about my son, and the sudden emergence of depression at age nineteen that led to alcoholism and eventually his suicide. Neither of us got into any of the tragic details of our sons’ deaths. We didn’t need to. Our boys are both gone now, so there was nothing more that needed to be said.
We talked about how we each struggled with the grief that their deaths triggered, and how we decided to use the pain in some positive way. He and his wife started a Facebook group called Always Have Heart. The logo they use on the page and t-shirts they’ve designed is the same tattoo image their son had on his chest, a winged heart. Their cause helps to provide funds for individuals seeking treatment, as well as to raise awareness about the dangers of addiction. At the center of all this is a desire to erase the stigma attached to those who suffer from the disease of addiction, hopefully spurring compassion and hope instead.
I shared how I have channeled my own grief into writing books, as well as producing content for clients in the fields of mental health and addiction recovery. We share that same mission, to honor our sons’ memory through informing people and raising awareness in the hope that even just one life can be saved.
I left the dog park feeling blessed by this chance meet up with another suffering soul. The bottom-line message I want to convey here in this blog is to never be too shy, embarrassed, ashamed, or fearful to open up to a stranger about your loss. You might be surprised to learn that the cross another human being is carrying looks a lot like your own, and there is comfort in that.
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