February 4, 2017
THE LOSS OF A CHILD TO ADDICTION
Suzy Wachtel, LCSW
My son died in February 2014 at the age of 27 from an accidental overdose of heroin.
There it is in black and white. And that’s how I became a member of the community of the
bereaved—a parents’ biggest nightmare. As it turned out, I had lost my mother and had to
put down my 14-year-old golden lab only weeks prior.
So many people are losing a loved one to this enormous epidemic. As a mother, I was so
hurt, angry and ashamed. Death is so permanent. How do you wrap your head around the
fact that your child used drugs that killed him? He would have argued that I was crazy and
that nothing could happen to him.
I happen to be a licensed clinical social worker with a specialty in grief counseling, but
who would ever have imagined that this could happen to me? Through the years my son
struggled with addiction on a variety of levels, and as his mother I traveled the road with
him through his hurdles and became an expert on addiction as well. What I was able to
learn from working in an addiction center running empowerment groups and relapse
prevention was the incredible pain and helplessness an addict experiences. As though his
or her common sense and soul gets lost in the drugs.
To cope with the loss of this amazing young man and the others in my life, I developed a
spiritual approach to handle the pain. Death is so final and we never talk about it. There
are so many beautiful, healing ways to process and accept death. Looking for signs (e.g.
coins, butterflies), dreaming about them, keeping their memory alive by talking about
them and celebrating their life—and not the way they passed—are great ways to cope with
In my book, “Losing a Loved One, From Grief to Joy” I teach how to cope and heal and
love again. I was determined not to let his experience cement my identity. I chose to live
better, love stronger and enjoy every moment of my life. I learned not to take anything f