Death in the Family: How Do I Grieve Without Relapsing?

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It was a Monday night when her family got the call: Angelina’s grandmother had taken a bad fall. She was on the way to the hospital, and would probably have to undergo surgery for a broken hip and wrist.

In her late eighties, the prospects weren’t good.

Dealing With Loss in Recovery

Angelina, 19, had been home from rehab for four months, and things were going well. She was regularly attending NA meetings, had gotten back into running, and was getting ready to go back to school. But as she sat in the hospital waiting room for news of her grandmother, she felt it all starting to slip away. All she wanted to do was use.

After a few hours, the surgeon emerged with a grim look on his face. Angelina’s grandmother died on the operating room table; she instantly felt like she had to be there for her family. Her mom cried. Her dad seemed distant. Angelina knew she’d inherited her father’s habit of bottling up emotions, so his silence wasn’t at all surprising.

The wake was probably the hardest part for Angelina. Everyone was drinking, and it seemed like they were drinking as much as they could. She watched her dad down whiskey shot after whiskey shot and was just relieved that, at last, she could be the designated driver.

She’d never been much of a drinker…to be honest, she headed straight for the hard stuff once she met people who used heroin, but she longed to turn off the pain for just a few minutes with something. The sight of all those people, laughing and smiling while she just wanted to hold her grandmother’s hand one more time, was almost too much.

Remember What’s Important

Angelina decided to take a break and walk outside. It was a cool night, still technically winter, though there had been warm days. As she looked off into the clear, starlit night, she thought to herself, “At least I can feel.” In the days when she was using, not so long ago, she would’ve felt none of the emotions she felt now.

Memories of her grandmother flooded back. Playing at the apartment complex pool. Dressing up for holidays. Yes, it was hard to feel; it was heart-wrenching to play back all the memories. It was painful, but being present and able to feel was better than years of being numb.

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