Sometimes we believe our talents make us unique or “special.” We might also think our tragedies distinguish us. After five decades of life, I’ve realized that neither you nor I are special in the way we often think. While I’ve succeeded in my career as a broadcast journalist and investigative reporter, so have many others. Talent varies, and that’s the nature of any field. Similarly, now that I’m a grieving parent, I’ve found there’s nothing particularly “unique” about this painful experience. Hundreds of thousands have lost a child to drugs, and we share more similarities than differences.
This truth became vivid for me last weekend when I attended four rallies and a gathering of parents in Washington, D.C. For the first time, I was surrounded by people whose stories closely paralleled my own. Some had fought the long battle, like I did, with their children’s substance abuse until the fateful day their child took too much or ingested lethal fentanyl. Others described a chillingly similar narrative, where their child was experimenting and fatally purchased a counterfeit prescription drug, usually laced with fentanyl, via social media.
Though the paths that led to our children’s deaths differ in detail, the essence of the grief is uniform. The devastation is soul-shattering. I saw myself reflected in the eyes of these parents as we candidly discussed the worst days of our lives. There’s no room for small talk among the grieving. For instance, one mother from Wisconsin had just lost her son a few months ago in a case that involved friends unceremoniously dumping his body and lying about it. Another mother had relocated across the country after losing her only child. A third recounted losing two children within nine months.
The atmosphere was thick with grief, almost unbearable for anyone untouched by such a loss. I tried to offer some comfort to those new to this journey, directing them to my blogs or our podcast, Grieving Out Loud. While the pain never fully dissipates, it does become more manageable—something you learn to live with. I can’t say if my words provided any relief, but I know there’s strength in unity. We must be nearing a tipping point, where the sheer number of young lives lost becomes intolerable.
Yet, I’m concerned about the vulnerability of grieving families to political manipulation. There’s no single political “savior” capable of untangling this multifaceted crisis. Substance abuse and mental health issues are human concerns, not political ones. Politicizing these problems risks deepening the divide among families who should be united in their grief. We’ve all lost a child, and turning against each other is akin to pouring salt on a collective wound. Our approach to resolving the drug crisis must be non-partisan; otherwise, the loss of young lives will continue. While I observed some unity among grieving families at these events, I also heard political rhetoric that threatens to pull us apart. And that makes me fear that our children may have died in vain.
Faith, Hope & Courage,