Jackie Rehwald, Springfield News-LeaderPublished 12:10 p.m. CT Nov. 21, 2018
When Amy Blasingim sat down to write her son’s obituary a couple of years ago, the Springfield mom couldn’t bring herself to include how Shea died.
“There is such a stigma around addiction and overdose: the moral failure of a human that dies of an overdose,” Blasingim recalled. “Now I want it to be out there. I want it to be talked about. Nothing will change if we don’t act and talk about it.”
Shea Blasingim died of a fentanyl overdose July 2016. He was 24. As she works through the grieving process, his mother said she hopes to honor her son by sharing his story.
“I’m trying to find my voice and use Shea’s story,” she said. “I feel like that is what Shea would want me to do.”
Gail Feil, too, recently experienced the loss on an adult child. Her son John died of suicide in 2017. He was 27.
Along with being overwhelmed at times with feelings of grief and guilt, Feil said she’s heard some pretty hurtful comments since her son died.
“I heard someone say, ‘Your son was really selfish to do that, if he had known what it was going to do to you and your family,'” Feil said through tears. “I didn’t even answer. I just thought, ‘Lord, forgive them. For they know not what they do.'”
Both women, Feil and Blasingim, have found support at the Lost & Found Grief Center in Springfield where they attend the Adult Child Loss Group.
Lost & Found — which was founded in 2000 to offer support groups and therapy for children, teens and young adults — created two Adult Child Loss Groups in 2015. The center recently started its third group in September.
Karen Scott is Director of Program Development at Lost & Found and has been with the center since it was founded.
While the center’s primary focus has always been to help grieving children and youth, Karen Scott said the center has seen a steady increase in parents who have lost an adult child to a stigmatized death such as suicide, overdose or murder.
Scott said with these types of deaths, there’s often been years of family conflict and frustration.
The family may have tried to get the loved one into treatment for addiction or mental illness for years with little or no success. There may be situations where grandparents are raising grandchildren.
“There is a fatigue factor on the part of the whole family,” Scott said. “They are often divided.”
According to Scott, there’s often a lack of public support for families following a stigmatized death, as well as blame — whether it’s blaming the person who has died or family members blaming each other.
Still, even when the family manages to stay close and supportive of each other, as with the Feil and Blasingim families, losing a child is perhaps the hardest thing a parent will ever go through, she said.
“We used to say that no loss is harder than any other and we try to not compare. But especially in the last 10 years, studies found that the loss of a child takes much longer to accommodate,” Scott said.”We use the word accommodate because you don’t get over it. It’s a loss you feel forever.”
“It’s out of the natural order. We expect our children will bury us,” Scott said. “The old adage of ‘You should be over this by now’ is the worst possible thing to say.
“There is no time frame and there is no getting over it. You accommodate the loss and find a new normal.”
Amy Blasingim described her son Shea as “funny, kind of ornery.”
Shea liked to skateboard and play baseball. He wasn’t necessarily a great student, his mom said, but he was known as being generous and always willing to help others.
“He was such a loyal friend. That describes him most,” she said. “He was such a loyal friend and brother.”
“If he could have done things different, I know he would have,” Blasingim said. “I don’t want him to be defined as an addict, for that to be his memory. He was way more than that.”
Still, as she continues to work through her grief, Blasingim educated herself about the disease of addiction. She got connected with the Springfield-based nonprofit Better Life in Recovery.
She and her husband shared Shea’s story in the documentary “Not My Child.” Because of that, she was invited to sit on a discussion panel at the recent Opioid Summit at Missouri State University.
Shea Blasingim died from a fentanyl overdose at age 24. His mother is in the Young Adult Child Loss Group at the Lost & Found Grief Center. (Photo: Submitted by Amy Blasingim)
“Doing that brought me some peace and also helped me to educate myself more,” she said. “I was definitely one of those people who thought you have to hit your rock bottom to get better. And now I feel differently. If rock bottom is death, then you don’t ever find recovery.”
Since her son’ death, Blasingim said she tries not to take offense when she hears people talk negatively about folks battling addiction or who have overdosed.
She said she’s heard people say “those battling addiction are less of a human being or they kind of deserve what they get because it’s their choice.”
“I try not to get mad or offended because I know I used to feel like that — until I really learned and educated myself about addiction,” she said. “It’s not a choice. It’s a disease.”
Last Christmas was especially tough for her family because Shea’s death had just happened a few months prior.
This Christmas, Blasingim is creating new traditions — ones that include Shea.
“I just ordered some Grateful Dead ornaments,” she said. “He was a huge Grateful Dead fan.”
She plans to give the ornaments as gifts to Shea’s family.
“He would have loved that,” she said. “I feel like that is how I can keep his memory with me through the holidays.”
Lost & Found provides grief support to individuals and families from Springfield and the surrounding counties. Lost & Found Grief Center works with the bereaved to provide education and support as they travel their journey of grief to find peace, hope, and a new normal as they face life without their deceased loved one.
All therapeutic grief support groups are offered at no cost.
Visit www.lostandfoundozarks.com. The center is located at 1555 S. Glenstone Ave. Call 417-865-9998 for more information.
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