Litchfield County couple start drug addiction grief support group

LITCHFIELD – A couple in Litchfield County have created a bereavement support group that honors the lives of their two sons who died of addiction-related causes.

Dianne Slater of Watertown and her partner Steve Drew of Morris share the pain of losing a child to drug addiction. Slater’s son Jason died in 2019 of an overdose of heroin containing fentanyl. Drew’s son, Keith, died in 2010 of drug addiction-related causes.

Since the beginning of July, the small group meets on the first and third Friday of each month at the Sanctuary of Lourdes in Litchfield. The group, Finding Meaning, is for parents who have lost their children to drug addiction.

“I wanted to create a group that offered compassion and that our goal be to witness and find meaning in the life and death of our loved ones, as well as our own, as we move forward. That’s what’s so difficult, ”Slater said.

For two years, Slater struggled, and continues to fight, against the death of his son.

“My son went to college to be an airline pilot right out of high school,” Slater said. “He had no addiction problem at the time. He was bright and precocious and tall and handsome. Like so many stories, he fell and broke his elbow in the first half of the year and became addicted to opiates. It begins with a prescription for opiates which he has become addicted to.

Slater described the pain of seeing his child get stuck in a seemingly endless cycle from the age of 19 to 34 that he couldn’t escape.

“Basically his life was drug rehab, drug rehab, hospitals, the homeless, shelters, and jail,” Slater said. “It was a revolving door of that. It was his life. All his adult life. This is what happens to heroin addicts. He would get a good few months here and there and he would relapse. It was that revolving door and it was heartbreaking. We call it the pain of watching. We watch them spiral and watch them disappear. We watch the child we once knew slowly disappear before our eyes.

Slater said his family has tried everything to help his son. Part of her sharing her story through a support group is to help break the stigma attached to drug addicts.

“Addiction is not a moral weakness. It’s a disease, ”Slater said. “We have tried to show him love and compassion throughout these years of a very difficult adult life. He wanted more than anything to get back. He really tried. The relapse had nothing to do with not loving his family, not being strong enough, and not caring about himself.

Part of Slater’s path to starting the support group came on his own journey with grief. First, she found a support group in the state that dealt with the loss in general. But not all losses and heartaches are the same, she said, and she was not yet at a point where she could deal with the grief of others. When the COVID-19 pandemic began, she opted for a Zoom-based therapist, which helped her.

But it was a book called “Bearing the Unbearable” and a connection to the nonprofit MISS Foundation that really inspired Slater. She even applied to become a Hope Mentor for the group, just like those who have helped her.

“I knew at one point that when I was ready I wanted to start a support group because there were so few in the area. It’s an absolute epidemic, ”Slater said. “I felt the second anniversary of her loss would be such a lovely way to honor her.”

For Slater, it all comes down to the name of his support group, Finding Meaning.

“One of the things that is very difficult when you face this kind of tragic and unbearable loss is that you never think that you are going to find meaning again,” Slater said. “Due to the relentless, overwhelming pain, I knew I had to find a way to… bring what we have learned on our grieving journey to a community. “

The group that Slater and Drew have created is only for parents who have lost a child to substance abuse causes.

“Everyone’s journey of grief is unique,” ​​Slater said. “It is imperative that we find a community that understands the gravity of this particular loss. It’s just unbearable after years of struggle.

The group’s first two months have been successful, Slater said, although they are always on the lookout for other people who might need what they offer.

“I said, ‘I’m so glad you found us, but I’m sorry you had to,” “Slater said. “It was wonderful. It is heartbreaking and heartwarming. It’s bittersweet. Everyone who comes has a right to compassion and the space to share about their child and what they are doing and what they are feeling. We cry, we talk and we share.

The Finding Meaning support group meets the first and third Friday of each month at the Sanctuary of Lourdes, located at 83 Montford Road in Litchfield. Anyone interested in finding out more about the group should email Slater at [email protected]

Correction: The photo caption has been updated to correct Jason Pratt’s name.

Virginia S. Braud