You Were A Million Other Things

Coping with Grief / Coping with Grief : Litsa


Someone recently asked me the following question: “A friend’s son died and they didn’t share the cause of his death in the obituary and haven’t told me. Is it okay for me to ask?”

I took a breath before responding. The therapist in me wanted to ask, “Why does it feel so important to know?”. The griever in me wanted to yell, “Mind your own business – if they wanted you to know, they would share!!!”. The human being in me sympathized with him. 

When someone dies, presumably at a younger age than ‘expected’, our anxiety kicks in. What we sometimes call ‘morbid curiosity’ seems almost an evolutionary, self-protective instinct. 

On some subconscious level, we think, “If I know what happened, I can better protect myself. I can make sure my loved ones and I are safe”. Of course, that isn’t the reality. Knowing whether someone died from cancer, a car accident, a suicide, a stroke, an overdose, or whatever else, rarely helps us stay safe. 

But what is more important than why people want to know might be why some people choose to keep that information private. The obvious answer is one we have talked about here before: stigma or shame. 

Unfortunately, we still live in a society where mental illnesses, like depression and substance abuse, are not treated like other illnesses. There is still blame toward the person, in life, and in death. And people say heartless and thoughtless things. So sometimes we sacrifice the support that might come from people knowing the cause of death to protect from the risk of hurtful comments, shame, or blame. 

Ultimately, I think the fear is that one single piece of information will come to define the person we love and their memory. Maybe they were depressed. Perhaps they had a substance use disorder. Maybe they died by suicide or by overdose. And then that fear sets in – maybe this one thing is all that people will see and remember. 

And this fear is not wholly unfounded. We still live in a world where we call people “addicts” rather than people with substance use disorders. We define people by a single thing they are coping with. And when they die because of it, it can feel like that seals it permanently. We worry that will forever define their memory to those who didn’t know they were so much more. 

When my sister’s boyfriend died, his addiction had taken his life (first figuratively, then literally). But it wasn’t him. He wasn’t merely “an addict”. He was an amazing human being who was struggling with an addiction. 

John was . . . good. It seems to simple a word to describe a person, but he was just so good. He could make conversation with anyone, make instant friends. John had this incredible openness with people – he would help anyone. He was so smart and so curious – interested in things in real and deep ways. And he was so funny – goofy and able to make me laugh even when I was so angry at him. He was just so good. 

I talked to someone else who lost a friend to an overdose recently. We talked about this risk of someone being defined by their addiction. “He was a million other things,” she said. 

A million other things. 

I kept coming back to that simple phrase. John was a million other things. Those people we love with substance use disorders are a million other things. Those we’ve lost to substance use disorders, they were a million other things. 

August 31st is Overdose Awareness Day, and we often do something to honor the day. This year, I want to do something collaborative. If you lost a loved one to addiction or overdose, I want to invite you to share some of the “million other things” you love and miss about the person. 

On Instagram (or anywhere else on social), share these by using the hashtag #amillionotherthings. And if you want to help people know why you are sharing and encourage them to share, you can also include this image with your post. 

If you don’t use Instagram, or your Instagram is private, you can also email us at submit@whatsyourgrief.com with a photo or video and words about something else you loved and remember about that person – anything at all.

We will find some way to share as many of these as we can – those on the hashtag and those emailed – in a post and/or on social media for Overdose Awareness Day.

So please join us in raising awareness about addiction, raising awareness about overdose, and honoring and remembering our loved ones for a million other things.  Please help us spread the word about our #amillionotherthings effort. As always, subscribed to receive our weekly newsletter with new posts and podcasts.

Let’s be grief friends.

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4 Comments on "You Were A Million Other Things"

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  1. Nicole Skinner  August 4, 2020 at 4:21 am Reply

    My only sister Meagan died..I want to say six months ago ( that’s what my mind told me)…
    but to be exact it was 6 years ago on Nov.4, she was 31. She died of a Heroin Overdose. She was injured as well. I’m very broken by losing her. I need just to think the positive things bc there were many.
    what’s amazing about my sister Meagan? Well, for #1 She said she couldn’t do art…after she died we found artworks of color pastel that were so beautiful! One on my wall says “love” ..her looks? She had this amazing thick beautiful dark brown hair
    ( Mine looks like a chia- pet!) Her style? She had great taste in clothing ,she could find a bargain, she would bring a Cole Hann® jacket out of value village. Her humanity? She would forgive my mom
    ( who is an addict & has BPD) I even found a letter Meagan wrote to my mom.. & she was so loving towards my mom, she called her “mommy “and tried to persuade her mom just to love her back..I believe Meagan just had a void of just needing to feel love deep inside her heart from others. I feel her addiction was a result of years of abuse from others in her childhood as well as into adulthood. I love her so very much.. More? She was so beautiful,my husband still remembered when she came over once all dressed up, she was a knockout! But on the more serious side.. she would knock someone out to protect me if she had to. I’m the big sister, but I’m not that big..she was taller and stronger & I know she would fight for me & I know if I were there her last day I would fight for her. Oh, my sister Meagan… One photo taken when we were little girls we were running to the bus stop probably around 2nd grade.. I was running in the picture w my back turned, but she had stopped for a moment to turn back & wave good bye…when I look at it ..,It was like two girls running into the future. The last time I saw her 6 years ago..she stopped by briefly just a few minutes to make sure she gave her daughter a hug and complemented me & my kids. Before saying goodbye. Thats the last time I saw her alive. Meagan had love in her heart,& that represents who she was💗

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  2. Suzanne Morse  July 27, 2020 at 5:29 pm Reply

    My beloved son, Michael, 44, succumbed to his lifetime battle with alcoholism on May 15, 2020. Michael described his addition as “Dancing with Devil.”The devil won. He died of an alcoholic seizure, under his own roof with his girlfriend present. For that, I am grateful.
    I’m seeing a common thread of traits with our lost loved ones. Michael too, had the kindest heart, loving, personable, amusing, intelligent, handsome and artistic. So much potential in life, lost once alcohol started making all his decisions for him. I mourn the life that may have been, the tragically sad life that evolved from his disease and most of all, I grieve him deeply. His beautiful smile, dimples and loving eyes. I miss his hugs.
    Michael was grossly mislabeled by the justice system, which made his life on earth an endurance test, he was disenfranchised from society. He was not a criminal, he was an untreated bipolar/alcoholic, who got jail time and a label, rather then healthcare. What a terrible loss of a beautiful soul who had so much to give.
    Please, let’s stop jailing people for addiction/mental health issues. I would guess maybe 50% of inmates are mentally ill and/or addicts, who deserve and need treatment. Upon release, these sick and suffering souls are broken, on top of unsurmountable barriers to creating any kind of life. Rather, they are set up to fail, return to jail or die on the streets. Truly barbaric and heartbreaking.
    Thank you for letting me say, Michael, was oh so much more then his disease. In fact One Million things more❤️

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  3. Annie  July 19, 2020 at 10:41 am Reply

    My first born, David, died on 25 July 1994.
    He died of an overdose – a combination of drugs & alcohol.
    David was greatly loved… good looking… athletic … musical …. popular … caring… sensitive … very funny with a beautiful smile and love for life.
    I could write a million things to describe him but I will leave, for all of you the last gift he left for us.
    He visited his lovely girlfriend a night after he died. He was laughing at her surprise /shock of seeing him and when she asked David ..,”Why are you here? .. I thought you were dead!” He told her “ I am fine. The most important thing to remember is to love one another!”
    Written on his grave stone are the words – LOVE IS ALL THAT MATTERS.
    It comforts us all, who loved him so much to know he spoke to us through Roberta, of LOVE – the most important and profound of all our emotions.

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  4. Melinda  July 16, 2020 at 8:41 pm Reply

    John was described exactly how I would describe my friend Jimmy who passed away on September 8,2019 from a heroine overdose. Jimmy had struggled with a drug addiction a for several years, but before he passed he was mostly struggling with an alcohol addiction. He also struggles with depression and anxiety. However, the Jimmy I knew ( outside of his addictions) was funny, kind, caring, sweet, smart.and would do anything for his friends and family. He was taking online classes to become an addictions counselor. I know he would of made a great counselor if he could of beaten his addictions. I wished he could of seen himself through my eyes ( among others) and realized how amazing of a person he actually was despite his addictions.

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