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GOA to support folks who have lost loved ones to overdoses

Purpose Society set to launch to facilitated peer bereavement groups for people who have lost loved ones to overdose/toxic drug supply
A new grief support group in New West aims to provide connection and community to people who have lost a loved one to overdose.

A new bereavement support group aims to provide connection and community for folks who have lost loved ones to overdose.

The Lower Mainland Purpose Society is launching Grief on Arrival (GOA), an anonymous bereavement support group for people who have lost loved ones to an overdose or a toxic drug supply.

“You’re not alone. With the numbers every year of people who have passed with the drug supply, you are not alone,” said Derek Graham, group coordinator. “It is possible to find meaning in life after this loss.”

Graham, who will lead the program as part his bachelor in social work practicum, is unaware of any other support groups like this that are currently being offered locally.

“The benefit is to kind of restore meaning to people’s lives, to try and temper some of the upheaval, especially the emotional upheaval. To heal, not only from a lifetime of the distress from loving someone with addiction issues but then losing them as well,” he said. “The purpose of the program is to build a sense of community; people that might not have a lot in common but have this in common – finding meaning and connection with each other.”

Beginning Monday, Dec. 5, meetings will be held every Monday and Thursday from 6 to 8 p.m. at 502 Columbia St. (the old Army & Navy Department Store, Columbia Street entrance).

Monday’s group is for sharing experiences – but sharing is optional.

“Mondays will basically be almost like an open mic for anyone to discuss their story, where they are at, why they are seeking out a group, what they are looking for, what has worked for them in the past, what hasn’t worked,” Graham said. “Just to open the dialogue for anyone who is having a bit of a struggle that week.”

Thursdays’ gatherings will include information and tools related to grief from overdose.

“The Thursdays are kind of a facilitated, psycho-educational meeting around different aspects of grief, different aspects of recovering and moving forward from grief, as well as the uniqueness of bereavement caused by the toxic drug supply, a lot of the social isolation around that and the stigmatization,” Graham said.

Each Thursday will focus on a different topic of an eight-week program.

“We are doing it that way so people can come in at any time of the program, when they need to,” Graham said. “They don’t need to wait potentially up to two months for an intake.”

Graham said people can attend as many or as few meetings as they want. Attendance is open to anyone who has lost someone to drug-related harms, and the program is anonymous.

“What we really want to focus on is helping people in their time of need and helping people build a sense of community from others who have gone through similar struggles,” he said. “A lot of groups can get bogged down in bureaucratic red tape, so we wanted to do as easy to access a program as possible. We are not collecting any personal information from members. We are not demanding that they use their name or any identifiers in their stories.”

Graham said grief can be different for people who have lost loved ones to drugs.

“There’s a number of differences. I think one of the biggest ones is that when someone passes from old age or a disease, friends and family really support the bereaved. They come together,” he said. “When someone passes from drugs, because of the social stigmatization around the topic, people don’t know how to respond. They might have their own very strong beliefs about addiction. It can often result in the bereaved being completely isolated because people don’t know how to get involved or how to help.”

Another issue, said Graham, is the compounded emotions of those left behind after having lived a life loving someone suffering from addiction.

“There is a lot of emotion, and sometimes internal conflicting emotions,” he said. “So when that person passes, there can be conflicting emotions of relief and anger at the deceased that you don’t see with a typical passing.”

Graham is a harm reduction worker at the health contact centre that the Purpose Society operates in downtown New West.

“I work at the supervised injection site, where we hand out harm-reduction supplies. We will also watch over people who want to come into our site and use. That way we can respond medically if there is an overdose,” he said. “Another big part of the job is just connecting with people. We have a lot of street-entrenched clients, people in precarious housing. Being able to connect with them and restore some meaning and dignity in their day to day life.”

Through that work, Graham has lost clients (no deaths have occurred on-site) and has known clients who have lost loved ones to the toxic drug supply.

“When one person passes from this, it impacts a lot of people,” he said.

The program’s name – Grief on Arrival – is a play on words of the band Dead on Arrival (DOA).

“It was the favourite band of my colleague’s brother, who passed from drug-related harms,” Graham said. “So we did a bit of a play on words in memoriam of him.”

Anyone interested in attending the program can drop by the meetings on Monday or Thursday nights. For more information, contact the Purpose Society at or 604-526-2522.