WILKES-BARRE — After Carol Coolbaugh’s son died of an overdose in 2009, she tried attending bereavement meetings to help with her grief.

But listening to others talk about loved ones dying of natural causes or accidents or illnesses didn’t strike the right chord for Coolbaugh, 67, of West Pittston, whose son Erik died of an overdose following a lifetime battle with addiction to drugs, including heroin.

“You’ve got somebody that’s mourning a kid who did everything right and was going to school and got hit by a car, or died of cancer,” Coolbaugh said. “I’m not saying they did judge, but it was very difficult to talk about your kid who didn’t do all the things that they should do.”

As a result of her experience, Coolbaugh started the local chapter of Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing, or GRASP, to help others mourning the loss of overdose victims. The group meets the second and fourth Wednesday of each month and provides support to parents and other relatives of those who have lost loved ones to drugs.

“There’s no judgment,” Coolbaugh said. “We’re there, we just support each other.”

Some members have been coming for years, while others cycle through, she said. The surviving relatives go through the stages of grief — but not always in the same order and sometimes more than once, she said.

“There’s denial,” Coolbaugh said. “You can’t believe it happened even though every one of them will tell you that they’ve been waiting for the dreaded phone call. Because you know that’s a possibility, but even when it happens it’s still a shock.”

Some of them feel relief at knowing that their loved one’s struggle and pain are over, she said.

“I know with myself, initially I kind of felt a relief that he’s no longer struggling,” Coolbaugh said. “But that didn’t last long. Then it came to anger, like, ‘Why did this have to happen? Why couldn’t he be one of the ones that was saved?’”

Coolbaugh said those who have lost family members should grieve in their own way. Surviving relatives should do what they need to do to get through their grief and not listen if people tell them to move on with their lives.
“Every grief is different,” Coolbaugh said. “Don’t tell anybody tell you how you should be grieving.”

For information about the meetings, contact Coolbaugh at carolcoolbaugh324@gmail.com or 570-991-7199.

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