Finding Hope with The Well Support Group
72,000 people in the United States died in 2017 to an overdose. That leaves a HUGE number of family members in our country grieving the loss of loved one to addiction and drugs.
Hope United’s support group, The Well, began specifically for families of this kind of loss. Started in 2016 by Hope United’s Executive Director, Shelly Bornstein, and Sue Warner, who serves as the Director of the support group, The Well continues to help families who have been devastated by the loss of a loved one to an overdose or an addiction related death. The Well meets the 1st and 3rd Monday of each month to offer comfort, understanding and support to individuals working through the grief process.
We recently talked with one of The Well members, Sue Sausaman, who tragically lost her son Dan Sausaman to a carfentanil overdose on July 17, 2016. Here’s what she had to say:
Hope United: Please tell us a little bit about your son Dan.
Sue: Dan was a kind, sweet, fun guy. He was truly a wonderful son, always taking care of his dad and I and many family and friends. He did not steal or hurt anyone. He was never in trouble with the law. Even during his affliction, he rarely put himself before others.
Danny was a good student in school. He always had good grades. After graduating high school he attended Akron University and earned his degree in Business and Human Resources. He worked full time through college and was always on the Dean’s List every semester. After graduating he became a successful businessman in the construction trade. He was so proud of his success and so were we.
Hope United: What was Dan like when he was growing up?
Sue: When Danny was young he was a happy boy. He loved playing with the neighborhood boys and his brother’s .He loved riding his bike, mostly through the dirt. He would walk out the door and the dirt would just cling to him. My rules were you had to take your shoes off before you came into the house. Danny did not like this rule. I would look out the kitchen window and see him peeing on a tree in the backyard. When he was 12 years old he started working with a neighbor mowing his uncle’s yard to make money so he could buy a BMX bike so he could jump dirt mounds and race. As an adult he purchased a four wheeler that he enjoyed. He would take his four wheeler and go riding and fishing. He loved fishing and just loved nature.
Danny loved sports. He began playing soccer when he was 4 years old and baseball when he was 6, until he was hit in his lower back by a bat and fractured his spine. He had to wear a brace for few months. Medication was also given with this injury. By the time he 8 years old he started playing football and track through high school. Danny was a good friend to everyone, he never meet a stranger. He had many friends. There was never a weekend that went by that he and his brothers didn’t have their buddies overnight at our house. He also had a heart of gold, especially to animals. Over the years he had brought home 2 dogs, his macaw named Baby and had rescued 4 kittens. He would tell me, “Don’t worry mom, I will find a good home for them.” He did. They never left our home.
Hope United: Tell me a little about Dan’s addiction.
Sue: Somewhere along the way addiction took over. I believe a lot of it began from all his childhood injuries. You see Danny had many injuries through those years. A fractured spine, two broken arms, many stitches, and wisdom teeth removed throughout his childhood. So this meant many trips to the hospital. In his early teens he was having some throat issues. I will never forget having to take him to the hospital for a scope. The nurse was explaining to him what was going to happen. She was telling him how he was going to start feeling funny. After he received the medication he said, “mom I don’t feel anything”, and few minutes later he was saying “wow this feels really good”, asking them for more. Of course I didn’t think anything about it at the time, but looking back that was probably a beginning.
Hope United: How did you learn about Hope United?
Sue: A few weeks after his death, Travis and Shelly reached out to our family. They understood the pain we were going through, and shared with us the tragic story of their son, Tyler. They helped us understand that our loved ones weren’t moral failures; they just had a disease that many people refuse to acknowledge as such.
Hope United: Tell us a little about your experience with The Well Support Group.
Sue: The Well is a support group started by two mothers who understood the pain of losing a child caused by addiction. At the first group meeting on October 19, 2016 we all felt the immediate connection. The Well is the only support group/counseling that has helped me through my grief and it continues to help me. Everyone grieves differently. Some people keep it bottled up and don’t talk about it. But most of us know what happens when you keep your feelings locked up inside. This is what was happening to me. THE WELL is a safe place for support for myself and many others that I have met through this painful journey. We are a very close support group because we all understand the pain and sadness of our loved one’s disease and the stigma that goes along with addiction. We never judge each other. It is very hard to put into words the bond we all have made. We are like family now. My heart will forever be empty and will never fully heal, but THE WELL is a continuous spiritual healing and safe place for me and probably will be for the rest of my life. I thank Hope United for all they have done for me and for many others.
We are so thankful to Sue for taking the time to answer a few questions about her son Dan and her experience with The Well support group. One thing we have discovered on this journey of grief, is that grieving the death of a loved one to an overdose not only comes with the typical stages of grief, but is compounded by the stigma of addiction, a sense of guilt, a tendency to place blame or feel shame, and a feeling of anxiety. This kind of loss is treated differently by our society, than if our loved one would have died from another cause.
According to this article from NPR, dealing with the grief of an overdose death can feel very isolating and people sometimes don’t know what to say. The Well support group offers a safe space for families hurting to express their feelings and talk about the loss: something that is not easy to do with friends, some family members or even in other grief support groups.
In an article published earlier this year, Thrive Global offers some ways to cope with an overdose death, and gives suggestions for friends on how to be supportive.
If you are a family member who has lost a loved one to an overdose, we invite you to join our Facebook Group or attend one of our support group meetings. The Well support group meets the 1st and 3rd Wednesday of each month at Crossview Church located at 737 George Washington Blvd in Akron, Ohio. We encourage you to reach out and ask for help if you are grieving the loss of a loved one to an overdose. Healing can begin to happen if you have the support of others who have walked in your shoes.