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A Mother’s Story of Loss and Peer Support

by Judy Kelly

June 21, 2021

Losing my 28 year old son Geoffrey to Substance Use Disorder at the beginning of the pandemic was a heart wrenching and turbulent experience that is still difficult to bear six months later. I didn’t think I could possibly survive the devastation and heartache I felt the day my husband found our son -- deceased.


My greatest need initially was to enter a church and say a prayer for Geoffrey, but (because of COVID) -- the best I could manage was to enter an empty one and say a rosary with my siblings. There could be no service at the funeral home or at our church, so we made arrangements for one at the cemetery, since that was our only option. We then had to wait an additional week for Geoffrey’s burial because our daughter needed to quarantine per travel requirements from California. Our extended family was very supportive during this time, keeping in touch by phone and visiting once during the next week. We all attempted to do our best with the social distancing recommendations. 


The maximum number of people allowed at the service was limited so there was not much planning to do. We chose a few songs for the vocalist and guitarist to perform during the ceremony. We were surprised and touched by the presence of our local Learn to Cope support group who stayed at a safe distance away but wanted to be there to support us.


I think the greatest disadvantage of experiencing a death at this moment in time was the lack of face-to-face conversations, hugs and tears. Instead, the outpouring of phone calls, sympathy cards and notes, home cooked meals and flowers dropped at our doorstep was so greatly appreciated through the fog that we were experiencing. 


I was furloughed from my job on the day we buried Geoffrey, but retrospectively, it was beneficial since I did not have to go right back to work. I was able to use those four months to fully grieve and find balance without outside interruptions.


I’ve found the worst part of each day is upon awakening when I continually relive the reality of our loss. I began a yoga routine that settles my mind and then I am able to proceed through the day. Other rituals include writing every day in a journal gifted from my daughter and I also read some entries from Geoffrey’s journals and have scanned dozens of photos that I can now look at to remember him. This wasn’t easy to do and brought many tears but it was one more way for me to connect to Geoffrey during our happier moments. Daily walks are and were extremely beneficial to me. I have found that being near the ocean and hearing the waves is therapeutic. I have also found daily morning meditations and the reading of grief support books to be helpful.


Social distancing during the quarantine made it impossible to attend support groups that I had depended on for many years, but I also knew I needed to reach out to a different type of group now. I began attending the Sun will Rise meetings two days after Geoffrey’s burial, as well as Consoling Partners/Nathan’s Circle, and Hope Floats in Kingston - all virtual. The facilitators impart so much wisdom and strength and the groups have been empathetic and validating. The ability to say exactly how I feel without worrying about upsetting anyone with the emotions and thoughts that a grieving mother has been life saving to me. I also began speaking with someone via telehealth-- all these have been critical, again, because of the limited face to face options available at this time.


We wanted to find ways to honor Geoffrey on his birthday, so my husband and I traveled to the White Mountains. Geoffrey loved Boy Scouts and the many camping trips he took with them there over the years. Being on the trails and at the top of a mountain helped me feel a connection to the vast earth and showed me how small we all are in the scheme of our time on earth. 


A friend also generously offered to design and sew a beautiful memory quilt of Geoffrey’s memorable and favorite shirts -- and the owner of the last sober house that Geoffrey attended kindly invited me there for a luncheon with a couple of other mothers who had recently lost their loved ones to SUD. While there I was able to view Geoffrey’s memorial brick that had recently been installed on the patio. It was so touching to listen to the positive memories of Geoffrey while he was in recovery there. 


 My friends and family have helped me raise over a thousand dollars in Geoffrey’s name for the Family Restored Virtual Memorial Race which remembers and honors those lost to addiction and provides scholarships for 12-step treatment and/or sober living as well as support for family members and loved ones that I had found so valuable over the years.


Losing my son was devastating and the restrictions created by the Pandemic made it even harder, but I have found ways to survive and am thankful for all the virtual groups who were there for me, and continue to be. I am grateful for these connections, friendships and pathways for helping me to survive the most difficult time in my life.


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Judy Kelly

Judy Kelly, mother of three adult children, lost her youngest son Geoffrey at the beginning of the pandemic in March 2020. Judy attends as many grief support groups as her full time library position allows. Building relationships with other grieving family members and finding ways to honor Geoffrey’s memory is how she is finding ways to cope and survive her tragedy.

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