Twice a month, Lexington area citizens who have lost sons, brothers or other family members to drug overdoses gather together.
While lacking in formality, their gatherings always provide a family atmosphere for those experiencing Life After Loss.
It’s a Tuesday night at Broadway Christian Church.
On this night it’s three people who have lost family members to heroin overdoses. Tonya Meeks’ 19-year-old son Seth died in December of 2014.
“We knew that he was using marijuana and alcohol, but heroin kind of threw us all off. I just kind of mostly for my mental state, I needed answers,” said Meeks.
Dale Sanders’ 32-year-old son Heath passed away from a heroin overdose in April of 2013.
“I was in the ministry for 25 years. That’s not supposed to happen to a minister’s family, but that’s what heroin does,” Sanders said. “It does not discriminate.”
For Jennifer Stamper, it was her 28-year-old brother. James had used heroin for a couple of years when he died in July 2016.
“He was just so addicted and he couldn’t, I guess he couldn’t see the end of the tunnel. He just thought he couldn’t do it. But, uh, it’s hard,” explained Stamper.
Stamper says she feels like a piece of her childhood is gone.
Amy Baker with Lexington’s Substance Abuse and Violence Intervention Program coordinates the bi-monthly meetings. She says the ongoing effort is to reach others who have similar experiences.
“We know that there’s people that we are not reaching. We want to try to do that. We’ve reached out to funeral homes,” said Baker. “We reach out however we can to get the word out.”
Dale Sanders’ family has started Help End Addiction To Heroin or HEATH, in recognition of their son. Part of their focus is offering educational talks in churches.
Dale says a variety of emotions are expressed in the group.
“Sometimes we do get here and cry and sometimes we laugh, but in this group, one of the unique things about it is, we want to talk about our kids,” Sanders said. “And so many people around us, even our closest family members, don’t know what to say.”
Tonya Meeks echoes that sentiment. She founded a non-profit awareness and education group Stop Heroin Lexington. It works to expand distribution of the overdose reversing agent Narcan.
Tonya has felt shunned by some family members.
“If somebody else’s in the family’s children in the family are doing well and great things, they don’t want to tell me about it, cause they don’t want to hurt my feelings or whatever is making them feel uncomfortable,” said Meeks.
Meeks says she wants other children in her extended family to be successful at whatever they do.
While there were just four people in this Life After Loss meeting, Dale says sometimes there are ten or more in the group.
He says everyone is different with various feelings. Sanders and his wife go to the cemetery often to visit their son’s grave. That’s something Jennifer hasn’t done yet.
“I don’t feel him there. I feel him in my car with me when I hear one of his favorite songs come on the radio, or when it’s just me up at night,” Stamper said. “I feel him still with me.”
Life After Loss meets the first and third Tuesdays evenings at 6:00 pm at Broadway Christian Church.
This Saturday, the annual Overdose Awareness Day event will be held at Lexington’s Jacobson Park.