December 15, 2021

A Call to Live—after Losing our Loved One to the Opioid Epidemic.


“But don’t be satisfied with stories, how things have gone with others. Unfold your own myth, without complicated explanation, so everyone will understand the passage. We have opened you.” ~ Rumi


No one prepares you for “The Call.”

We hear about it in movies and in books. We might dream about it or act it out in some sort of psychodrama in the therapy room, but we really don’t know anything about it at all, until the day we get “The Call.”

“Erik is dead.”

Our beautiful boy was no longer.

Shock and denial immediately descended upon me, like a weighted blanket that I gratefully pulled over my head to hide from reality. I had just crossed over into this new world that made absolutely no sense anymore.

Time froze over for a moment.

He was found by complete strangers. In water. Accidental overdose, they had assumed. The police were there. Total and complete chaos.

In that early morning, in 2019, our beautiful boy became yet another victim of the opioid epidemic, another number buried and lost in an ever-growing rubble of statistics.

On that day, it was as if some force had reached into my chest, pulled out my heart, threw it on the ground, stomped on it, and then got right in my face, mocking me: “Okay, now what are you going to do?”


Hearted by


On that day, some part of me died forever.

And on that day, some part of me started to wake up.

Tragedy has a way of doing that.

Soon, I started attending Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) support group meetings, desperately searching for a safe place where I could quietly scan my soul for answers to this incomprehensible loss. A place where others were just like me, huddled in a tight circle, shell-shocked telling stories that all began with, “How did this happen…” A place where I could just listen and think. This would become my new tribe, a place where newcomers were always welcome, and there were always newcomers. (Droves of them now.)

In these rooms, I began to see the patterns, to start putting the pieces together.

Like so many other young people who die from an overdose, I knew that Erik was so much more than the disease of addiction. He was not an individual one could throw into a neat little box.

He was a creative type—out of this world creative.

He was a gender non-conforming individual.

He was a bright spark of life force.

He loved big and was loved big time.

He lived with mental health challenges. (And so do I.)

He lived with addiction challenges. (And so do I.)

I knew all too well what it’s like to chase the other side of self-hatred with a substance. And what it’s like to put that substance down without a replacement, just me and my thoughts.

For some reason (wishful thinking perhaps), I thought he had managed to bypass all of these familial challenges—like we have the choice to skip over intergenerational trauma. I was wrong, and that realization began to haunt me in those support group rooms.

I began to experience what it’s like to be on this side of the life-death-life continuum, what it’s like to survive a beloved who should be here to live life to the fullest, to outlive me at least, but who instead has unnaturally died before his elders.

I began to exist in a surreal grief bubble, where I just floated. I gave myself permission to float in this in-between state for quite some time.

Nothing made sense anyway, so why not? It gave me the opportunity to really drill down on my life choices—relationships, work, you name it—to just ruminate about everything.

Grief time for me is always sacred. If there were ever a time to step away from life as I created it and to ponder on whether my life choices are all still working for me, it’s during the luminal time of grief— after a significant loss, and before my new normal has crystalized—when I am truly awake, aware, and alive.

When my family lost Erik, we lost some of our dreams of legacy that had never before been challenged or in jeopardy.

It wasn’t something we had even thought possible, to outlive our youngest. But it is possible.

And you know what else is possible? To be so very grateful for an individual life that we can intentionally choose to live bigger merely because that life once existed and is now no longer.

Because of Erik, I now dream big all the time.

Because of Erik, I now take up a lot more space in the world.

Because of Erik, I now apologize less for who I am. (Sometimes.)

Because of Erik, I am now pursuing my calling with all that I’ve got.

Erik’s dreams are now my dreams too. Today, we are dreaming together. And for that, I am most grateful.

Thank you, beautiful boy, for our calling. Love you more than you ever knew!

~Erik’s Aunt


Author’s Note: This was written on what would have been Erik Conradi’s 28th birthday—Forever25.


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