What do you say? What words will take away the hurt so deep it transcends the worst pain felt by humans? How do you comfort a mother who endured 12 hours of labor to bear a child which is then taken by an addiction that has no soul? Or relieve the burden of a father who feels helpless despite his best efforts to teach and protect his child against the evils of the world?
You can't. There is no magic potion that will allow another human to totally relieve a parent's loss, or cheer up the best friend or little brother who cannot understand what happened to someone so young and full of promise. All we can do is be there to listen and provide a comforting shoulder on which to weep.
No words or prayers will explain away why some people are drawn to heroin or pills or drink. If we knew the answers then maybe we could devise a cure.
Some will point to hereditary factors, while others suggest a chemical imbalance. So many good, smart, talented and loved young people have lost their lives to the growing drug problem in the Ohio Valley. It is tearing families and friends apart, physically, emotionally, even spiritually.
It's easy for someone to tell a grieving family member to hold onto his or her faith when an addiction takes a child, but that's because we get to go home at night and hug our own kids. We sigh in relief that it was not our child, this time, and count our blessings once again.
Nothing - not time, money nor friends - can heal a heart so badly broken. Still we must try.
And it's not just immediate families feeling the hurt. Talk to clergy in any church around the valley and they will tell you of their struggles to bring comfort to parents, grandparents, siblings and friends whose faith is tested by the sudden and untimely death of someone they love ... especially someone taken so young or in such a dark and troubled manner. It makes even the most faithful look heavenward and question the Almighty.
Law enforcement, first responders and medical professionals are all having to deal with this overwhelming problem of drug addiction, overdoses and deaths. It has taken its toll on those whose life mission is to protect, save and heal. They may have all the training and wear all the protective clothing but underneath they are humans whose hearts ache for the people they are trying to save.
If it takes a village to raise a child, I imagine the village must bear the sorrow that goes along with losing each and every one, too.
I applaud the efforts and work of the police officers who provide the DARE programs in our middle schools. Maybe we need to start teaching our kids about the evils of unhealthy addictions at an even younger age. Tell them it's OK to tattle on adults they know who are doing or selling drugs. We must find a way to prevent even one more tragedy this very day and allow parents a good night's sleep once again.
Heather Ziegler can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.