Addiction: Shedding the Stigma with Awareness, Support and Hope

by Amy L. Silva Rigtrup

Too many families have sat in front of me numb, defeated, unsure of their overwhelming emotions, struggling to plan a funeral that honors the memory of their loved one for the person they were - including and not in spite of - the addiction that took their life. Too many have shared the journey full of devastation and hope, support and isolation, acceptance and failures, strength and weakness of this epidemic so powerful, it renders it's victims powerless.

Beyond any opinions and perceptions, the facts remain. Addiction affects the entire network of family and friends connected to the person struggling to overcome it. Addiction possesses no prejudice, stereotype or morality and takes hundreds of lives each day in America alone. 

This week's intention was to help promote awareness by explaining the unfortunate aftermath of addiction, available support and above all, hope.

I was joined by two incredible women from Learn to Cope - Merielle Paul, Senior Regional Manager and Linda Botelho, Lead Volunteer Facilitator for New Bedford and Brockton. 

Learn to Cope is a Massachusetts based peer-led support network for families dealing with addiction and recovery that provides: 

  • Weekly Meetings in 20 locations across Massachusetts, including New Bedford and Taunton, with a group in the beginning stages that will meet in Fall River. 
  • A private, 24/7 online discussion board with national reach.
  • Training in overdose prevention and the administration of nasal Narcan, a drug that reverses potentially fatal overdoses, keeping the hope of recovery alive for many families.
  • Educational programs and speaking events at health fairs, schools and community organizations.

Please visit their website for more information

Merielle and Linda talked about the Avitabile family from Taunton that lost two of their sons to addiction, James in 2013 and Patrick last month on August 18th. The mother, Ann, reached out to the local newspaper, inviting them to the funeral to show that "real lives are being affected by this disease".  

CLICK HERE to read the article by the Brockton Enterprise, HERE to watch the poignant eulogy, given by Patrick's brother, Kevin Avitabile and HERE to read Patrick's obituary.

The family also chose to openly mention Patrick's addiction in his obituary while also highlighting his attributes, all of the people he loved and how he will be remembered. Across the country, more and more people that have lost a loved one to addiction are choosing to address the truth and realities of addiction in the obituary. I invite you to read this beautifully written article on about the awareness these obituaries are spreading and the meaningfulness they provide to the families that have written them.

When I first called Merielle at Learn to Cope, I was hoping to find out if there was any assistance or support for families that lose a loved one to addiction. Funeral costs are a burden I'm familiar with - one that families in these situations are especially unprepared for. Plus, the family I'm helping currently opened my eyes to the massive financial and logistical situations beyond the funeral that are left behind by those that pass away. I was determined to find out about any advice, support or resources available and Merielle told me about GRASP and Just A Little Help Burial Funds.

GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing) is a nationwide support network, providing sources of help, compassion and most of all, understanding, for families or individuals who have had a loved one die as a result of substance abuse or addiction.. They have chapters all over the country holding monthly meetings and a wealth of resources online. Please click on the image to view the Massachusetts Chapter meetings and visit for more information.

Just A Little Help Burial Funds was started by a mother who lost her son from a fatal drug overdose. An anonymous donor was kind enough to alleviate some of the financial burden to her family and she started this charity so that she could "pay it forward" to provide financial assistance to families that lose a loved one to addiction and help raise awareness on the effects that addiction has on families. JLH Burial Funds is currently in the fundraising process and hopes to have the funds available to start assisting families with funeral costs as soon as next year. For more information and to make donations, please visit

Today's show displayed the amazing potential people have to help and support each other. At the core of each organization mentioned today are real people fueled by love, grief and personal experience, wholeheartedly determined to spread awareness, ensure that nobody is alone in the epidemic that is addiction and above all, proof that there is hope to overcome it.

The Silva Lining is thankful for our wonderful sponsor:

St. Anthony of Padua Credit Union - We are proud to be sponsored by such an incredible bank, that in an age of conglomerate banks treating people like numbers, maintains a relationship with its members based on trust, friendly service and loyalty. With competitive rates for savings accounts and various loans, St. Anthony of Padua can handle all of your financial needs. Convenient online banking and more information at