New support group focuses on unique needs of people grieving deaths from addiction

Published: Jun. 23, 2023 at 11:02 PM CDT
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OVERLAND PARK, Kan. (KCTV) - For those who’ve experienced a loved one dying from drug or alcohol addiction, it can feel like most people don’t get it.

That’s why two local women decided to bring a support group to the metro that’s a first for the area.

The support group is called GRASP, which stands for Grief Recovery After Substance Passing.

Dawn Owens first learned about the group when she was living in Connecticut. Her son, Josh, died in 2020. She needed support. She attended one meeting, then realized she wasn’t emotionally ready. When she returned to the Kansas City metro in 2022, she was ready, but there was no such group here. She used to work for Jewish Family Services and reached out to them to see if they’d be interested in hosting a new group.

“People need to know that there are people who are who are dealing with the grief and the shame and the what ifs and how could I have helped my loved one any more than I did?” Owens said.

GRASP requires that group leaders have lived experience. Owens reached out to an old friend whom she’d lost touch with. They had reconnected at Josh’s shiva.

That friend, Laura Bratt, had also lost loved ones to addition. Her mother died from an addiction to prescription pills, then her husband died from alcoholism.

“I grew up in addiction,” Bratt said.

Each woman had a different kind of experience.

“When Josh passed, we never hid why he passed. We weren’t ashamed of him. He had a substance abuse disorder,” Owens made clear.

“My experience of addiction is it’s shrouded in secrecy,” Bratt said in contrast. “I’ve grieved other losses in my life, and they’re very different. They’re public, and it’s okay. It’s accepted. But death and grief related to addiction is a vastly different beast.”

The two women will be leading the monthly group meetings.

Sondra Wallace, the director of mental health services for Jewish Family Services, was eager to hear more when Owens approached her. The organization hosts other counseling services and support groups. She could clearly see the gap to be filled.

“It’s a different space and a different conversation than other types of grief, so we were excited to explore it,” Wallace said.

Owens and Bratt will be co-leaders of the monthly group meetings, which start on Tuesday. They made a point to clarify that it’s not group therapy. There is no professional therapist there.

“It is not somebody telling us how to go through the grief process. It is those of us who are going through the process ourselves, learning how to talk about it, and being a resource for each other,” Owens said.

Bratt hopes it gives people a place where they feel safe and understood.

“There’s stigma. There’s fear. There’s anger. There’s a lot of things that keep us -- shame -- that keep us disconnected from others dealing with these things. Those are the exact same things that our loved ones were dealing with that caused them to use,” Bratt reasoned, “so we don’t want those things to be in the way of people coming to check out this group.”

The meetings will take place on the fourth Tuesday of every month at the Jewish Community Campus at 5801 W. 115th St. in Overland Park from 6:30 p.m. to 8:00 p.m.

Like every program offered by Jewish Family Services, it is open to people of any faith on both sides of the state line. It is free to attend but registration is required. Register at: