‘The watching pain’: Litchfield County couple starts addiction grief support group

Jason Pratt died of a drug overdose in 2019. Now, his mom, Dianne Slater, is honoring his life with a Litchfield-based support group for parents who have lost children to addiction.

LITCHFIELD — A Litchfield County couple has started a grief support group that honors the lives of both of their sons who died from addiction-related causes.

Dianne Slater, of Watertown, and her partner Steve Drew, of Morris, share the pain of having lost a child to addiction. Slater’s son, Jason, died in 2019 of an overdose of fentanyl-laced heroin. Drew’s son, Keith, died in 2010 to addiction-related causes.

Since the start of July, the small group has been meeting on the first and third Friday of each month at the Shrine of Lourdes in Litchfield. The group, Finding Meaning, is for parents who have lost children to addiction.

“I wanted to start a group that offered compassion and to have our focus be about bearing witness and to find meaning in the lives and deaths of our loved ones, as well as our own, as we move forward. That’s what is so difficult,” Slater said.

For two years Slater struggled, and still does, to grapple with the death of her son.

“My son went off to college to be an airline pilot right out of high school,” Slater said. “He had no issue with addiction at that point. He was bright and precocious and tall and handsome. Like so many stories, he fell and broke his elbow his very first semester and got addicted to opiates. This starts with a prescription of opiates he became addicted to.”

Slater described the pain of seeing her child become stuck in a seemingly never-ending cycle from the age of 19 to 34 he couldn’t escape from.

“Basically, his life was detoxes, rehabs, hospitals, homelessness, shelters and jail,” Slater said. “It was a revolving door of that. That was his life. His entire adult life. This is what happens to heroin addicts. He would get a few good months here and there and he would relapse. This was this revolving door and it was heartbreaking. We call it the watching pain. We’re watching them spiral and watching them vanish. We’re watching the child we once knew vanish slowly before our very eyes.”

Slater said her family tried everything they could to help her son. Part of her sharing her story through a support group is to help break down stigmas attached to addicts.

“Addiction is not a moral weakness. It’s a disease,” Slater said. “We tried to show him love and compassion throughout these years of what was a very difficult adult life. He wanted recovery more than anything. He tried really hard. Relapsing had nothing to do with not loving his family and not being strong enough and not caring about himself.”

Slater’s path to starting the support group came in part from her own journey with grief. First, she found a support group in the state that was about loss in general. But not all loss and grief is the same, she said, and she wasn’t yet at a point where she could handle the grief of others. When the COVID-19 pandemic started, she opted for a Zoom-based therapist, which helped her.

But it was a book called “Bearing the Unbearable” and a connection with the MISS Foundation nonprofit that really inspired Slater. She’s now even applied to become a hope mentor for the group, just like the ones who helped her.

“I knew at some point that when I was ready, I wanted to start a support group, because there were so few in the area. This is an absolute epidemic,” Slater said. “I felt the two year anniversary of having lost him would be this beautiful way to honor him.”

For Slater, everything circles back to the name of her support group, Finding Meaning.

“One of the things that is very difficult when you’re dealing with this kind of tragic, unbearable loss is that you never think you’re going to find meaning again,” Slater said. “Because of the unrelenting, overwhelming pain, I knew I needed to find a way to...bring what we’ve learned in our grief journey to a community.”

The group that Slater and Drew started is only for parents who have lost a child to addiction-related causes.

“Everyone’s grief journey is unique,” Slater said. “It’s imperative that we find a community that understands the gravity of this particular loss. It’s just unbearable after years of them struggling.”

The group’s first two months have been a success, Slater said, though they are always looking for others who might need what they offer.

“I say, ‘I’m so glad you found us, but I’m sorry you had to,’” Slater said. “It’s been wonderful. It’s heartbreaking and heartwarming. It’s bittersweet. Everyone that comes is allowed the compassion and the space to share about their child and to share about how they’re doing and about how they feel. We cry and we talk and we share.”

The Finding Meaning support group meets the first and third Friday of each month at the Shrine of Lourdes, located at 83 Montford Road in Litchfield, from 7 to 8:30 p.m. Anyone interested in learning more about the group should email Slater at dslater17@optonline.net.

Correction: The caption of the photo has been updated to correct Jason Pratt’s name.

Connecticut Media Group