Loss can be devastating, no matter what the circumstances. Grief and darkness take over and are all-consuming. How do you find your way out of the darkness after devastating loss?
One Hell of a Man
Justin Thompson was a truly amazing man. He was a military veteran, a wildlife law enforcement officer, and a loving husband and father. Justin’s personality could light up a room. Without a second thought, he would give the shirt off his back to anyone in need and was a respected leader and protector within the community. Simply put, he was one hell of a man.
A Family Ripped Apart
On November 4, 2017, Justin died of a drug overdose–a tragic side effect of an opioid addiction he never asked for. His story is like so many others I’ve heard: prescribed opioid medication for an injury sustained while training, a resulting chemical dependency that was mismanaged by his military and VA medical care providers, unrelenting chronic pain from a body broken by military service, and a slow descent into a full-blown addiction. Justin died 4 months shy of his 30th birthday. He left behind a 2-year old son who now only knows his daddy by pictures on the wall, and a wife who courageously stood by his side while she watched him sink into the darkness of addiction.
This is my story. I am Justin’s widow. I was left in the wake of tragic death that shattered the heart of my family. If you’ve never come face to face with addiction, I pray you never have to. And for those of you that have, you know all too well the pain and destruction it causes. Justin was strong-willed, determined, committed, and stubborn as hell. He was a natural-born fighter. And he put up one hell of a fight against the addiction that ambushed him. He had a lot to live for, and he fought hard against the dark demons of addiction all the way until the end of his life. Addiction took the man I loved and turned him into a shadow of his former self; it completely changed him to the point that I no longer recognized him. It was agony to watch his unstoppable downward spiral. But, despite the demons he was battling, his unwavering love for me and his son was incredibly powerful and withstood the storm, even when he lost every other part of himself to darkness.
When you’re surrounded by such darkness, it’s hard to imagine that there will ever be light again. But, with tragedy also comes an opportunity for growth. A chance to lean into the pain and trauma in order to build resilience and strength. Justin’s addiction changed me in more ways than I could have ever anticipated. For all that was ripped away from us, I gained an equal amount of motivation and mettle that kept me moving forward and drove me to do the difficult, emotional work of self-discovery. I chose to turn towards the nightmare and leverage it in a way that ultimately led me to courageously meet my own soul. Justin’s addiction ended his life, but in many ways it gave me a fuller version of mine. During our time together, Justin gave me two of the greatest gifts I’ve ever known: our son and my own awakening. That awakening proved to me that no matter how dark things may seem, there’s a light within that is able to shine bright when you need it most.
“People are like stained-glass windows. They sparkle and shine when the sun is out, but when the darkness sets in, their true beauty is revealed only if there is a light from within.” – Elisabeth Kubler-Ross