STAMPING GROUND, Ky. — A box shaped like Noah’s Ark sits on a table in Karen Butcher’s living room.
“Here’s another one,” she said as she reached inside the box to grab another letter that she began to read. “That smile. Such a handsome fella. He always looked like he was really happy to see you.”
Butcher smiles as she reads each letter. The warm memories were written last year by friends and loved ones at her son, Matthew Davidson’s, funeral.
“I’ve always kept this box and I decided that when people filed these out at Matthews service that I would keep them in here,” Butcher said.
She leaves the room and returns with a colorful multi-patterned quilt. “This is a memory quilt of Matthew’s shirts — he loved to look good,” she explained with a smile. “I feel like I’m cuddled up in his love when I use this quilt.”
Karen’s son died last Memorial Day from an opioid overdose. It was a tragic end to her family’s long battle with her son’s addiction. The last eight years of his life were spent in and out of treatment programs trying to loosen the grip heroin had on his life.
“My story with Matthew is the same story over and over and over just different faces, different ages, different genders, different races,” Butcher said. “When I first found out [about his addiction] I thought, ‘oh good we've caught it quickly.’ You know, not my son. He's gonna go to his 30 day treatment program and come out and he'll be fine — not so.”
Karen said her son’s struggle with addiction included multiple overdoses, homelessness, even jail time. His battle became his family’s battle as they tried to guide him to a life of recovery.
“This was interrupting every facet of my life because I was focused on how do we get Matthew into treatment, how do we get Matthew into recovery, what's going to happen here,” recalled Butcher. “And after I just dropped to my knees and prayed — Lord, Lord, help my son. Save my son. I found Parents of Addicted Loved ones.”
Known as PAL, Karen founded the first Parents of Addicted Loved Ones group in Kentucky. They meet at Harmony Christian Church in Georgetown. There, she and other parents find support, healing and camaraderie.
“The lessons that I learned in PAL are what saved me and taught me how to not enable, to give healthy helping, and to find some joy in my life regardless of what Matthew was doing. I also learned that you'll have multiple relapses and before a person truly lives lifelong recovery, they will be in multiple treatment programs,” said Butcher.
PAL helped Karen cope with her son’s addiction. When he died, Lexington-based Voices of Hope, a nonprofit offering community based recovery support services, was there to help her grieve.
“There’s a grief group at Voices of Hope and that's helpful, because you are in a group with people who get it, and you can be totally honest, and open you can cry, you can pray, you can rant, you can rave — and people get it,” explained Butcher.
Voices of Hope co-founder Alex Elswick describes their grief group as a destigmatized space where family members can come together to talk about and work through the reality of grief they’re dealing with. Elswick founded Voices of Hope with his mom, Shelley, after their own family’s experience with addiction.
“I’m a person in long term recovery from heroin addiction and I struggled to access resources, my family struggled to access resources and support, and so we started Voices of Hope with the idea in mind that we wanted to make that path easier for other families coming behind us,” Elswick said. “An addiction takes a tremendous burden on family members. A financial burden, a physical burden, health burden and mental health burden. So it’s really important to get access to the support that you need to make sure you’re OK as well.”
Karen reaches back in the Noah’s Ark box and pulls out a DVD containing photos that played at Matthew’s funeral.
“I guess I’ll probably look at this on the day of his death, and it will hurt, but it will be bittersweet. There’s some joy in remembering him,” she said, her voice breaking with emotion.
Nothing will ever fill the hole Matthew’s death left in her heart but PAL and Voices of Hope are ensuring the darkest journey of her life is a path she doesn’t walk alone.
I’ve lost parents, I’ve lost grandparents and I’ve lost friends but there’s been nothing as devastating as losing a son,” Butcher said. “We'll get through it. But I sure miss him. Life will never be the same without that ray of light.”
There are PAL groups in Ashland, Bardstown, Danville, Erlanger, Florence, Georgetown, Hopkinsville, Latonia, Lawrenceburg, Louisville and Williamsburg.
Click here to find a Parents of Addicted Loved Ones (PAL) meeting near you.
Voices of Hope primarily serve the Central Kentucky area, however they offer a variety of virtual services that are accessible to individuals statewide and beyond.
Click here to learn more about Voices of Hope and get connected.