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Tuesday, September 26, 2023

‘There are tears, but there is also much laughter:’ How Recovering Connections Helped a Mother Begin to Heal

This is Part I of an ongoing series highlighting Catholic Charities Boston’s programs for those with a loved one affected by substance use disorder, or those who have lost a loved one to substance use disorder, in light of October being National Substance Abuse Prevention Month.

For months after her son Nick passed away from substance use at age 27, Karen M. would arrive at church just before Sunday mass started. Avoiding eye contact with those around her, she would find a seat in a back pew and moments before mass ended, she would slip out the back door.

“It was just too painful,” she said. “Being around other families, seeing the parents and happy kids, it seemed like everyone was doing so well. When you lose a child, people are so uncomfortable that they don’t bring it up. They don’t ask.”

Karen is one of the 70,630 mothers in the U.S. who lost a child to drug use in 2019; today, it is estimated that number will reach 110,469 by the end of March 2023, and that is not accounting for those who lost their lives to alcohol-related substance abuse.

“We shouldn’t only be talking about this in dark back rooms behind closed doors,” Karen said. “My dream is to see it talked about freely––to see it addressed at the pulpit in mass and among politicians. There’s just so much isolation for those affected by it.”

For Karen, relief for this isolation came through the community formed at Catholic Charities Boston’s Recovering Connections retreats, a program that offers case management and support groups to the children and families of those with substance use disorders or in recovery.

Run by Catholic Charities Boston’s Outreach Social Worker, Sister Maryadele Robinson, the Recovering Connections programs includes the Growth Through Grief Retreats for parents who have lost children to substance use disorder, the Hope and Healing Retreat for women with a loved one affected by substance use disorder, and support services for children with parents struggling with addiction.

Karen learned about the retreats through a close friend. At the time, she was running a support group for parents whose children were affected by substance use disorder, known as the Family Healing and Recovery Ministry, which she still runs today.

“I wasn’t sure at first, but as soon as I got there, I was so happy I did. I felt like I was talking to people who actually understood what I was going through. I’ve never met a stronger, more compassionate group of women. They are sensitive, they listen to each other, they provide affirmation.”

Karen said the retreats are deeply faithful in nature, providing a restorative space for the women to share their experiences, lean on one another, or simply rest in the fellowship of the group.

“Sister Maryadele has a sensitivity that goes beyond anyone I’ve ever met,” she said.

Karen said the relationships she has formed at the retreats have helped her find joy, even in the midst of a heartache she knows will never fade.

“There are of course tears, but there is also much laughter at the retreats,” she said. “I don’t think I have ever laughed so hard.”

From shared meals to prayer sessions to group walks and outings, the retreats are designed to facilitate connection and conversation, while also allowing for private moments of reflection.

After attending her first retreat, Karen said she quickly got involved in the other events Sister Maryadele offers to retreat participants, from spa days to group dinners in the city.

Above all, she is grateful for a space to freely talk about her son.

“My son had a very deep faith. He did not want this in his life,” she said. “I’ve always relied on my faith to carry me through tough times. I’ve grown in my faith. The worst thing that can happen is losing a child, but I trust that God has taken him home.”

*Due to the sensitive nature of the real-life experiences shared within the story clients are referred to by their first or middle names only to protect privacy.

For more information regarding the Catholic Charities Recovery Connections programs or counseling services, please visit

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