In this episode, the authors of Devastating Losses, William and Beverly Feigelman, join Drs. Gloria and Heidi Horsley. The couple lost their 32-year-old son to suicide related to substance abuse. He was living in New York with his fiancé when he hanged himself. Although Jesse had a long history of substance abuse—and Beverly, who was a specialized therapist treating substance abuse patients—they never saw the death coming. Suicide and drug/alcohol losses are often stigmatized and disenfranchised. For the Feigelmans, they experienced disenfranchised loss doubly, since Jesse’s death was caused by both substance abuse and suicide.

Vanessa McGannon also joins the show to discuss her involvement with The American Association of Suicidology. Larry Stevens, singer and songwriter, closes the show with a special performance. “The book is based on a survey-conducted study in 2006 with 462 suicide bereaved parents,” explains William. Some died by drugs, some by accidents, some by natural causes, and of course, some by suicide. The Feigelmans hope that their work will help address the stigma of drug/alcohol losses.

When “Giving Space” Doesn’t Work

When somebody loses a loved one to suicide, drugs, alcohol, or another stigma-rich incident, a lot of people think “giving the bereaved space” is the best approach. However, this reads as a lack of compassion. It can be very lonely to lose somebody to suicide or substance abuse. You may find yourself with no support from family or friends. “You should have” can crop up in conversations, even if the person saying it means well.

The Feigelmans encourage everyone to seek out a support network, whether it’s via friends and family or a professional network. Beverly remembers getting sympathy cards when the family dog died. The same people who sent those cards didn’t say or do anything with the loss of their son. “It’s a shame, it’s a stigma, and we don’t know how to deal with this” is a common response.


William Feigelman

William Feigelman, PhD, is Professor Emeritus and Adjunct Professor of Sociology at Nassau Community College (Garden City, New York), where he has taught for more than 44 years and still teaches part-time. Author and co-author of seven books and more than 40 journal articles, he has written on a wide variety of social science subjects including child adoptions, youth alcohol and drug abuse, problem gambling, tobacco use and cessation, and intergroup relations. Since 2002, after his son Jesse's suicide, Dr. Feigelman has focused his professional writings on youth suicide and suicide bereavement. This work has appeared in Suicide and Life-Threatening Behavior, Death Studies, Omega: Journal of Death and Dying and Illness, Crisis and Loss. He is a member of the American Association of Suicidology and the Association for Death Education and Counseling, a frequent presenter at bereavement conferences in the U.S., Canada, and Japan, and a co-facilitator of a survivors' support group

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