A woman who lost her soul mate to a fentanyl overdose reflected on her struggle with grief during the holidays and offered advice to others who may be grieving the loss of a loved one.
“The pain gets heavier during the holidays,” Gwen Dudley, a recovering addict, told Fox News. “Everything around you screams family, connection, tradition, and love, so it amplifies the pain.”
Dudley’s partner, Paul Francs Duffy II, 32, relapsed after being sober for three years. He died soon after, in May 2021, leaving behind his and Dudley’s son, Luca, who is now three.
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“My first vacation without Duffy was the most painful of my entire life,” said Dudley, who met Duffey while the two were in recovery. “All she could think about was vacations we’d shared in the past and how much she was missing with our son.”
“Every happy moment with my son was a reminder that Duffy is not here,” she continued. “Decorating the tree felt like a dagger to the heart.”
Duffy got hooked on drugs through a legitimate prescription: He was initially given OxyContin in high school for a back injury, Dudley told Fox News. He battled addiction for the next 15 years, going through several years of sobriety followed by a relapse.
Two months after his latest relapse, Duffy unknowingly bought drugs laced with fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 50 to 100 times stronger than morphine, according to the National Institute on Drug Abuse.
He never came home.
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This Christmas, Dudley plans to honor Duffy’s memory by preparing his favorite foods, decorating his tree with decorations from his childhood, and decorating his grave with his son.
“A lot of people are afraid to tell me about it for fear of upsetting me, but it’s really the best I could ask for,” she said.
“I always gave his name,” he added. “I want the memory of him to remain alive through us and also for the sake of my son.”
Before her death, Duffy worked as a peer support specialist for the Anne Arundel County Health Department in Maryland, a position created as part of the county’s effort to combat the fentanyl crisis.
“That’s the madness of addiction, right?” Dudley told Fox News. “Duffy knew from his work how dangerous this was, but he thought he had it under control.”
Dudley said fear of trial, even within the recovery community, kept Duffy from seeking help once he started using again in 2021.
Although still grieving for his partner, Duffy strives to make sense of his death by raising awareness of the dangers of fentanyl and breaking the stigma around addiction so more people feel comfortable seeking treatment.
“Losing a loved one to an overdose can be an isolating experience due to the stigma of addiction,” he said. “People are afraid to tell others how their loved one died.”
Dudley encouraged people to consult friends who are grieving the loss of a loved one due to drug abuse this holiday season.
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“Maybe it’s been a year or two or five since they’ve lost someone and they seem okay on the outside,” Dudley said. “But acknowledgment of their pain could be what they desperately need.”
“Feeling alone is what drives people deeper into the despair of grief,” he added. “But going through it together will help us get through it.”
Dudley now works remotely as a national outreach coordinator for the Ascend Recovery Center in West Palm Beach. He uses TikTok as a platform to raise awareness about the dangers of fentanyl.
“This is wiping out a generation,” Dudley told Fox News. “Our children are dying.”
“I hate to think about how many people will spend their 2023 vacation without their spouse, child, brother, sister, mother, father, and friend,” she said.
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drug overdose deaths surpassed 100,000 for the first time in US history in 2021, According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. More than 64,000 of those deaths were due to synthetic opioids like fentanyl.
“These deaths don’t discriminate and a lot of people think it won’t happen to them until it does,” Dudley said.
“We really are in the middle of a public health crisis that has no end in sight,” he added. “If we want deaths to go down, the people at the top need to make it a priority the same way they did with COVID-19.”