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Johnson City woman starts grief support group after losing son to drug overdose

Holly Nelms • Updated May 8, 2017 at 9:55 AM

JOHNSON CITY — In 2016, Cyndi Ramsey’s life changed forever.

After a few failed attempts to overcome his addiction on his own, Ramsey’s son Josh died of a heroin overdose at 24 years old, leaving Ramsey struggling with grief.

Now, Ramsey is using her experience to help others by starting the JOSHUA Tree, a nonprofit organization dedicated to supporting those who have lost a loved one to drug overdose.

“I just realized that this area hasn’t had a grief group like this,” Ramsey said. “There are grief groups for parents whose children have died of anything, but there are none specifically for drug-use death.”

Ramsey, who is the alumni coordinator at East Tennessee State University, said she got the idea to start the group about a month after her son’s death.

“I just didn’t want his life not to have meaning,” Ramsey said. “I wanted his death to have purpose.”

Ramsey came up with the name of the group with the help of her grief therapist, who asked her what her son liked to do. When Ramsey said he enjoyed being outdoors, her therapist suggested the Joshua Tree, which incorporated her son’s name.

On her way home that day, Ramsey said she had the idea to make the word “Joshua” into an acronym for “Jesus Our Savior Heals Us Again.” Thus, it became the JOSHUA Tree.

“God put it in my head; I will not take any credit for that,” Ramsey said. “Then I realized there was a U2 song playing on the radio that I hadn’t noticed, and it was from their album, ‘The Joshua Tree,’ and I knew that this was what I was supposed to be doing.”

The group is open to anyone who has lost someone to drug overdose, not just parents or immediate family. The first meeting will be held May 9 at 7 p.m. at Our Saviour Lutheran Church, located at 212 Sunset Drive in Johnson City. After that, the group will meet every second Tuesday of each month.

Though the main focus of the group will be grief support, Ramsey said there may also be outreach opportunities.

“We had wanted to do the community outreach to talk to recovering addicts, kids, teenagers, whomever we can get the word out to,” Ramsey said. “It’s just to show them what the effects of a drug overdose are on your family, on your friends and people who love you.”

Looking forward, Ramsey hopes the group can support people not only in the Tri-Cities, but also in other areas.

“We would love to open different chapters,” Ramsey said, “and just have it spread like wildfire.”

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