Supper with Siblings Fosters Support, Connections

Grace Allen
Issue Date: 
March, 2019
Article Body: 

They are the forgotten casualties of the opioid and heroin epidemic. Until now, people who have lost a brother or a sister to an overdose have struggled to find support options in the area. A new program in Wrentham, however, is offering therapeutic camaraderie for a group that too often suffers alone.
Supper with Siblings is an outreach initiative sponsored by Gilly’s House, a sober home for those in recovery from substance abuse. Once a month, people who have lost a sibling gather together for dinner and then a discussion led by a trained therapist. The next supper will be held on March 12 at 6:30 p.m. at Gilly’s House, located at 1022 West St., Wrentham.
Barbara Gillmeister, who founded Gilly’s House along with her husband David, says the lack of programs specifically for siblings spurred her to start the monthly event, which is intended for ages sixteen through adulthood.
“There are support groups for parents and spouses, but there was really nothing for siblings,” said Gillmeister. “It’s a different kind of relationship with unique needs.”
Participants have come from all over for the first few suppers, some driving over an hour for the opportunity to meet others who have gone through the same ordeal, according to Maureen Cappuccino, the house administrator.
“I was worried it wasn’t going to catch on, but people have said they had been looking for something like this and there’s nothing,” related Cappuccino. “It’s a huge group that’s struggling. You feel like you’re alone until you meet someone else going through the same thing and then realize they ‘get it.’”
The sibling relationship is special and when a brother or sister dies from an overdose, survivors can experience a range of complex feelings.
“They go through a tremendous amount of guilt,” said Gillmeister. “They think, ‘maybe there’s something more I could’ve done,’ which is what a parent thinks, but siblings look at it differently. Sometimes they’ve known more than the parents what’s been going on.”
Supper with Siblings is facilitated by Judi Earnest, a master’s level clinician who does trauma work in the greater Milford area. Earnest herself lost a sibling three years ago to addiction. Her brother Mike struggled for thirty years with substance abuse before passing away, so Earnest has first-hand knowledge of what siblings go through.
“We are the forgotten ones,” she explained. “We might go through childhood and adolescence feeling like we are not getting equal attention from our parents. Milestones in our life were maybe not acknowledged the way they should be. We have guilt, wondering if we could have helped more, or if only we had intervened or gotten there a few minutes earlier. And sometimes we’ve had to take on the parent role ourselves.”
Earnest says Supper with Siblings is a cathartic and much-needed way for people to grapple with the issues surrounding a sibling’s death from an overdose. The night is structured around a shared meal, followed by a free-flowing group forum and cross-talk. Earnest’s role is to help set boundaries and offer coping skills and grounding techniques if necessary. The meeting is group-led and still evolving, according to Earnest.
Meeting and connecting with others living with the same pain can be emotional yet healing, she said.
“There’s nothing out there like this,” Earnest emphasized. “I’ve been active for decades in this area and I know of nothing similar. I’m very glad to be a part of it.”
Gilly’s House was established last year in memory of Steven “Gilly” Gillmeister, who lost his battle with addiction in 2016 at the age of 25. His parents sought a way to honor his memory and channeled their grief into action by opening the sober house, which was the former Sheldonville Nursing Home. Gilly’s House offers a comprehensive life-skills transitional program for young men who have successfully completed a residential treatment program.
There is no charge to attend Supper with Siblings, but registration is requested for planning purposes. Participants can bring a friend or a spouse. Visit for more information and to register. Volunteers in the community, along with area restaurants, are invited to donate items and to help prepare the meal. Last month’s meal was donated by James Roadside Café in Wrentham.
Contact house administrator Maureen Cappuccino ([email protected]) with any questions.