'You're going to survive this': LDS actress talks about overcoming trials and losing her son to drug addiction

On a crisp October afternoon, Shaunna Thompson answered a phone call from her husband and heard a parent's worst nightmare: "Our son has died."

"I didn't immediately start to cry," Thompson, whose story is the subject for Mormon Channel's latest installment of the 'His Grace' series, recalled in the video. "I just kept saying, 'I don't know what to do, I don't know what to do.'"

She had known it was coming. Chase had been addicted to drugs for the last 12 years, and at some point Thompson knew that he wasn't going to live a long life - but that didn't lessen the blow.

Thompson has worked as a film and stage actress for the last 23 years, appearing in several Church productions, including the upcoming Book of Mormon video library. But having to be herself and recall such a devastating time in her life was a starkly different experience from acting.

The director of the video is a longtime friend of Thompson's, which made talking and sharing her story significantly easier.

"I felt like I could go into the studio, I could cry my head off and it could just be ugly, and I felt safe," Thompson said.

Even though it was raw and difficult to talk about, the video was an intimate, special experience for Thompson, who was given the opportunity to do something not available to everyone: Visit a past version of herself.

"It gave me a chance to take the new Shaunna, that was a year into this grieving process, and go back to the old Shaunna and face her and say, 'Hey, you're going to be okay.' "

It was during the shooting of the B-roll a few months later that Thompson really felt this.

"People don't get to do that, where they go back in time and act out those very, very personal things of collapsing on the floor and crying in my bed - which I still do sometimes," Thomspon said. "To be able to take the wiser and just comfort that raw Shaunna that was in the throws of go back and circle my arms around her and embrace her, 'You're going to survive this,' it was a very surreal experience."

The video focuses on the Thompson's experience of finding peace amid Chase's drug addiction, but there's another side of the story that didn't make it on camera.

Thompson's family was faced with an onslaught of trials within months. Chase's death, a lingering illness and other family issues continued to pile on.

It got to the point where Thompson wasn't sure she could take it anymore. In desperation, she knelt down and pleaded with her Heavenly Father to just "give me a break."

The answer she received was a "wake-up call."

"I specifically remember the answer, and that was 'I'm sorry. I don't give breaks. I don't give breaks, I'm trying to make you into something. If I gave each of my children breaks, so much progress would be lost. I don't have time to give my children breaks, but what I can give you is my peace. Every time you ask for it, that's what I can give you,'" Thompson recalled.

Coping with her grief became a bit easier after that.

A year to the day after Chase's death, the family was able to perform his temple work. It was important to Thompson for it to be on that day so she could replace the ugly memory of his death with a happier one.

Shaunna's son, Chase, and his two children, a few months before his death of a drug overdose in October 2016.
Shaunna's son, Chase, and his two children, a few months before his death of a drug overdose in October 2016. Photo: Courtesy of Shaunna Thompson

"After that day, I could feel momentum pick up with [Chase]," Thompson said. "I could feel that he was working hard on behalf of our family from the other side."

Once the video was finished, Thompson shared it on social media. Although it was daunting, she was also a bit excited because of the message the video shares. She was immediately met with positive responses from both friends and strangers who appreciated her openness or could relate to her experience.

Initially, Thompson didn't want to become "a poster child for trials," but over time came to understand that this was a message that Chase wanted shared and that it "wasn't time to hide."

"I feel like this video was raw, and it was a little hard to watch," Thompson said. "But that's good. Sometimes the raw isn't always addressed, and the ugly, dark side of it isn't always portrayed."

Today, Thompson says, although she'll never be completely the same, she is "dancing."

"I'm dancing with a limp, but I'm dancing."

Thompson hopes the message reaches people who need it, especially at a time when drug use and the opioid crisis is on the rise.

"You don't have to stay here. You don't have to stay in this, there's a way out of it," Thompson shares. "You can laugh again, you can even feel that child with you...God is real, and His comfort is real. He can take this burden and lift it. You just see it. You open your eyes and you can see."

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