To the boy I spent years trying to save but couldn’t & for anyone who has ever lost an addict, I loved you too much for my own good. I spent nights awake staring at my phone with heavy eyes, praying the reason you hadn’t come home or called in days was for any other […]
As I write this, tears are welling up in my eyes. I still can’t believe my son is gone. The months after his death were a fog filled with heartache, guilt and unbearable pain. I will never lay my eyes on my son again, I will never hug him or have my heart filled with joy at the sound of his laugh. The ache in my heart is a physical weight I carry with me every second of every day. Everything I do, everything I am, carries with it the ghost of ‘what should be’- because my world has changed. It is a new world with empty spaces my son Josh used to – and should still – fill with his indescribable glow of energy, joy and life.
A shattered ankle killed my boy. It would take six years, but the stage was set the day my young, handsome, full of life son lost control of his dirt bike. Josh instinctively put his foot down to keep from crashing the bike and shattered his ankle; leaving his foot detached from his leg.
This is Josh’s story. It is also the story of so many other victims of the Opioid/Opiate Epidemic ravaging our country today. I tell his story to honor him and to help raise awareness so others can know the dangers of these medications prescribed for pain. Awareness and education are the keys to prevention.
My first son Joshua was born on June 5, 1983. He was small – only 4lbs 12oz. From the very beginning Josh was a fighter who caught up in no time and grew to be a 6’ 5” strapping young man with a smile that would light up a room.
Josh was always ready to take on the world and had many passions, motorcycles being at the forefront. His dad bought him his first quad when he was 3 and he was hooked! He later went on to race dirt bikes, and even built his own Harley.
Josh was very mechanically inclined and went to a technical high school where he studied HVAC. After graduation, he decided to join the Air Force… we were all so proud! When Josh returned home from the service, he became an HVAC mechanic and continued his hobby of buying and restoring motorcycles. Being a mother of 4 boys, someone was always getting hurt Josh definitely had his share.
In May of 2009 when Josh was 25, my son Zach called to tell me his brother had crashed his dirt bike. I later learned that the neighbors came out and put a pillow under his head in the middle of the street until the ambulance arrived. I will always be grateful for their quick response and the kindness they showed my son on this horrible day.
Josh would go on to have multiple surgeries. A piece of his hip was grafted into his ankle, which was also pinned and screwed. He had to deal with a case of MRSA, an infection caused by a type of staph bacteria that is resistant to many of the antibiotics used to treat ordinary staph infections. MRSA is difficult to treat and extremely painful. Eventually the ankle was surgically fixed in place. He dealt with incredible pain daily and was told by his doctors the only real way to deal with the pain would be to amputate.
Eventually, his doctors took him off all pain medications – but it was too late. Josh was addicted. He went to the streets to find medication for his pain. When the pain pills became difficult to afford, he ended up on heroin.
My husband, Josh’s step-dad, told me that one of the last times he and Josh had a heart-to-heart, Josh told him how very sad he was. He wanted to get and stay clean, but it was too difficult. He felt ashamed, depressed and hopeless.
Josh started seeing a counselor and we all thought he was on the right track.
The night before Josh died, he had complained to his dad of a terrible case of heartburn that wasn’t getting better. Josh’s bedroom was in the basement of his father’s house and the next morning, knowing that Josh didn’t feel well, his dad wasn’t concerned when he slept late. It was close to noon and his father starting calling downstairs for Josh to wake up. He called several times, but there was no answer. His father finally went downstairs to find Josh kneeling with his face on the bed, as if he was praying. His dad said, “what the heck are you doing”, but again no answer. He lifted his head and Josh was blue, he was gone. There was a pack of cigarettes on the floor next to him, and a syringe.
I received a phone call early afternoon from Josh’s Grandmother. I was downstairs in my office working and my husband called down to say the phone was for me. When I finally understood what she was telling me, my legs gave way and I fell to my knees and screamed, “Oh my God, Oh my Josh!!!” My son was dead. My head was swirling. This couldn’t be real. I couldn’t breathe. How? Why? It must be a mistake! I just wanted to see Josh and hold him- but I couldn’t – because it was real, and I would never see my beautiful boy’s face again. The next few days were a blur filled with agony and disbelief. All I could do was cry and ask ‘why?’.
The funeral was planned and my job was to do the memory boards for the wake. It was very difficult for me to look through 31 years of pictures. So many images of my blond, curly headed baby – Josh smiling proudly in his Boy Scout uniform, playing baseball, riding his motorcycles and turning into the handsome man he had become in his Air Force uniform. Today, almost two years later, I am unable to take those memory boards out of the bag I placed them in to bring home after his funeral.
Josh was cremated and his ashes were put into a marble box. A picture of him in his Air Force uniform was placed next to the box. The priest came, several people stood and talked about Josh, we laughed, and we cried. Then it was time to move to the cemetery for a military burial.
As they played taps, my body trembled and I couldn’t stop crying. I was surrounded by my three sons, my husband, my sister and other family members. After everything was said and it was time to leave I went to the marble box with my son’s ashes and said goodbye, told him that I loved him and kissed the top of the box. No mother should have to kiss cold marble and walk away, leaving her 31-year-old son at the cemetery because he broke his ankle.
These senseless deaths have risen at an alarming rate over the past few years. In 2015 (the last numbers released) there were 52,404 deaths due to drug overdose in the US – averaging out to 144 deaths per day. (Addiction Policy – Understanding the Numbers)
It took almost a year to get the autopsy results as they are backlogged with the overwhelming amount of deaths due to drugs. The cause of death was a heroin/fentanyl overdose.
In honor of my son, I have started the Joshua’s Tree Memorial Fund. I am a producer of a local TV show and have been nominated for two New England Emmy’s. Joshua’s Tree is a memorial fund to raise money to help in my dream of making a documentary on drug addiction and how it touches everyone. I believe that prevention is the key and my hope is to have it shown in classrooms at an early age to educate, raise awareness and help in the prevention of addiction.
Please visit my website: The Wish Store where I am selling the Joshua’s Tree necklace. It is a beautiful tree pendant to help raise funds. I chose the symbol of the tree with its branches reaching out with comfort and healing and its roots standing firm as a message of hope and strength.
I hope that whoever buys the pendant will wear it with pride, knowing that they are a part of the fight against this horrible epidemic.
My wish is that no one will have to bury a child due to a heroin overdose.
Please share Josh’s story. If this helps just one person then my wish has come true.
I love you Josh!
Helen Ryba has been in the graphic design field for more than 30 years owning the award-winning Design Agency, Spark Design, as well as the producer of the Emmy-nominated “The Chef’s Plate” TV Show. She recently started two subscription box services, Spiced UP and The Wish Store. Through The Wish Store, Helen has set up the Joshua’s Tree Memorial Fund in honor of her late son Joshua Romanski. You can follow her on Facebook at Joshua’s Tree.
Our friend Kali, author of Being a heroin addict…..my brutal truth, has started her own blog!
Now, keep in mind, I wrote that article with only a couple months clean and only 2 weeks after Dominic had passed. At the time, I really thought I was on top of my shit. I ignorantly believed I had a one up on my addiction. I had just gotten out of rehab for the third time and moved to Chicago. I was staying in a sober living house, going to at least two NA meetings a day and was working the steps with a sponsor. My boyfriends death hadn’t even registered with me at this point. I was just fine, right?
For maybe a month after the article was posted, I did good. I was on a high from all the attention and was still chillin on that cute little pink cloud you float on for the first couple months of sobriety. Life was beautiful… until it wasn’t, until the cravings hit, until I realized my…
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I started experimenting with opiates when I was a teenager and as I grew to rely on the emotional relief I got from them I formed a bond with this chemical. Before long it was costing me too much money so I switched to heroin. After almost five year into this downward cycle I was desperate to get off. I even tried to use suboxone and booze to stay away from the heroin but I was relapsing once a week. I didn’t have the mental capacity to reach out for help as I would today. I didn’t really know what I needed to know so I was ready to kill myself. I was victimizing myself plus I had a lot of self pity which put me into a sick place Over years of use I had developed a better relationship with heroin than I had with myself. Without heroin I…
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Anyone who is stupid enough to put a needle in their vein deserves what they get is a sentiment we are reading/hearing all too often lately. Many people think addiction is not their problem if it hasn’t touched their families or loved ones. Whether you realize it or not, we are all caught in the ripple of this epidemic – so it is your problem.
A few examples:
- Obviously it is touching the lives of anyone who has a loved one with Substance Use Disorder. This equates to time lost at work, or certainly distracted employees. If the person is in active addiction and is employed, you can bet they are not working to capacity.
- Our court system is jammed with people suffering SUD. The dollars cost on policing, jailing, probation oversight, court costs…………the list could go on…. is enourmous.
- Child Protective Services cannot keep up with the amount of children in the system due to this epidemic. These children are growing up in chaos.
- Police, firefighters, paramedics, and hospitals are all overwhelmed with overdoses and other health issues related to constant drug use.
- Unscrupulous treatment facilities are falsifying claims and overcharging insurance companies ($1500 for a urine test?!?!?) which are paying out for the wrong kind of treatment while those in accredited hospital facilities where the billing is true and accurate cannot get coverage. All of our insurance rates increase.
Our tax dollars are spent putting out the fires caused by this epidemic. We need to put our dollars to use with a multi-pronged and organized response. The ground work has been laid by many who fought for CARA to be passed. Continue reading “If you think the Opioid/Opiate Epidemic hasn’t affected you, think again.”
Dear active drug user,
I know you believe it’s your life and you’re only hurting yourself. You’re wrong. I know you believe you’re indestructible, that what you’ve witnessed happen to so many of your friends won’t happen to you. You’re wrong again. Sooner or later it will.
Here’s what will happen after you die.
First, someone will find your body. Maybe you’ll die at home and your Mom will find you and start screaming. Maybe you’ll die in your bedroom; maybe in the basement that your Dad rebuilt so you and your friends would have a place to chill. 911 will be called and first responders will come. Paramedics will cut off your shirt, put the paddles on your chest and try to shock your ass back to life, but it won’t work and one of them will turn to your Mom or Dad and say, “I’m sorry, he’s gone.”
Your family will be ushered outside, the police will string up that yellow “crime scene” tape and start their investigation. Your cell phone will be confiscated and your parents will probably never see it again. Hours later, while neighbors start gathering on the front lawn, they’ll put your body in a bag, put the bag on a stretcher and wheel it out to a coroner’s van and take you to the morgue. Maybe they’ll cut you open, take out all your organs, weigh and measure them and them stuff them back inside you and sew you up. More likely, they’ll just draw some blood and urine to do a toxicology screen.
Hopefully, you won’t die in your car. If you do, I hope you’re not driving at the time. I hope the last thing you do on this earth isn’t crashing into and killing someone else, maybe more than one person. I pray that’s not your legacy. If you don’t die at home, your parents will get a visit from the local cops and a ride down to the coroner’s office so they can identify your body.
That first week after you die will be a busy time for your parents. They will need to figure out who in what was your life needs to be notified; the rest of the family, your friends – that will be difficult because the cops have your cell phone so all they’ll be able to do is tell one or two of your closest friends; most of the rest will hear about it pretty quickly, but some won’t learn for weeks — your employer, your school. Lots of tearful phone calls will be made.
Your parents will have to pick a funeral home, arrange for your body to be shipped from the coroner’s office to the funeral home, pick out a casket, find a cemetery, one close by, so your Mom can visit you every day; pick out a nice four by eight foot plot, maybe beside a tree, and buy the only piece of real estate you will ever own. Your Mom will have to pick out the suit you’ll be buried in and deliver it to the funeral home. Your parents will need to decide what your obituary should say; should they acknowledge that you lost your battle with addiction or simply say that you died quietly at home.
Your Mom will go through all of this in a fog because she will be out of her mind with grief. Maybe she’ll carry one of your unwashed shirts around with her for the entire week, holding it to her face so she can smell you. Maybe she’ll sleep in your bed with your shirt and a framed photograph. And she won’t stop crying. Everywhere she turns something else will remind her of you. The leftovers from the last food you bought; the stale remnants of the last soda you ever drank.
One of the women in the neighborhood will organize folks to deliver casseroles and other food to your parents and neighbors will stop by once or twice a day for a week or so bringing food. Preparations will need to be made for your funeral. The church or hall will have to be decorated. Your Mom will want lots of pictures of you and each one she picks out will cause her to cry again. Eulogies will be written and delivered, maybe by your father, maybe by your little brother, maybe both. Your family will stand in a receiving line and will have to hear, “Sorry for your loss” and say, “Thank you for coming.”
After the service, your coffin will be carried outside to a hearse; maybe your little brother will be one of the pallbearers. The hearse will lead a procession of cars, all with their lights on, to the cemetery where there will be more tears, and a prayer will be said before your casket is lowered into the ground. Not everyone will have gone to the cemetery. Someone will volunteer to go to your parent’s house directly after the funeral to set out the food your neighbors have brought for the mourners who will come over after the funeral.
In the weeks after your funeral there will still be more matters to attend to. Your parents will have to wait for the toxicology report to be sent to the coroner’s office so that final death certificate can be prepared. Your parents will need lots of copies so they can notify your creditors, close your bank account, cancel your auto insurance, maybe notify your parole officer.
In the months and years that follow, things won’t get any better. Every holiday will be a time of sadness instead of joy, because it will remind your parents that you’re gone. And now they have another anniversary to make them sad, the anniversary of your death.
I can tell you for a fact that your Mom will never be the same. Some things she used to do joyfully she will no longer be able to do because they are too painful. Remember how she used to like to surprise you with special treats she bought at the food store? Well now she can’t go food shopping because everywhere she turns in the store she sees something she remembers you liked to eat. Those gardens she was so proud of in the front lawn. They’re forgotten now. The only garden she cares about is the tiny one around your grave that she tends almost every day.
So don’t think, and don’t say, that it’s your life and you’re only hurting yourself because that is simple not true. Your actions have consequences and they can be irreversible for you and can destroy the lives of people who love and care about you. Please, please, please, get clean, if not for yourself, then do it for them.
Cris Fiore lives in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. He and his wife Valerie are working tirelessly to help save other people’s children in the name of their beloved son Anthony. The Fiores ask that you PLEASE sign and share the petition for Anthony’s Act , a request that the Affordable Care Act be amended to provide for a minimum of Ninety (90) days inpatient drug or alcohol treatment up to a maximum of One Hundred Eighty (180) days per year at a facility certified to provide such care by the Secretary of Health of the state in which it is located.
Please click on this link to sign the petition: http://petitions.moveon.org/sign/anthonys-act
Editor’s note: This is the second installment of The Winding Path to Heroin. The first installment can be found at this link: The Winding Path to Heroin: Part I
The recent viral shares on social media with videos and photos of people overdosing have fueled an onslaught of judgment and ugliness. The comments accompanying these posts speak to the herculean task we still face trying to educate people about this epidemic. Many post threads devolve into name calling and arguments of about disease vs choice. I have read recently many posts, some by those in recovery, that we need to stop making those with Substance Use Disorder victims. They have accountability in all of this, and we need to take away the ‘excuse’ that this is a disease as it allows them to remain victims. Yes, we are all accountable for our actions. SUD is not an ‘excuse’, it is a fact. It explains why some people can drink socially and can ‘dabble’ with substances and others become addicted. Beware with the opioids, however, because even those who never had a problem can become physically dependent on these powerful chemicals. As the medical community is taking steps to limit how they use these meds, I hope they begin to put into practice a concrete weaning schedule for those who have been taking opioids regularly for even a few weeks after a surgery. This is the practice with so many other medications, why not opioids? Continue reading “The Winding Path to Heroin Part II: Emily”