While writing Jesse’s obituary, I could have written "died suddenly" and left it at that - ignoring the why’s and how’s like so many obituaries of people who die too young. But instead I wrote, “Jesse Flynn, age 22, died Sunday, May 29, 2016 of a heroin overdose. “I would not call it a sudden death because we watched him suffer for years from the disease of addiction. But, through it all, he was kind, funny and hard working. We were never embarrassed by his addiction. We were nothing less than proud of his fight and in awe of his determination to recover!”
I stand behind my decision and my words. People were going to talk and gossip anyway, and only part of the truth would be revealed but I, Jesse’s mother, wanted to be the one to put the truth out there for all to see. Because of the stigma that is out there today, too many many live in shame, handling their addiction alone and without support. I want to be part of the change. I don't want Jesse's passing to be in vain. I want to help and inspire others to stop the silence, speak the truth and start real conversations about addiction.
I want people to understand that Jesse, like all people with substance use disorder, was so much more than his disease. Jesse was a caring son, brother and cousin fueled by wit, sarcasm and charm! He was also a new father. His baby girl, Charlee, was just 8 months old when he passed and his girlfriend's two-year-old son, Riley, even called him ‘Daddy.’ He loved Charlee and Riley very much and spent most of his free time playing with them and caring for them while his girlfriend went to work and college. When Jesse wasn't with his family, you could find him at the gym, local basketball court or hiking. He was learning to play golf. Jesse worked for the family business. His dad was his biggest fan those months leading up to his death. My husband told me on a daily basis how proud he was of Jesse's work ethic and his determination to one day take over the family business. He had so many wonderful friends, and I have heard many stories from young people in recovery who credit Jesse for their sobriety. He touched so many lives in such a positive way.
Jesse’s best friend was Devin. I thank God every day for bringing her into our lives because she talked Jesse into coming to me for help when he first knew his disease was out of control and did not know where to turn. Even though neither Devin nor I could save him in the end, he, without a doubt, died knowing he was loved tremendously and supported unconditionally by us both. As crazy as it sounds... I think in the end, that's what killed him... I think he knew how proud we were of him and knew we truly believed he was fighting his demons and winning. I think Jesse was too embarrassed to tell us the truth... that he was still struggling. So he pushed Devin away and convinced me that he was doing just fine. I told him almost daily how much I loved him and how proud I was of him. I never really stopped to question him and really listen to how he was feeling and what he was going through. Perhaps I didn't want to know the answers. Denial was my best friend... I truly believed that my love for Jesse was enough... but it wasn't... I thought I could wish it away, but I couldn't... honestly, there were times that I thought I could ignore it away... but I couldn’t... or even pray it away, and God knows I tried.
My son's addiction and, ultimately, his death has forever changed me and my family - every single aspect of our lives. There are so many things I need and want to say, but today my message must be to the loved ones of those struggling and in early recovery.
Please educate yourself. Don't trick yourself into thinking..."not my child." And I am not even talking about the early days when you have no reason to believe your child is doing drugs. I'm talking about when there is absolutely no doubt, and they have asked for help and are taking steps towards recovery. That is the time denial really sets in, or at least it did for me. The first time Jesse asked me for help, I had him IN a rehab the VERY next morning. (Yes, we were lucky we had good insurance and he got right in! Too many are uninsured and are too sick to wait weeks for a bed to open.)
Jesse's first stint in rehab was a 28-day program at Seabrook House, followed by their 90-day extended care program. We were ecstatic and so very hopeful. We got him into a great program! For those few months, I felt like the weight of the world left my heart. Knowing Jesse was safe gave me the false security that my son would also be one of the survivors. He was going to make it. He was going to overcome his addiction! We went to all the family sessions and even joined Nar-Anon for support. I joined several online Facebook support groups, which gave me so much comfort. But I only saw and listened to the stories of those who were successfully in recovery. I completely blocked out all the stories of relapse and ODs... because I thought that “would never happen to my child!”
Jesse left the program a week early. His counselors and our family warned us it was too soon, but we didn't listen. Some told us to try tough love and tell him he couldn't come to our house... leave him with nowhere to go so he’d have no choice but to stay in treatment. But my fear was that if he didn't come to our house, Jesse would go to a friend's house and start using again. I believed our love was enough to save him.
When Jesse came home, he was good for just about two months. This time he wanted to try a week-long detox followed by an IOP program. He worked the program, even added NA meetings, but within a few months Jesse was using again. He wouldn't go into a long-term treatment facility... so it was back to one week of detox then IOP and meetings. We supported him because at least he was trying, and it did seem like each relapse brought Jesse closer and closer to recovery. Each time it happened, he shared more with us about what he was learning about himself so we had hope... so much hope!
But that was short-lived. Not even a month later, on the same night we found out Jesse had relapsed again, he told us his girlfriend was pregnant! We all begged him to go far away and enter long-term treatment, but he wouldn't. He promised to do a 28-day program then IOP and NA meetings. We all truly believed this pregnancy would give Jesse the determination he needed to remain drug-free. He promised to do everything to give his babies the father they needed and deserved.
For almost a year, Jesse worked really hard on his recovery. We were so proud of him. Jesse went to meetings and IOP. There was a slip here and there with drinking and pills, but he looked so good. He was eating healthy and going to the gym. Jesse even sounded so good that we were foolishly able to just look at them as "slips," not "relapses," because he always seemed to pick himself back up. But, of course, he slowly stopped going to meetings and IOP. And we sat back and let him... believing that his job, the gym and his babies were enough to keep him sober.
The day we got the call that he OD’ed... I was in such a state of denial… No! Not my baby... he was in recovery... he was supposed to make it... he was not supposed to die...he was loved too much to die... he was prayed for too much to die... he had so much to live for... and he was too healthy to die... yet, I was there at the hospital when they pronounced him dead, not believing for a single second that it was real. I somehow made it through his funeral not believing for one second this nightmare was real! Three months later, it still does not feel real... I'm sure it never will.
Though I will grieve for a lifetime, I want to turn tragedy into transformation... loss into legacy... my grief is a force to be reckoned with! I promise to honor my son by being part of the change and part of the conversation!
Being Jesse's mom is the best gift I was ever given... even death can't take that away!