Upcoming Events -- email for sign-in links

UPCOMING EVENTS



Jan. 6th (today!): a livestream of the Center for New Americans 30 Days of Poetry! public reading will be aired as the final segment on the program Connecting Point here: https://connectingpoint.nepm.org/ -- after which you can watch the segments, which will be posted separately. If you are looking just for me, I am the second to last poet == but the whole program was great, so I hope you'll enjoy all of it.

Jan. 10th at 1 p.m.: Podcast interview for Beyond Risk and Back, a parenting podcast that can be found here: https://www.mentalhealthnewsradionetwork.com/our-shows/beyond-risk-and-back/

Jan. 19th at 7 p.m.: Straw Dog Writers Conference Author Showcase no longer hybrid, now available only via Zoom. You can read about it and register here: https://www.strawdogwriters.org/post/8th-annual-straw-dog-writers-author-showcase

Tuesday, January 11, 2022

A medium helped me talk to Kyle -- maybe

I’ve recently joined a spiritual support group for grieving parents, Helping Parents Heal, that is
dedicated to convincing its members that our children are with us in spirit. Unlike my other bereaved-parent groups, which are careful not to proselytize or push individual beliefs, HPH is unapologetic about proselytizing. The leaders of the group want parents to believe in the afterlife; they attempt to reassure us in our grief by telling us that our children's spirits are always around us. The group leaders encourage us to look for signs, and they often recount the signs they themselves have seen from their own deceased children.

I vacillate between wanting to believe every penny and feather we find is evidence our children exist in spirit to sadly thinking we’re all deluding ourselves. 

Last week HPH had a special online meeting with a medium, and while other of their online meetings have drawn maybe a dozen parents, this Zoom had 175 people in attendance. Seeing the number of attendees made me cry, just to see how many parents were desperate for a word from their dead child--and to realize most of us would not be called upon. 

I’ve been to other group gatherings with a medium, one at my local library where the guy seemed like a charlatan, and the other at a Theresa Caputo show to which my mother took me; an experience you can read about here. I did not get called on directly in either case. A friend and I who both lost our sons to drug overdoses have talked about hiring a medium to give us a reading, but we have both been too afraid of being disappointed. Still, as I was getting ready to attend this Zoom meeting, I silently begged Kyle to please come through for me. 

(I talk to my son sometimes because it’s easier to show faith than not when one is not sure what one believes. Maybe he can hear me; maybe not. No one is hurt by me having a conversation with my late son, even if I am only imagining what he'd say back.)  

The medium, Becky Hesseltine, was a very sweet young woman; she led us through some deep breathing and then stilled herself and tried to open to a connection with whatever spirit was pushing to come through. Other mediums I have seen, including Caputo, start by shouting out a clue – (e.g., “I’m seeing an older woman whose name starts with an M,” and then they wait for someone in the audience to shout out, “Yes, my mother’s name was Mary.”) But Becky didn’t do that; she called on people individually and told us our loved ones were there, and then she tried to share the spirits’ messages with that loved one. She seemed incredibly genuine. And, touchingly, a little bit nervous. I can only imagine the pressure one feels facing a group of 175 grieving parents, worrying you’ll disappoint them. 

Becky asked each person she called on to confirm that she was on the right track by saying something like “Yes” or “I understand.” So as she was saying things, her listener was saying, “Yes, I understand that, yes, that makes sense,” adding to the authenticity of the whole event. For the first woman, she said, “I see your mother.” The woman immediately had tears in her eyes and nodded vigorously that she understood. “Your mother is with your son,” Becky told her. It turned out the woman’s mother had died four months earlier and she’d wanted to know if they were together. She was hugely relieved to learn they were. The second woman, who had lost her daughter, was skeptical enough that she didn’t say yes or I understand to many things, even when they were really close. “Are you wearing your daughter’s earrings?” Becky asked the woman. “No.” She said. But it turned out she was wearing her daughter’s rings, which seems pretty close.

Becky only got to call on three of the 175 of us, and to my enormous surprise and relief, mine was the third and final name called. I was in tears of disbelief as soon as I heard my name. Becky started by telling me that a female, a mother figure was there to talk to me, and I responded by shaking my head no. My mother is alive; she must have the wrong person. My heart sank. But then Becky said “Well let’s make sure this person is here for you, ok? This woman died from a cancer in her lower abdomen.”  “Oh!” I said, "Oh, yes, my grandmother died of pancreatic cancer." So Becky said, “OK then, she is here for you.” I was in a kind of shock, as I’d never dreamed I would be hearing from my grandmother, who died in 1995. 

If you would like to watch a video of the entire reading, it's here. (If you want to skip ahead to my portion, it starts at minute 33.) My daughter Jamie has watched it and is convinced it shows Kyle speaking to me. "That's it, Mom, proof! We know now Kyle exists in spirit. If anyone doubts it, we have it on tape." I wish I felt that certainty.

Becky went on to tell me many things that affirmed she was really talking to my grandmother: “Your grandmother was tough,” Becky said. “She had to really be tough.” This was certainly true, as she’d been dropped off at an orphanage when she was five by a family that couldn’t feed her. “She had to do a lot of things alone from an early age.” Yes, she was widowed young and had to raise my mother by
herself. 

“She really wants you to know she’s `sharp as a tack’ and `can hear everything,’ This was literally something my grandmother used to tell me and my mother all the time. The phrase “sharp as a tack” was too on the nose not to be clear evidence of my grandmother. 


“She shares your pain, she understands you, Becky said. “She has your son there with you and she wants you to know she understands your suffering.”

“Yes,” I answered, weeping. “She lost a son, too.”  (This picture from my first wedding is a picture of my grandmother and her son, my Uncle Steve.)

“Yes,” Becky affirmed. “That’s why she understands. She’s always watching out for you.”

 Really? This was surprising. I must admit I had never given a thought to whether my grandmother existed in spirit and was watching over me. But perhaps that’s why she was pushing to the front of the line the first time a medium communicated with me. Maybe I've been ignoring her as she tried to talk to me for the past 25 years.

Starting with the specificity of saying my grandmother died of a cancer in her abdomen (how could she know that?), Becky’s reading of my grandmother was just dead on. “She played a lot of roles in your life,” Becky said (Yes, she was like a second mother to me; my mom and I lived with her off and on throughout my childhood; she cared for me whenever I was sick). 

Finally, Becky said she was turning her attention to the person she knew I wanted to see, my son, though then interrupted herself to say, “My goodness, your grandmother is powerful.” She said my grandmother was very fierce and demanding and she was having trouble stopping her and tuning in to hear my son, but finally she did.

Sadly, this is where the reading veered off from utterly amazing to more like other readings I’ve seen, filled with what sometimes seemed like guesses, some of which fit and some of which didn’t. Becky started by saying she gathered that my son had died suddenly. Yes. And she eventually asked if it was from substances, from an injection, and I said yes, he'd died of an overdose. 

But before that she asked if my son had a disability, something wrong on his right side, like maybe paralysis on his right side, and I said no, nothing like that, though we don't know what might have happened as he died (nor, as Renee wondered, which arm he shot up when he overdosed). Anyway, we let that go, because we didn't know what it meant.

Becky said Kyle had a giant heart , an immense heart, and that he loved his family, and that he loved our family dinners and always had fun at them. He said we had a lot of fun together as a family, that even when we no longer lived together he loved coming home for family dinners. (Which I agreed was true.)

She then said he was saying something about public speaking and she asked me if he had trouble with


public speaking and I laughed and said no, he was a stand-up comedian (see one of his adolescent performances, above), and she said something like, “Oh I have to remember whenever someone tells me something and I think they mean a negative, I have it backward. So he was actually the opposite, extra comfortable with public speaking!” And while this was true, it felt like a reach to go for the “Oh I meant the opposite” answer. Also, perhaps Kyle did have trouble with public speaking; he was quite nervous before every show and had to push himself hard to perform and hadn’t performed in years when he died, so maybe he was trying to say something about that and I missed it altogether. But I didn’t like not feeling an immediate aha over everything Becky said. Why must everything my son says be vague and coded. (Well, ok, because he’s dead, I get it, but I wanted to feel we were having a magical experience, and I didn’t.)

Becky said my son kept parts of himself very private and didn't share them, and I agreed this was true. She said he wanted me to know that he always felt fully accepted by me, that he knew I accepted all the parts of him, even the secret ones that he didn't like to share. Also true. (You can read more about Kyle's secrets here.)


She said Kyle is helping a lot of people. Renee (who was with me during the reading) wasn't sure if Becky meant Kyle was helping people down here on earth or off wherever he is. His big heart makes him want to look after people, Becky told me, and she seemed to suggest that unlike my grandmother, my son wasn’t always watching over me, that he was busy watching over a lot of people. Although she didn’t mention my daughter by name, I felt that was who she meant, but this is entirely my own conjecture. 

There were other things that weren't right on the nose with what she said about Kyle. For example, she asked if I found his body or if he was home when he died, but I said no, I saw him in his coffin but didn't find his body and he wasn't home when he died. Becky seemed confused and said well, he's home now, he keeps talking about home and says he’s definitely home with you. Only afterward did I realize: of course he is home with me now; his ashes are buried in my backyard under an apple tree we planted in his honor, the remainder are reserved in a bag in my bedroom closet in case his daughter ever wants them. So yes, in a literal sense, he is home with me now and forever.

Becky’s main message was of the love he feels for all of us, how big his heart is, how he wishes he could have been more open with us while he was alive. Becky seemed very genuine. She didn't act like a big fancy mystic; she just seemed natural and down to earth. She called specifically on three of us and gave us each a specific reading about our own people. She stated a lot of facts about all of these people that could not have been guessed or looked up.

I had wondered in the past if mediumship could be explained by ESP. Maybe there are no spirits, but mediums can use psychic abilities to pick out of our heads what we want to hear and say it back to us. But this experience with Becky confirmed for me that mediums do exist who can pick up on some kind of communication from the spirit world, as I had no thoughts of my grandmother that Becky could have picked out of my head; my grandmother's arrival was a complete surprise to me. Still, despite this confirmation, I was left feeling almost as empty and disappointed as before I had the reading, which makes me feel very ungrateful. But I didn't want vague ideas that could apply to many young men. I wanted my son to appear before me in a blazing ring of fire. I want to be able to hug his muscled shoulders. I want to feel his arms around me. Or at the very least I want a message no one but him could give me. 

Also, I would not have pictured my son and my grandmother together in the afterlife. They seem so unconnected from one another, as my grandmother barely knew my son; she already had dementia by the time she lived near him when he was a little boy, and his main memory of her was being dragged to the nursing home to see her several times a week, not a fun time for any toddler. This raises questions for me about what brings spirits together out there. Is it just blood connections? (And if so, what does that mean about adopted families?)  Why are they hanging out? Why hasn’t my grandmother been reincarnated already? (Or maybe she has and her spirit can divide and speak to me while it’s living in another body here on earth. I’ve been doing a lot of reading about reincarnation, and that seems to be a theory.) But again, I am left with more questions than answers. 

So despite all this, or maybe because of it, I got my mother to sign us up to take a course together that Becky is offering, “Revealing your Intuition and Spirit Connection.” It starts tonight at 8 p.m. Eastern time and runs for 10 weeks. I’m telling myself this is partly because I think learning about spirituality and meditation will be good for my mother, who has no belief in the afterlife and a fear of death and has never meditated. But really, probably I am just hoping for another chance at a conversation with Kyle.  

Tuesday, November 30, 2021

How to Buy My Book

This post is for everyone who wants to buy a copy of my book and isn't sure how to do it. First of all,
thank you so much! Buying my book is easy:

* You can buy it directly from me by emailing me your address and paying me $20 via Paypal. I will pay the postage and get it mailed out to you the next day. My email address is lanettesweeney@gmail.com, which is also all the information you need to pay me via Paypal. (I can't use Venmo, as they don't work with my credit union.)  

* My book is in stock at most local bookstores: Broadside Books in Northampton, Booklinks in Thornes, Amherst Books in Amherst, and the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley. If you aren't near any of those, you can go to any bookstore and ask them to order it for you, which they will happily do. Even better, you can ask them to carry the book on their shelves!

* You can order my book from Bookshop.org, an online bookselling site that supports local bookstores (unlike Amazon, which is killing all small businesses). You can order it here

* You can order my book from Barnes & Noble here.

* You can order my book from Goodreads via a variety of online stores here. While you're there, you can read some of the lovely reviews readers have written.

* You can order my book from the publisher, Finishing Line Press, here.

* You can pick up my book via the CWMars library system (cwmars.org). The book is owned by Jones Library in Amherst, South Hadley Public Library, Forbes Library in Northampton, and Lilly Library in Florence. You can put the book on hold here

* You can pick up my book via the Mid Hudson Library system. The book is owned by the Highland Public Library, whose website you can access here

* You can ask your local library to carry the book, which I would greatly appreciate, so that more people can find it.

* And, if you really must, you can order my book from Amazon here. You can also find some great reviews of my book there.

If you know anyone who lost a child, I hope you'll consider buying an extra copy for them. And if you're on the fence about buying it, here are a couple of recent reader reviews:

I found this collection quite uplifting not in spite of but because of its theme. Sweeny is a powerful poet with strong command of her craft. Her late son, whose work is interspersed, was rapidly maturing into a poet and rap artist of substance as well (she includes work from his very early years through his final months).
Kyle's death hit his mom hard. We feel her being knocked down, acknowledging her mix of helplessness, regret, and deep grief. We feel her rage at her son for going down that road. But she learns to claw her way back, to open herself to love, to make her mark as a parent, a writer, a person who has met unimaginable trauma and survived. I liked this book so much that when a neighbor's child died of an overdose just days after I finished reading it, I offered to lend the book.
  (From Shelhorowitzgreenmkt on Goodreads)

and

What I Should Have Said is cataclysmically beautiful. I made it my morning Lectio Divina, reading and re-reading a few poems at a time and sitting with them. The author’s poems and her late son’s are breathtaking in their honesty and brilliance. Most of all, I am moved by how Lanette Sweeney put the poems together, so that they speak to each other and to us through and beyond time. These poems are for anyone who has known love and grief, anyone who is human. (From Elizabeth Cunningham on Amazon)

Thursday, October 21, 2021

Time to Talk about Suicide, especially with our children

As a member of several, online, grieving-parent support groups, I hear every day about children dying in every possible way: by car accident, by cancer, by falls, by electrocution, by drowning, by sudden heart attack (at age 18!) or by other unexpected tragedies, such as by overdose like my own son, or by suicide.

Although we all grieve our children, the parents of suicides seem the saddest. While all parents feel (mostly irrational) guilt over their children's deaths, none feel as wracked by shame and horror as the parents of children who take their own lives.

During the height of the covid lockdowns, a newly bereaved mother in a Compassionate Friends group shared that her 11-year-old son, whom I'll call Ryan, a beautiful boy whose smiling photo she posted, had killed himself without warning. His mother says he was a healthy, happy child who never showed any signs of depression but just became overwhelmed by not being allowed outside nor ever getting to see his friends. The tragedy of this haunted me deep in my bones. Knowing that youth suicide is a growing epidemic is even more haunting.Above right is a photo of some children who killed themselves in the past few weeks; is there anything sadder than kids this young ending their lives?

This is the shadow pandemic, the wave of suicides and overdoses coming in the wake of what this pandemic is doing to our world. In 2020, The Washington Post predicted there would be up to 20,000 additional suicides over the next year as a result of the mental-health pandemic that is following in the wake of the corona virus. And youth suicides had already been skyrocketing over the previous decade, as had overdoses. I know for sure that overdoses exploded in the first months of the pandemic, rising to more than 93,000 dead for the year, a national record. Here's what youth suicide looked like before the pandemic hit: 

Following the pandemic, 56% more girls were hospitalized for suicide attempts than in the previous year, and suicide became the number one cause of death for children ages 13 to 15.
Sadly, for children Ryan's age, suicide is often done on impulse, without the child showing any prior signs of depression. Suicide was previously the third leading cause of death among children between the ages of 10 and 14 (and the second leading cause of death for young people between 10 and 24). While females think of suicide more often, males are four times more likely to kill themselves than females, putting boys, who are societally discouraged from talking about their feelings, at particular risk. And while older teens often suffer diagnosed mental health disorders such as depression and anxiety, and exhibit warning signs before attempting suicide, younger children often commit suicide with no forethought and little warning.

When I was 15, I attempted suicide. Like most people who truly mean to die, I gave no indication I was depressed. I acted cheerful all day–and then before bed swallowed a bottle of my grandmother's Valium. I remember with crystal clarity the bone-deep, exhausted-with-life feeling I had as I stood in the bathroom swallowing all those little yellow pills. I'd had many stepfathers, several of them abusive, from whom my mother felt unable to protect me, and at that time it seemed to me that life was and always would be nothing but pain–or at least that the pleasurable parts couldn't possibly outweigh the pain of slogging on. Unbeknownst to me, I was also about to get my period, a regular event that caused debilitating depression to descend on me for three days every month for the next 35 years (until I mercifully went into sudden menopause upon the death of my son).

Six hours after I had taken the overdose, against all medical odds, I stood up from my bed (in an unconscious state) and walked to my uncle's bed and told him what I had done and then passed back out. So clearly there was some part of me that still wanted to live, but after the doctors made me drink cup after cup of charcoal, they told my mother I needed to be hospitalized.

I spent that summer in a mental hospital, the kind of cushy place that used to be covered for months at a time by insurance; it had a spacious, bright adolescent wing and all kinds of therapies. My doctor there was an idiot who told me PMS was a myth and I needed to stop imagining it--but the other kids there, most of them, were just normal adolescents from screwed up families struggling to figure out a way forward. And most of the aides and nurses there were wise and wonderful and talked to us about how we would be able to get away from our parents and make our own lives one day soon, that we just needed to hang in there. We all listened to Pink Floyd's Dark Side of the Moon album repeatedly, feeling it had something profound to say about how adulthood often trapped people in empty, meaningless lives. Most of us, the ones who weren’t suffering from some organic mental illness like schizophrenia, gained strength there to try to live some other, fuller way when we got out. 

To the left is a photo of me with my mom a couple of years before my hospitalization, which  none of us could have seen coming. I'd always seemed like such a happy kid, able to roll and adapt to anything. Until I just wasn't anymore. 
I continued to struggle with pretty awful depression until I reached adulthood, and I sadly suffered serious depressive episodes as an adult, too–but once I had children, the option of committing suicide was simply off the table for me. My father had killed himself when I was an infant, something I hadn't discovered until I was 12 (and learning he had done that likely contributed to my choosing to follow in his footsteps when I was 15, as copycatting is a real, heartbreaking phenomenon with suicide. Both my father’s brothers followed his examples and died by suicide, as well). I knew that no matter how I suffered, I would never leave my own children with that legacy. So even in the worst throes of misery, I have just had to tell myself life will end soon enough for all of us and that in the meantime, I am stuck here with no choice but to grind on. I am seasoned enough by now to know that feeling that miserable is temporary and means I am particularly unwell and in need of help. 

Since I know I will never do anything to make my occasional death wish come true, I instead force myself to work hard at self-care, therapy, medications, daily yoga, exercise, spending time in nature, making time for art and pleasure, meditating, listening to my own needs, etc., because if I have to be stuck living here, I may as well feel and spread as much joy as possible. I am very grateful for the medications–and the lack of premenstrual hormones–that keep me on a more even keel now. And most days, even more mercifully, do not feel like a slog, they feel like the gift they are.    

How terrible that young Ryan didn't get to live long enough to have perspective, get help or make any of these realizations. How awful that suicide rates have risen 30 percent over the past two decades, along with overdose rates rising more than 137 percent from 2000 to 2015. This massive increase in young people dying “deaths of despair” by their own hand, whether by suicide, alcohol, or “accidental” overdose, as in the case of my son, are the canaries in the coal mine of our society telling us something is deeply wrong with how we are living. I was hoping, like many of you, that the pandemic might serve as a wake-up call and help us pay better attention to our feelings, allowing us to find new ways of living. The jury is still out on whether we've done this or still might. 

In the meantime, I hope reading this gives all of you who still have kids at home permission to have an open conversation about suicide with them, to let them know that imagining our own deaths is normal. It may feel scary to admit this to your children, but it's better for them to know everyone has those dark thoughts than to think their own feelings are proof there is something terribly wrong with them. My therapists have assured me that nearly all of us do imagine our own deaths, sometimes longingly. As young people, especially when we feel angry and disempowered, we may enjoy imagining the grief we could spitefully cause our loved ones, how sorry we could make them if they had to attend our funerals. But fantasies like these are not the same as making plans to take our lives; planning one’s own death is not normal–and is, in fact, a clear sign that an illness has taken over our thinking and that we need help outside ourselves. If the voice in your head is advising you to take your own life, please recognize that voice is not your friend and must be reported.

I hope you let all your loved ones know that hopelessness is a lie their illness is telling them. No matter how terrible they feel today, there are many things that can help them feel better, and I hope you tell them explicitly that you will help them try all those things one by one until they figure out what works to restore their will to live. My son ruined the chemistry of his brain with drugs that made him think he could never feel better without being on drugs, but that was a lie his sickness was telling him. He might have needed a bridge to wellness with recovery medication but eventually he could have learned to find happiness in the thousand small moments we've had to enjoy without him, wistfully imagining how he might have enjoyed something if he were still here. 

I pray none of you ever endure a tragedy like the mother of 11-year-old Ryan--nor ever leave your own families to endure the self-inflicted loss of you. And I hope you'll all join me in breaking the stigma around suicide and talking to the people you love before it's too late, because truly, we never know what secret, shameful thoughts people who seem fine might be having. Show the people you love that suicide is something loving families can talk about and that suicidal feelings are something all of us can survive. 


Thursday, September 23, 2021

My Press Kit

 

BIO

Lanette Sweeney's debut collection, What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir About Losing A Child to Addiction, was published by Finishing Line Press in August, 2021. Sweeney is grateful the book is allowing her to share two messages: first, medication-assisted treatment saves addicts’ lives and should not be stigmatized, and second, a life rich with joy and meaning is (eventually) possible after even the most devastating loss. 

Sweeney’s essays, articles, short stories and poems have appeared in daily newspapers, print and online literary magazines (including Rattle, Amethyst Review, Gyroscope, Tigershark, Blue Collar Review, Please See Me, Foliate Oak Review, and Misfit Magazine), as well as in anthologies (including Prima Materia, Silkworm, and the Center for New Americans annual review), and in textbooks, including several editions of the  popular college-level women’s studies textbook Women: Images and Reality published by McGraw Hill. Her essays, blog posts and book reviews can be seen on her website, https://www.lanettesweeney.com 

After working as a fundraiser, teacher, waitress, reporter, editor, and non-profit executive, Sweeney is grateful to now be a full-time writer thanks to her wife's support. She and her wife and their small-pet army (which consists of a dog, cat, kitten, and puppy) live in South Hadley, MA, in the house where their wedding was held 16 days before Sweeney's son overdosed. Sweeney has one surviving child, a daughter, 29, who is a teacher. 

ABOUT THE BOOK

What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir about Losing a Child to Addiction recounts a mother's grief, guilt, sorrow, and search for meaning after her 26-year-old son's death by overdose. The book is divided into the stages of grief, with sections on denial and depression, anger, bargaining and, eventually, acceptance. Sweeney's son's poems appear throughout the collection, often in seeming conversation with his grieving mother's words. The author hopes the book demonstrates that even the most devastating grief can result in post-traumatic growth and that medication-assisted treatment saves lives and should not be stigmatized.  

Both poets and laypeople have given the book excellent reviews, calling the poems "beautifully crafted" and "poignant." Multiple reviewers noted that once they started the book, they couldn't put it down. The president of Bereaved Parents of the USA said "every grieving parent will relate" to the book and noted it helped her process her own grief about her son's death. The book can be ordered from local bookstores, Amazon, Bookshop.org or Goodreads.com. 


PRESS RELEASE

FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE:
OCTOBER 10, 2021
CONTACT: Lanette Sweeney, (845) 527-6616,
lanettesweeney@gmail.com

VIRTUAL READING SCHEDULED FOR NOV. 4TH:
AS OVERDOSES SKYROCKET, NEW BOOK OFFERS
COMFORT TO GRIEVERS, HOPE TO ADDICTS

South Hadley, MA, USA – Following the nation’s worst year ever for overdose deaths, a timely new poetry collection, What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir about Losing a Child to Addiction, aims to bring comfort and encouragement to addicts and their families. The author, along with another mother and author who lost her child to addiction, will be reading from their books in a virtual event hosted by the Odyssey Bookshop on Thursday, Nov. 4th at 7 p.m. You can register for that reading here.

Lanette Sweeney’s debut collection describes the pain of watching her son suffer with addiction as well as her enormous grief and guilt following his overdose death in 2016. Fortunately, the book also offers hope to families suffering a similar loss or struggling with a child still in active addiction, as Sweeney lyrically recounts her journey toward post-traumatic growth and grief recovery, as well as what she’s learned can save addicts’ lives.

“I have two messages I’m eager to share with this book,” says Sweeney: “first, that most addicts need medicine to keep them alive, so taking medicines like Methadone and Suboxone should not be shameful; and second, that it is possible to restore peace and joy to your life after even the most devastating loss.”

What I Should Have Said was released last month by Kentucky-based publisher Finishing Line Press. The book is organized into sections on the stages of grief and includes 20 poems by Sweeney’s late son, Kyle Fisher-Hertz, showing his move from the innocence of childhood to the eventual despair of his addiction.

“My son wanted to get better,” Sweeney recalls. “He attended every recovery program he could get into. But then he turned 26, my insurance didn’t cover him anymore, and the Medicaid insurance he got as a replacement didn’t cover the monthly shot that had helped him stay clean.”

Sweeney’s son spent the week before his death pleading for help from the only recovery clinic in the state where he was then living, Nevada, but he was refused the drug he requested, Vivitrol, which is a monthly shot that blocks opioid receptors and reduces cravings. (A desperate addict’s quest to stay clean long enough to get the shot is depicted in the new film Four Good Days, starring Glenn Close and Mila Kunis.) At the time of Fisher-Hertz’s death nearly five years ago, Medicaid in 29 states didn’t cover that medicine, whose generic name is Naltrexone–and Fisher-Hertz, like many addicts, was reluctant to take Methadone or Suboxone, the maintenance drugs he was offered. Instead, he died of an overdose of street drugs three days later–less than three months after turning 26 and losing his mother’s private insurance.

“I foolishly didn’t think he should take maintenance drugs, either.” Sweeney says. “When he called me to say he was thinking about taking one because he didn’t know what else to do, I stayed silent, and he knew I didn’t approve. When he died three days later, I knew I had discouraged him from taking the one thing that might have saved his life, and my guilt was devastating. I wish I’d known when he was alive that he had a terminal disease that needed medicine to treat it.”

Poet LeslĂ©a Newman, author or editor of more than 70 books, calls Sweeney’s poems “poignant” and “beautifully crafted.” She says she “read this collection straight through with [her] heart in [her] throat” and adds: “Reader, prepare yourself: once you start reading What I Should Have Said, you won’t want to stop.”

Praise for the book comes from outside the poetry world, as well. The president of the board of Bereaved Parents of the USA, Kathy Corrigan, lost two sons and says “Every grieving parent will relate” to the feelings expressed by Sweeney in this “deeply moving” and “honest” work. Reading the collection, Corrigan says, helped her process the grief she felt over losing her second son, who died two years ago from alcohol addiction. Corrigan said she appreciates that the collection “sheds light on the darkness and stigma attached to the disease of addiction and [reminds] us that our children were/are so much more than their addiction[s].”

The U.S. had been starting to turn the tide on overdose deaths in 2019, but then the pandemic arrived, causing isolation, 12-step meeting cancellations, the slashing of addiction treatment programs, new economic stresses, and fresh grief.  As a result, the monthly overdose death rate shot up 50 percent in the early months of the pandemic, to more than 9,000 deaths a month; prior to 2020, U.S. monthly overdose deaths had never risen above 6,300.  

The annual overdose death rate also rose to heartbreaking new heights last year; the CDC anticipates that when the final numbers are in, more than 90,000 individuals will have died of an overdose in 2020 (80 percent from opioid overdose) – up from about 70,000 the previous year.

Sweeney’s book can be ordered directly from the author or from local bookstores or Bookshop.org or Amazon or from the publisher at https://www.finishinglinepress.com/product/what-i-should-have-said. Sweeney is available to do readings from her book and take part in panels or Q&As via Zoom or other event platforms at schools, bookstores, libraries, recovery programs, harm-reduction centers, and any other venue interested in hearing her story and words of encouragement. For more information or a review copy of the book, contact Lanette Sweeney directly at lanettesweeney@gmail.com or on her website lanettesweeney.com. 

 * * *

Sources for Statistics:
https://www.commonwealthfund.org/blog/2021/spike-drug-overdose-deaths-during-covid-19-pandemic-and-policy-options-move-forward citing CDC statistics

https://www.overdoseday.com/facts-stats/ United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime.


BOOK COVER




PRESS LINKS

https://www.poughkeepsiejournal.com/story/life/2021/09/10/what-should-have-said-memoir-son-who-died-addiction/5576567001/

 



Straw Dog Writer's Guild featured Lanette Sweeney in an author interview on Sept. 13, 2021. 


Kenyon Review columnist Ruben Queseda did an interview with Sweeney for his Poetry Today column in late April, 2021. (Sweeney's is the second interview on this page.)


What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir about Losing A Child to Addiction was featured in mid-September as a top choice on the weekly book-recommendation email sent by our local library, Wowbrary.




APPEARANCES

UPCOMING: 
On Thursday, Nov. 4, 2021, join the Odyssey Bookshop in South Hadley, MA, at 7 p.m. as they host a virtual  reading with poet memoirists Lanette Sweeney and Miriam Greenspan, both mothers of children lost to addiction. Lanette will read from What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir About Losing a Child to Addiction. Miriam will read from The Heroin Addict’s Mother: A Memoir in Poetry.

Both mothers' books were published in 2021. Greenspan, M.Ed., LMHC, is an internationally renowned psychotherapist and author. Her pioneering book, A New Approach to Women and Therapy, helped define the field of feminist therapy, and her Boston Globe best-seller Healing Through the Dark Emotions: The Wisdom of Grief, Fear and Despair, won the 2004 gold Nautilus book award in the self-help/psychology category. 


PAST: 
On Sept. 18, 2021, Lanette Sweeney was a featured speaker at the Highland Public Library, the library where she took her children as she was raising them in the Hudson Valley in NY. She did a one-hour long reading and q&a session from her book.

On Sept. 13, 2021, Lanette Sweeney read a poem by her son, "Liquor Bottle Might As Well Be a Pistol," at a CAPE (Center for Addiction Prevention and Education) event at Shadows on the Hudson Valley; she gave that evening's proceeds from the sale of her book to CAPE, which arranged to have the Mid-Hudson bridge, seen behind the speakers, lit up in purple in honor of the event. 


Also on Sept. 18, Sweeney read one of her poems at a Keep it Moving walk/run event. Keep It Moving Zane is a non-profit that provides Narcan training and healthy activities for children in honor of the founder Lauren Mandel's late son, who died of an overdose one week after starting his first social work job at age 22. Sweeney read "To My Son on His 18th Birthday," and gave a portion of that day's proceeds to Keep It Moving. 

On Sept. 7th, Sweeney was the featured reader at the monthly Writer's Night Out/In sponsored by Straw Dog Writers' Guild.