Upcoming Events -- email for sign-in links

UPCOMING EVENTS



Dec. 4th at 7 p.m. (virtual). Poetry performance workshop led by Springfield poet laureate Magdalena Gomez.

Jan. 19th at 7 p.m. (hybrid): Straw Dog Writers Conference Author Showcase in-person at Northampton Center for the Arts and via Zoom.

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. 



 


Thursday, September 2, 2021

Honoring Kyle by Remembering His Worst Day


Monday, August 31st,  was International Overdose Awareness Day, and I marked the day with a short online event in honor of my son, Kyle David Fisher-Hertz, who died of an overdose when he was 26. This is an essay that captures much of what we covered in that event. 

Last year the pandemic was not kind to addicts. A record number of Americans, more than 90,000 sons and daughters, died of a drug overdose in 2020, more than in any previous year--and 20,000 more than the previous year, when it seemed we were finally turning the tide and beginning to stem the steady increase in overdose deaths that had plagued us for the previous decade. This graph shows how fatal overdoses steadily climbed, with the previous peak passing 60,000 in 2017. The numbers rose to more than 80,000 dead the next year but dropped back down to 70,000 in 2019 before surging last year, with a huge spike in the first months after we were all sent into lockdown. 

The United States represents just four percent of the world’s population, but we were 25 percent of the world’s fatal overdoses in 2020. As this graph from last year shows, North Americans are dying from taking too many drugs at a far higher rate than anyone anywhere else in the world.
 
There is a serious sickness in our society, and our overdoses are merely a symptom of that sickness, which I believe is rooted in our mindless consumerism and the resulting lack of purpose in our lives. My daughter argues "lack of purpose" is a privileged excuse for drug addiction, but we are a privileged people in North America, and more money gives us greater access to drugs, so it makes sense that feeling a lack of meaning in our lives while having the resources to ameliorate our emptiness by getting high would lead to greater use. But I digress. 

When I told my daughter I would be opening the event by saying a few words about the overdose epidemic, she wondered what new thing I could say when so much has already been said about this issue. But I believe that even though we are years into this epidemic, the two main messages I want to share in both my new book, What I Should Have Said: A Poetry Memoir about Losing a Child to Addiction, and in this essay, are still not familiar enough to most people.

The first message is that medication-assisted treatment saves lives. No one should be judged or stigmatized for taking Methadone or Suboxone or following any other medical plan to stay off street drugs. I wish I had known this myself when my son was alive. He and I wanted him to get Vivitrol, a monthly shot that blocks opioid receptors and cravings and doesn’t allow you to get high--but he had just turned 26, lost my insurance, and discovered that the state health insurance he had in Nevada didn’t cover that drug, which has the generic name Naltrexone. The clinic would only offer him Suboxone or Methadone. 


My son (shown here, sober at my wedding, 16 days before he died) called me the weekend before he died to say he thought if he couldn’t get the Vivitrol shot, maybe he would just take the Suboxone they were offering him. Tragically, I maintained a stony, judgmental silence, letting him know I would be disappointed in him if he went on maintenance drugs. I thought he was “better” than that. I thought he could just stop. I didn’t realize his disease was terminal until it killed him. 

Since then, I have had the opportunity to visit a methadone clinic, where I saw dozens of healthy young people run in, take their daily dose, and run back out to take their kids to daycare, to get to their jobs, to go on with their lives. If you love an addict, please know he or she has a deadly disease with an incredibly high relapse rate, as high as 97 percent without medically assisted treatment. I still think Naltrexone shots are a miracle; they now have shots that can block opioid receptors for up to six months at a time, and I hope more state insurance covers that medicine than when my son was trying to get that shot. But if the miracle shots are not an option, going on Suboxone or Methadone will provide the addicts we love and want to stay alive a bridge to wellness. We should be celebrating the people who go that route, choosing to live and giving themselves an opportunity to function again. I wish I had understood this in time to have not failed my son when he asked my advice. Instead, I believe my silence discouraged him from pursuing that solution, so instead of going back to the clinic, he got street drugs and took them until they killed him three days later.

My second message is for the millions of parents, siblings, friends, cousins and other loved ones who lost someone to an overdose in the past five years. Though early grief will shake you to your core and make you question whether you can go on, I am here to tell you you can survive and learn to carry your grief with grace if you just hang in there and practice self care like it’s your motherfucking job. You can have a life of peace and even joy after even the most profound and devastating loss. Post-traumatic growth is real. No one wants to be driven to their knees by loss and trauma, but all of us can, in time, with a lot of hard work on ourselves, allow our worst experiences to open our hearts and bring us closer to our true spiritual selves. 

And now I want to say a few words about what killed my amazing, brilliant son Kyle: He died not only because he was an addict but because he cared so much about what other people thought of him that he spent the last 10 years of his life always trying to one up himself and act crazier and more death defying than he had the day before. He started rehab “only” addicted to crack, but he probably thought he wasn’t as hardcore as the other addicts were until he was as addicted as everyone else to the most deadly drug of all, so he let the other guys in rehab teach him how to shoot heroin. I have an essay on my website about toxic masculinity--which is what Kyle was demonstrating when he kept risking his life to appear cool--and how it contributed to Kyle's death

But beyond that I want to say please, if you’re a young person who hasn’t done drugs yet, please don’t let yourself be swayed by your desire to impress anyone. If you’ve done some drugs, maybe dabbled in alcohol or marijuana, but haven’t yet done the deadly trifecta (crack, meth, and heroin), please don’t try to play it cool if someone offers you one of those. Please know you are loveable without laying your life on the line to look like what someone else wants you to be. No high is worth what you will be doing to your life if you take any of those drugs. And I am a person who has enjoyed drugs myself, so I am not saying this to discourage you from pleasure. I am saying this to save your life and protect your mother from tragedy.

At the end of our event, anyone who wanted to name and let us recognize someone they loved who

died of an overdose, was invited to do so, and we wound up talking about a dozen or so other people who had died by overdose. I especially wanted to remember two of Kyle's friends, one who died four months before Kyle did, Peter Parise (left), someone Kyle admired and felt a kinship with-- and whose death probably made Kyle feel more hopeless than he already did. Our sons' connection led to a friendship between me and Pete's mom after their deaths that has meant a great deal to me as I navigated these years of grief. And Samantha Owens, a beautiful young woman with whom Kyle lived in Las Vegas for a while, both of them and their third roommate all shooting heroin together. I had hoped in the intervening years maybe Sam (below) had gotten clean, but instead she died this year of an overdose. 

My son, just like Pete and Sam and all the other people we remembered that night, was more than his addiction, and even though we remembered Kyle on overdose awareness day, I want him to be remembered for more than his overdose. He was an incredible friend, a wonderful brother, grandson and son, a great skier, a lover of books, a comedian, a rock climber, a doting daddy for the few months he spent in his daughter's life, a poet and humor writer, a curious conversationalist and a fearless dancer. He lit up all of our lives, and since his light went out, we have all had to struggle our way out of the darkness.

I feel blessed I was able to include more than 20 original works by Kyle in my new poetry collection about him (which is available for purchase from me, local bookstores, Bookshop or Amazon). The poems of his that his friends read showcase his talent but also show how desperate he was to get well. The fact that Kyle will never write another word and isn’t here to read his own poems aloud to us is tragic, but I am so grateful that five of his good friends agreed to gather online with 50 more of us to read and listen to his poetry. We read five poems because on September 20th of this year, Kyle will have been gone five years.


The readers were (from top left) Evan, an old friend of his from Americorps in Seattle, who missed her time slot and was replaced by Ashley, an old friend who knew him when he was in recovery in California; Steph, Kyle's first love; Tommy, a songwriter who was in Kyle's last rehab with him and has stayed clean since shortly after Kyle died. Plus, right, George, his grandsponsor (sponsor of Kyle's sponsor); 
and, below, Dwight, a house manager here in Western Mass who had to call the cops on Kyle when he discovered him using heroin in the house. He drove them all crazy, but they all still loved him. They each said a little about Kyle, in words I found moving and inspiring. and then each read one of his poems. You can watch a  recording of the event here: https://youtu.be/AbXbzdwd3h0  

At the end of the event, Kyle's little sister, Jamie, read aloud from a text exchange she'd had with Kyle the year before he died. The words she shared (in the text displayed below) most vividly brought my son back to life and showed how smart and funny and wise he was, and why we all kept hoping he was going to be OK. I hope the event and this essay helps someone else say "Yes! That's a great idea," when their loved one talks about using medicine to help them stay clean -- because that's What I Should Have Said.