My brother died of a heroin overdose. His name was Matty. He was beautiful, he was funny, he was courageous and compassionate, he was talented, he was athletic, he was charming-and he was stolen. My baby brother was stolen by a substance, and nothing was done about it. The nurses, the doctors, the therapists-they all said how handsome he was, and how sorry they felt for me. They said they see this all the time, such young lives taken too soon. Some are taken instantly, and some are taken gradually. In my brother’s case, it was gradual. I never got a call saying “he’s overdosed, he’s gone,” something I had always assumed in my gut would happen. I received a call saying he was on a ventilator, but was breathing on his own. No one prepares you for seeing your loved one in that predicament. My brother was alone. He was unconscious. He was brain dead.
Four days I sat with him by his hospital bed, waiting for them to tell me it was time to let go. Four days I stayed with him while different medical personnel came in and out of his room, probing and prodding and touching the shell of him that laid hooked up to machines and monitors. Four days I barely slept. I didn’t eat. I didn’t talk. I didn’t hug. I just watched. He never took a breath again. His heart beat for eleven minutes without the machines–and with that, he was gone.
Everyone said “it’s a good thing. He’s finally free. Rest peacefully, fly high.” Free from what? From his family? Friends? Loved ones? Free from heroin. He was free from heroin.
My brother never got to get married. He never got to have children. He never had a career, or a serious life partner. He never got to buy a house. We don’t get to see him on holidays. I don’t get to hear him anymore. My mother never gets to see her son again. My brother never gets to see his best friend again. I never get to spend time with the one person I could share everything and anything with again.
My brother was not a “junkie.” He wasn’t a bad person. He always said “I’m a lover, not a fighter.” He loved with his entire heart, and he believed in everyone. Every occasion he had, he would tell me how proud he was of me. I didn’t die from a heroin overdose. I’m the one who lived. I’m the one who got my life back. I’m the one who is going to be able to make something of herself. I’m the one who gets to have children, buy a house, and have a career and a marriage. I’m the one who had to bury her brother.
Every year in the United States, 47,000 families lose a loved one due to a heroin overdose. My brother is one of those. The importance of this story is to raise awareness for a battle that is far from over. Ending the stigma against addiction is only the beginning. The health system in this country has to change. There should be no maximum opportunities for treatment. There should always be treatment readily available for everyone. We shouldn’t judge people based on how they get recovery. We should learn about different options available for those wanting to enter treatment. Carry Narcan. Advocate for those who have a hard time doing it for themselves. Never lose hope, and always give encouragement and love to those struggling with addiction.
I won’t end my fight to bring awareness to this cause, and I hope this short story shed some light into what addiction really means for those involved with it and around it. Please share this message to anyone who will listen.
My brother died of a heroin overdose. His name was Matty, and he is my angel.
(This was previously written and published by the Gloucester Times in New Jersey. I am the original and only writer for this piece.)