My Brother Died Of An Overdose — I Shouldn't Have To Say 'But He Was A Good Person'

by Madeline Reid
Originally Published: 
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As parents, can we collectively agree that we’re doing our best to raise well rounded, open minded, kind humans who add positive contributions to society? We don’t want our kid to be the judgmental, self absorbed, asshole, bully. We want them to be the kind of person someone can count on. We want them to be kind. We want other people to view them as safe.

But what about you, as the parent? Do you have bias? Are you judgmental? Are you unwilling to erase pre-existing judgments that reside in your head? Everyone is, to an extent, stubborn in their beliefs. For example when I say the word “addict,” what just came to mind?

My assumption is, unless addiction has touched your life in a deeply personal way– nothing good just came to mind. A suffering soul was not your gut reaction. A good person did not come to mind. A human being did not come to mind. A character came to mind. A strong image of a lazy, self absorbed scumbag came to mind. I say this because it used to come to my mind.

But here is the thing, not one person is all of one thing. Let me explain. Think of your favorite person in the whole wide world. Are you thinking of them? Describe them. Think of their shortcomings, where they excel, and then think of their characteristics.

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Sympathetic, accepting, funny, caring, curious, fun loving, adventurous— all characteristics that describe one of my favorite people: my brother, John.

I remember after an 8 week ultrasound for Bo, I broke down crying while analyzing the pictures on my own because I convinced myself something was wrong. He hugged me and didn’t let go until I was ready. “It’s okay” he said as he hugged me. He was safe. He was reassuring. And he was comforting.

He was the type of person who didn’t really need any details … just unconditionally loved me and had my back for all things in life. He was open to every conversation, and even with tough topics he always told me, “It’s okay, I don’t judge.” And he meant it, he truly meant it.

Being in nature excited him, and you could always find him hiking or fishing. And if he was not hiking or fishing, he was probably listening to music or playing his guitar.

He was the kind of friend that everyone should have. Picked up the phone at any hour, made sure he kept in touch, complimented you when you didn’t even know you could use a compliment, and loved my children as if they were his own.

He was also smart. So incredibly smart. He found history fascinating. I was never into history, though, so I never dove that deep, but I swear he had a fact for everything.

He was all of these things, and then he died. And when I tell people how he died, more times than not I can see a change. It shifts from sympathy and compassion to “oh.” Not that they’d say this out loud, but I’m big on vibes and I can always tell a shift in demeanor. I used to shy away from the truth, because the truth seems to delete everything he was.

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Our country is currently suffering from an opioid epidemic. Unfortunately, my brother took part in that and died from heroin that was laced with fentanyl. That means my baby brother, 20 years old — my adventurous, fun loving, smart, handsome brother— died a statistic. And that’s how the majority of adults view him, a statistic. Why? Why are we dehumanizing people who are suffering? I guess that’s the point of this. I want to humanize him, and the people like him.

Before I continue, I think it’s important to acknowledge that while, yes laced heroin is what killed my brother in the end … he was no different than you. Just substitute drug addiction with your addiction of choice. Instagram? Social media? I’m making a strong assumption that social media is what led you to discover this blog. What’s your screen time like? Mine averages about 4 hours a day since I began blogging. I’m addicted to social media. I’d say a majority of the population is. I’m sure in your mind you’re now thinking that you can’t compare the two … but I’d argue you can. Drugs are lethal, absolutely; but have you watched The Social Dilemma? Have you looked into suicide rates and the decline of mental health? Sure, social media does not affect everyone the same, but neither does a drug addiction. In saying that, I know drug addictions typically end the same way – death. I am merely trying to correlate addiction to something tangible in your life.

My brother’s addiction killed him in the end; but what killed him does not define him, any more than addiction to Instagram defines you.

When John died, the recent pictures I have of him are not what killed me. What killed me was his baby book. The way he’d drag his Beanie Babies around on a string pretending they were out for a walk. The way he’d explore our backyard and play with our puppies. His innocent laugh as he ran around the house tormenting his sisters the way only little brothers can.

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My parents never saw this coming. No more than I can see my boys’ future. No more than you can see your kids future. Imagine a world that turns cold at your child’s worst, when they have made their biggest mistake. The world turns away from them when there should be open arms and a helping hand. I know you can only help someone who wants help; I get that. I’m not saying you alone can change someone struggling with addiction. I’m just asking you recognize that someone struggling with addiction is still someone.

When I was in middle school, I remember learning about drugs. “Don’t do drugs, drugs are bad” followed by videos depicting a certain stereotype doing drugs. Can you picture the video? The “bad” kids, the troublemakers, the kids with messy homes, wearing overly baggy pants, shaggy haircuts, grungy. Immediately you think you’re above it. At least I did.

But that’s the thing: it doesn’t matter if you have a white picket fence growing up. It doesn’t matter if you do well in school and if you’re well liked by peers. It doesn’t matter if you come from a family who loves you. None of it matters. Drug addiction does not land on just one type of person. Addiction is not a reflection of poor parenting. As a parent now, it’s in your best interest to remember that.

We have a chance with our children to change the narrative. We have a chance to be open and be honest, and to not paint people who struggle with addiction as monsters—as people who can’t be helped, or as people undeserving of help. We can stop memes that tell you addicts deserve to die over someone who has an allergy. We can eliminate the comparison of things that cannot, and should not, be compared. We can let humans be humans and not stomp people while they’re down.

We can do all of that by raising self-aware children who don’t believe they’re above anything. Who are aware that they’re not untouchable, that addiction does not discriminate, and to lead with compassion when they witness addiction touching down. My hope is one day a grieving Mom and a tortured Dad feel comfort, and understanding; and don’t need to follow, “My son died from an overdose” with “he was a good person.” Because it doesn’t need to be said—it’s already understood.

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