It’s unusual for an editorial to comment on an obituary. Obituaries are deeply personal stories of families’ grief, remembrances of lost loved ones.
Editorials comment on public occurrences, politics and the machinations of elected officials. The contrast between editorials and obituaries -- between the public and the personal -- could not be more stark.
But it is also the job of editorials to comment on societal trends. And we have noticed in our obituary columns a development of great societal importance.
From recent obituaries in our sister paper, The Eagle-Tribune:
“Melissa Riley, 36, of Kingston, N.H., passed away Saturday, September 12, after a long battle with drug addiction.”
“Christopher Matthew ‘Chris’ Honor, 22, of Plaistow, passed away on Saturday, September 5, 2015, following a long struggle with drug addiction.”
There have been similar obituaries in recent months in The Daily News of Newburyport.
Families are acknowledging, directly, bravely, that their loved ones died from drug addiction.
In their time of profound personal tragedy, the families of these lost young people have done the rest of us a great service. They have allowed us to place names to the numbers, to see, with crystal clarity, the toll taken by the heroin and opiate crisis sweeping the region.
Some of these families have been willing to talk with our reporters, to tell them the stories of how their loved ones were caught up in addiction.
Melissa Riley’s family told reporter Breanna Edelstein of a bright young woman, who had earned perfect grades as a child. Melissa was working as a certified nurses aide when she fell and broke two bones in her neck. She was given a Percocet prescription for pain.
“It all started when she got hurt,” her mother, Kathy, told Edelstein. “She started grinding it up and snorting it (Percocet), then she was using oxycodone. Five years ago she tried heroin and its been a long five-year battle since.”
Melissa entered a rehabilitation program and had been drug-free for the last several months.
“It’s like people always overdose right after they get clean,” Kathy said. “Her body was clean of the drug and then she took it and it was too late.”
On Aug. 26, the mother of two boys, ages 6 and 15, drove into a Haverhill gas station, got out of her car and collapsed. EMTs revived her from the heroin overdose, but she remained in a coma at a Boston hospital. After 17 days, her family made the difficult decision to take Melissa off life support.
Christopher Honor’s obituary noted that his girlfriend, Courtney A. Griffin, had passed away in 2014. The 20-year-old woman died Sept. 29, 2014, from a drug overdose. Chris was in jail at the time.
Their families told reporter Kiera Blessing the heartbreaking story of their love for each other and their fight with addiction.
Chris had begun dabbling with marijuana and pills in middle school. By high school, Chris’ drug use got worse. His father confronted him and tried to get him into rehab. When Chris refused, his father threw him out of the house. Chris went to live with his grandmother in Plaistow.
Chris met Courtney, who was working at a Wendy’s restaurant. She, too, was using drugs.
“They seemed like they were very happy. They had their fights now and then ... but they were just all about each other,” her father, Doug Griffin, told Blessing. “They had their addiction. They were very by-themselves.”
Courtney and Chris were trying to kick their addictions but were having little success. It wasn’t long before Chris was in jail again, and Courtney was feeling lost without him, her father said.
In September 2014, Courtney had a car accident. She was uninjured but her car was totaled. Her father asked her to come over and watch TV with him. She declined. “I just want to lay in bed the rest of my life,” her father recalled Courtney saying.
The next day she was dead. Chris got a special release from jail to attend her funeral.
Chris was unable to put his life back together after Courtney’s death. He was in jail again this year. He was released in early September on a Thursday. By the following Saturday, he was dead.
These stories are tragic. They are hard to read, harder to comprehend.
But the willingness of family members to tell them gives us hope. Putting names and stories of real lives to the statistics of the heroin crisis will strengthen our determination to defeat this plague.