Grief powers parents to help others in hopes of preventing overdoses
When her daughter, Chrissy, died of an overdose at the age of 21, Tammy Rusnock Kline’s pain was unimaginable, and it still is.
But as she dealt with that pain, she realized that she would do what she could to make sure it didn’t happen to other parents.
“I didn’t want anybody to feel what I felt, and go through the same thing,” she said.
So she started a fundraiser in her daughter’s memory, selling wristbands, decals and T-shirts to help the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission. She volunteered for walks, and organized a vigil where she made the offer to help anyone who might be dealing with addiction when they were ready to seek help.
“I was very shocked to see the turnout, and that drove me to think about more people that are going through this,” she said.
Kline is one of many parents who have been inspired to carry on the memory of a child lost to overdose. In Carbon County, where there have been dozens of young people lost to overdose in the last eight years, parents have become a powerful force against the opioid epidemic.
According to Jamie Drake of the Carbon Monroe Pike Drug and Alcohol Commission, parents like Tammy can help when someone feels helpless, whether it’s a parent, friend, or someone dealing with addiction themselves.
“They have a voice that means so much more, going through it, experiencing it, for other parents, to know that they’re not alone and gain some insight from them,” Drake said.
One of the most active anti-drug organizations in the coal regions, Safer Streets for Tamaqua’s Little Feet, was founded by two parents who lost their daughter to an overdose.
John and Tammy Sienkiewicz were devastated by the death of their daughter, Alexandria.
They started offering preventive drug education for parents and teens, and provide placement for people who need to get into rehab.
John Sienkiewicz said the gratification comes in the form of seeing people go from addiction to recovery.
“It may have started because of our daughter, what we do, but in a nutshell, it’s so those parents don’t have to sit in the same chairs in the funeral parlor that we did,” Sienkiewicz said.
Knowing what it’s like to lose a child, and preventing others from feeling the same thing is a powerful motivator for parents.
Cindy Kester and her husband decided to help fund a poster at the commission that lets people struggling with addiction know about the resources that were out there for them.
From there, they too got involved in everything they could — running Al-Anon groups, serving on the county’s opioid task force, and even offering job training for people overcoming addiction.
“It’s rewarding to try to help someone else, especially when you see they have kids,” Kester said.
The effects of sharing one’s story doesn’t just feel good, it helps with the grieving process.
Sienkiewicz said he’s still struck by the feeling that he couldn’t help his daughter.
Kline never went to therapy after her daughter’s death, so talking with others has helped.
She joined Facebook groups for grieving parents, but noticed there was a stigma surrounding children who died of overdoses. She took it head-on in an effort to show that they have nothing to be ashamed of.
“A lot of the mothers were afraid to say how their child passed, if it was a drug overdose. It wasn’t until I put it out there,” she said.
While there are many stories of success, stigma still prevents a lot of people from doing more to get involved in the drug crisis. Drake said that it’s the number-one obstacle to her organization’s efforts to combat drug use.
“When you say your child has cancer, people bring casseroles. when you say they have an addiction, they say, ‘lock the door’” Drake said.
But in reality, more people than ever are needed. The prevalence of toxic fentanyl is greater than ever, posing a continuing danger to young people.
“We will never stop needing people,” Kline said.
“It’s getting worse day by day.”
Blue Guardians follow up on overdose victims. Page 5