Closing the dash far too soon

Genealogists often speak of “closing the dash”. The dash they’re talking about is the one on a gravestone between the persons birth and death dates. It usually falls to the family historian to record the date of death in family records. We refer to this as closing the dash. Earlier this week, a beautiful life ended much sooner than it should have, and I find I cannot remain silent.

When I was younger, I thought that the people involved with drugs were of a certain type. You’d hear about someone overdosing, and assume it was a longstanding addict who finally took a little too much. Sure, there were exceptions. I always think of Len Bias, the basketball player who overdosed on cocaine while out celebrating being signed to the Boston Celtics. Everyone close to him said that he had never tried cocaine before; that it was just that once while out celebrating with his friends. I was 14 when he died, and I think it was his death, more than any lecture I received from my parents, that kept me away from drugs. I’ve always been afraid that with my luck, I too would die the first time I tried anything.

A few years ago, I saw a documentary about young adults from Cape Cod who were all struggling with opioid addiction. Nearly all of them were good kids, from good homes. Most of them had sustained an injury that they were prescribed prescription painkillers for. Once the prescriptions dried up, they turned to illegal drugs to lessen their pain. The documentary was eye-opening and quite sobering. It haunted me for weeks. At the time, I only personally knew one person who had overdosed. A friend of the family had chronic pain from a childhood illness and from a car accident he had as an adult. He had turned to prescription narcotics to ease his pain and died from an overdose.

There are countless stories of famous people who have died as a result of overdoses. These stories come to light because of the celebrity of the person involved. It seems when a celebrity dies, unless they’re older or have a known illness, it is automatically assumed that the death must’ve been drug related. One of the saddest celebrity deaths in recent years was that of musician, Tom Petty. He died of an overdose of prescription pills. Many of the news reports left it at that, and people shook their heads at another rocker living the high life and paying the consequences. The more thorough reports told the full story. They told of his need for hip surgery, and the excruciating pain he was in. They told of his desire to finish the concert tour he was on before scheduling the surgery that would have hopefully put an end to the pain. They pointed out that it was likely he timed his dosage wrong, or accidentally took the wrong combo just to try to get some relief.

Earlier this week, a young woman left her grandmother’s house for a night out with her friends. High school graduation was at the end of the week, and the teenagers were going to let off a little steam. She laughingly told her grandmother that she was going out to “party hearty”. Her grandmother told her to be sensible, and she said she would. The following morning, her friends found her unresponsive. She was taken to the hospital, and was gone before her mother could arrive.

I don’t know how this happened. Was this a one time thing, or had her drug use been going on for a while? All I know is that parents have lost a child and are going through what no parent should have to face. This past Wednesday, the Rhode Island House Judiciary Committee voted on new legislation that would enable drug dealers to be charged with murder and face the possibility of a life sentence if a person were to die from the drugs they sold. Her mother appeared before the Committee just 2 days after losing her daughter and read a statement in support of the legislation. She was interviewed on the local news, and this grieving mother bravely told the story of her beloved daughters death. I cannot imagine having that strength.

Olivia was just 18 with her whole life ahead of her. She was about to graduate from high school. She talked of traveling the world, and I couldn’t wait to see where life took her. A fatal choice put an end to all of her possibilities. My beautiful, smart, funny, loving cousin Livvie is now a statistic.

The Len Bias story is not an urban myth. You CAN die even if you only try something once. There is no one ‘type’ that is involved with drugs. This epidemic is hitting everyone. If you lose a loved one to drugs, do not remain silent. Speak up. Tell their stories. Tell your stories. Let everyone know that it CAN happen to them, and how it will affect those left behind. Let’s end this.

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