“In May of 2016, my dad overdosed on heroin. He was a very helpful, caring person, so I know he would want me to tell his story, to get the information out there for other people.”
I’m a pretty normal teenage boy. I live with my mom and my grandma. My mom works in healthcare, my grandma is retired, and we basically live a normal life. My mom and dad separated in 2007 because of my dad’s addiction issues.
When I was young, I didn’t see my dad too often. I would see him once a month, maybe once every two months. At one point, I didn’t see him for around five months because that’s when he left to go get help. When he came home, he was worried about relapsing. He even went to a psychiatric hospital and told them he was afraid he was going to go back to using drugs, but they couldn’t help him. So he ended up relapsing without really telling anyone.
But even though he was having problems with drugs, over time he became more involved in my life. I played football and he was the coach. And we always did stuff on Sundays–one of my favorite things was that we’d go watch the Steelers play at a restaurant in my town. Those were some of the most fun times between us. But I would sometimes notice that in the middle of the afternoon, he would start dozing off. The restaurant would be rowdy and his eyes would be shut. I always wondered why, although now I know that that was the effect of the drugs he was using at the time.
In the last year of his life, he was even more active in my life–he wanted to be involved in a lot of things I had going on. I remember in November, we planned to go hunting on the first day of hunting season, so the night before, my dad pulled up to drive me up to camp. He walked inside and his eyes didn’t dilate. My mom said she was too nervous to let me drive with him. She said she couldn’t let me go for my own safety.
He came back over the next morning, and picked me up and together we got my first deer. He said that deer was one of the best times in my life, besides me being born, because he was a longtime hunter and had always wanted to help me get my first deer.
And overall, we were hanging out a lot. He would send me good morning texts every day. And then the school year was almost over, I was almost finished with my freshman year. He texts me and he says, “You’ve got five more days until summer,” and I texted him back to see if he wanted to go play baseball with me and my friends the next day. My friends love my dad–he always treats them with respect and he’s a good joke-teller–and so we made plans to meet at the field. But we didn’t end up meeting up that day. I called and didn’t get an answer. But it was a busy day, so I didn’t get a chance to worry about it. Later that day, I was having lunch with my mom and some of her friends and she took a call. Then she came back into the room and asked the guests if they would leave because something had happened.
I’m sitting there waiting for my mom to tell me what’s going on and it crossed my mind that maybe my dad is gone. I told myself, “There’s no way he’s gone. Absolutely no way. I talked to him last night.” And my mom said, “Seth, your dad passed away last night of a heroin overdose.”
I lost it. I cried all day. I have never felt more pain in my entire life. My friends rushed down to the house to be with me. On the first day of summer, I buried my dad.
Before your dad became addicted, did he understand the risk of painkillers, or the connection between painkillers and heroin?
A week before he died, he told me when it all began. He said, “I regret one major thing in my life. I should’ve never taken that pill.” He’s a big golfer and he said he was having back pain that was affecting his game and someone gave him an Oxycontin and it started from there. He had a perfect life. He said he lost everything because of this.
I don’t think he understood the risks of that pill. Even though my mom worked in healthcare, it was still before we were all more aware about addiction. It was the end of the 2000s and no one really knew how bad it would be. There were so many people with prescriptions who thought it was fine. It was normal. I think he knew what he was getting into when he started the heroin, but I don’t think he knew what would happen when he started the Oxycontin. My dad was a smart man, but I don’t think he fully understood. I think he just thought it would make him feel better while he played golf.
How big of a problem do you think opiate abuse is in your community?
New Kensington, which is where my dad lived, has one of the worst problems with drugs. And I’ve seen the numbers across the United States, that 64,000 people overdosed in 2016. I look at those numbers and I think to myself, my dad’s just a number on a list of people who have died. No one is going to look at that number and realize who is behind that. People think they’re invincible, but it would be so easy for them to be added to that list. Where no one will care about their story.
How has this experience affected your family?
These days, my mom is basically running two sides of the ship. She has to be my mom and my dad. She will teach me lessons that my dad should’ve been there to help me learn. My mom has to play double shift. And even before he died, I know it affected her. She always wished she could’ve done more for my dad. She tried and tried to help him. She always wished he could’ve gotten better so that he could help me grow up.
My dad’s side of the family took it hard. His mom, my grandma, fell into a very hard place. His sister, same thing. I think my cousin has taken the hardest hit. My cousin always used to come over to my dad’s house to spend time with him, and since he’s lost that, it’s been really hard for him.
For myself, I know it’s going to the worst feeling ever when I walk across the stage at graduation and I don’t see my dad. Or when I get married and he’s not there. He won’t meet his grandkids or help me when I take them hunting for the first time. It’s six o’clock at night and my dad might be coming home from work right now, but I don’t have that privilege.
I don’t want people to look at my dad like a dummy or an idiot. Or like my dad didn’t have a life. My dad told jokes, he was loving, he was always there. Even during his addiction he would give the shirt off his back to anyone who needed it. He always made time for the people who cared about him and the people he loved. And I’m very happy he made time to spend with me. Now that I don’t have it anymore, it sucks. My dad wasn’t just some drug addict. He was a human being who lived a life that was whole.