My name is Tony O’Reilly. On October 15th, at the young age of 22, I accidentally overdosed on heroin in my bedroom. I am now just a memory to all those who love me. Heroin stole my bright future and it left a monumental hole in my family’s heart. My parents will never see me get married. It took away my chance of being a dad or ever showing my children the man their Dad could have been. I will never get that chance to experience the pride and joy of having my own children or tell my family how much I really loved them.
It was a beautiful sunny day; it was the 15th of October, the day my world ended.
The loss of a child may be the worst trauma any parent will experience. Though it’s not a terribly common experience in our town of Derry. That day gave nothing away as to what was about to unfold as my time as a mother to Tony abruptly came to an end.
Addiction was long a source of shame. Mothers and fathers and families touched by it commonly suffered alone. We struggled to find information and support, we lived in a dark tunnel, When Tony died of his addiction there was harsh judgement I think people expected us to say he died from a heart attract. He fought the battle for so long but the demon of heroin won. He tried so many times to beat this but in the continuous cycle of addiction couldn’t make it. He so wanted to be clean and knew he was playing Russian roulette but the mind and the body just gave in and now we are only left with the precious memories to hold on to.
So when you lose a child, you’re not just losing a person you loved. You’re losing the fact that you will never see them married you will never have any grandchildren.
How did we get here?
My husband Dessie, and myself found him; he was in the fatal procession I knelt down beside him calling his name but he was gone, it was the coldest night of the year for us in more ways than one. Even now I don’t think I can describe that endless night of October 15th, the return home, the hours that passed, the collective silence of relatives as they gathered in our sitting room.
A Family left behind
How do we tell his sister who was in America? All I remember is the screams coming from the phone, he was not just her brother he was her best friend and her heart was breaking.
Before Tony passed, I lay awake every night wondering, “Am I doing too much? Am I not doing enough? Should I give tough love or just let him know that I love him?”
Tony was maybe guilty of some bad choices. But who among us is innocent of this? Once the disease stepped in, his choices weren’t all his anymore. Addiction made choices for him. He tried, he struggled and a higher power finally said enough is enough and took him away from it all, but sadly away from us too.
Now, I lie awake at night questioning the choices I made. The same questions but, tragically, in the past-tense. “Did I do too much? Did I not do enough? If love alone could have saved him, he never would have died.”
I use to say “everything happens for a reason.” I have a hard time accepting that now. What reason could there be for him to die so young and so tragically?
Maybe this is it. maybe it’s true when they say, “Some people have to die so that others can live.” Another hard quote to accept, but maybe that gives meaning to my heartache.
I will continue to tell Tony’s story.
So where do I go from here? I have to believe that maybe this is what he was actually supposed to do. This is what I am supposed to do. This is the reason.
To talk about Tony struggles and death. To tell his story. Maybe putting it all out there and possibly saving another life is the legacy of his life?
Losing Tony was devastating and life-changing and a piece of me died with him. I remember saying because my son died from an overdose I will not live in shame. I was proud of my son, no matter what. Relapses and mistakes didn’t change that, because he always picked himself up and tried again.
Tony was smart, funny, and full of life with an amazing sense of humour. He wanted to play football for Liverpool. He had a loving home and family that loved him so much and yet, the drug took him quickly. he wasn’t just a number when he died he was a son, brother, nephew, cousin, friend and a person who was truly loved.
October 1999 to 2022
When a child or young adult is diagnosed with an incurable disease you would expect that family to be showered with prayers, along with expressions of support and sympathy from neighbours, friends and community.
But when the diagnosis carries the name “heroin” or “opiate” or “overdose,” the opposite occurs. In fact, it’s not generally referred to as a diagnosis in the first place. People whisper about it, often just out of hearing range. They might not speak to you as if nothing had happened. Some people will even stop talking to you or go to the other side of the street.
Because popular perception has it that addiction is something that only happens to bad people, teens whose parents failed to raise them properly or people who make bad choices in life and should not be encouraged.
Back in 1999 we as a society did not generally recognize addiction as a disease. It was view it as a criminal act, a weakness, a failure or a poor choice made by the addict. They were just another junkie instead of some one’s child, a human being that lost their way.
We thought we had time to help him, and we were wrong.
Nobody grows up hoping to become an addict. No parent raises a child to go out and take drugs.
When a child dies whether an adult or a teenager or younger, parents grieve. It is painful beyond anything that you can imagine. And this is true
whether that child’s death is due to natural causes, injuries sustained in an accident of some kind, murder, violence or overdose. The pain is just as intense, the loss as deep and the parents as inconsolable.
It is because of my tragic loss; I am able to now try to help others who battle for their lives every day. Working with HURT has helped me. Please know that every one that walks through the door of HURT, there is help, there is hope and there is support here for you.
Keep fighting the battle, you are worth it!
I want the world to know that I was never ashamed of my son and that I am proud to have had him for the short time I did.
All the people that have died from addiction have been failed, and continue to be failed by the Government and society at large. There are cemeteries filled with the victims of that failure, and that needs to change.
Mental health and substance use services in Northern Ireland are badly under-resourced and stretched, highlighted recently by the COVID-19 pandemic. What I think would make a real difference is to see funding that redirected into, treatment, education and recovery instead.
– Sadie O’Reilly