When Tony Luke Jr. lost his son Anthony to a years-long battle with addiction, he was devastated, as any parent would be. A few months have passed since Anthony's death and now Luke is ready to use his grief to help others.
This week, Luke wrote on Philly.com about his son and the stigma that many families experience when they lose a loved one to opioid addiction. "Too often … families are silent, because they're ashamed of what people will say about them or their addicted kids," he wrote.
Luke didn't want to be ashamed of his son—and he didn't want anyone to think he was ashamed of him, either. "My son was not a number," he wrote. "My son was not somebody to be thrown away. My son was not weak."
So Luke launched an awareness campaign, using the hashtag #brownandwhite to encourage people touched by addiction to share the names and experiences of their loved ones. "Put a name to your story," he encouraged readers. "Send it to your congressman … Let them know that this isn't a statistical problem to be solved, these are people to be helped."
Philly.com received many tributes to people from around the region who lost their battles with addiction. Here, we share some of their memories.
On June 26, 2017, my little brother, Wayne, lost his long battle with addiction.
My mom will tell you that when we were younger I could finish his sentences. He was shy and I was his voice. I knew exactly what he was thinking. This was for many years, until at some point I couldn't. I could understand and almost predict my brother, but not his disease.
I wish I could have known the right thing to do as we got older, but I didn't. I couldn't help him. My mom, who would have done anything in the world for him, couldn't help him. SO many people tried. No one could help him and he couldn't help himself.
He battled for so long, over half of his life. He tried hard. He had such great intentions all of the time. But they were crushed by this disease. He'd try and fight, just to get knocked back down. Over time, it got harder and harder to fight. He was tired and he was lost.
Very few people had the privilege of knowing just how sweet, loving, and funny Wayne was, because mental illness and addiction kept him isolated from friends and family. That's what it does.
Obviously, our story isn't a unique one. The next time you pass a homeless person or hear of a friend or relative who is struggling — don't judge. No one wants this life. I know Wayne didn't. They are lost souls trying to make their way in this world. — Jennifer Cooper, Center City
My beautiful daughter lost her fight with her addiction of heroin on June 24, 2017. After fighting for years and losing her boyfriend Kenny two years ago and using on and off in jail, out of jail, and in lots of different rehabs and a recovery house, it was a real struggle daily for her, but she fought and fought. At one time, she had a full year of sobriety.
She promised me she would not leave us in the same way that her boyfriend did. So she wrote a goodbye letter to her boyfriend stating she could never do that to her family. I truly believe because of this uncontrollable drug, victims don't intentionally die, but it is a need. They will do anything to get it. She wrote a poem to me from one of the rehabs she was in, and I read it at her memorial. It was so surreal on how she felt when heroin led her life. As a mother, I will never be the same. Our family is going through hell. — Jennifer Mullen, Linwood
Greg Moore was a good-hearted, give-the-shirt-off-his-back kind of man. His troubles with drugs started after his father passed away Jan. 13, 2007. His father was his best and only friend. Greg continued working in his father's trade, a commercial painter, but struggled with depression that led to a long battle of using drugs.
When he did drugs, he was a different person that family and friends didn't want to know. His addiction to heroin caused his death on June 5, 2017. He died alone, in a wooded area near the train tracks in Kensington.
— Kathleen Deacy-Moore, Bridesburg/Port Richmond
For many years she fought a heroic battle with addiction. She had been sober a little over two weeks but her disease still had a powerful hold on her. We wish she had recognized the beauty and strength that everyone else saw in her. It has been many long, hard, and agonizing battles for the last four years, and she fought like a warrior every step of the way. Addiction, however, won the war.
To the person who doesn't understand addiction, she is just another statistic that chose to make a bad decision; a very uneducated statement indeed, but nonetheless that is what they will say, along with some other hurtful statements. We don't care, though, because for people who do understand, this is our baby, our oldest, our child, our daughter, and my everything. She was a sister, a niece, a granddaughter, a friend, a cousin, a human being with an addiction. She turned to drugs to make her feel normal like everyone else.
Heroin told her, "I can make you feel accepted, I can make you feel all right, I can make you feel worthy, I can make you feel normal, I can make you feel loved, and I can make you feel nothing and make you feel like everything will be OK." What it didn't tell her was how it would devastate her family and tear it apart, take her job and leave her penniless, take her home and make her homeless. How it would take her sparkle and smile, how it would take her humor, and how it would take and take and take until it took her life. We need to talk and educate the world about this epidemic. -— Jennifer Woodward, Greenville, S.C.
I lost my oldest son, Frankie, to accidental overdose on Feb. 5, 2012, six weeks before his 21st birthday. I'm writing this to let everyone know my son is not a number. He was my son and a great kid. I know some people will wonder how that can be, but it's the truth. He helped me with his younger brothers and he loved lying on the couch watching movies with me. Frankie's smile could light up a room. As a parent, it is sad to watch that light go out because of this disease called ADDICTION. I'm stepping up with my son's story because he wasn't another junkie. He went to school, went to work, paid taxes, and loved with all his heart! — Jacqui Tomaselli, Port Richmond
Gary struggled with drugs from a very young age. He passed away on January 28, 2014. His whole life, he wanted to be loved. He passed away thinking he wasn't loved. The truth is if you knew Gary you loved Gary! He had a great smile and gave amazing hugs. His friends knew him as Frenchie. No words can describe the pain I feel inside. My heart is so broken I will never see that smiling face again. –Debbie Bara, Kensington
I lost my brother from a heroin overdose on June 8, 2017. It took just eight days after a relapse of months of sobriety to claim his 34 years of life. Eight days abruptly ended the 34 years' worth of laughter, sarcasm, and memories.
I selfishly dreaded this inevitable outcome for many years. I knew that not only would I lose a brother, but I would lose a mother to inconsolable grief. I would also lose my father as I knew him, and would regain a shell of a man I once knew. My niece, his only daughter, lost her innocence and now has to learn to live out the rest of her own years without him.
The amount of pain and chaos we endured for many years as a family watching this disease wrap its tentacles around my brother's life will never amount to the constant, aching loss we now have felt for only 30 days.
HIS NAME IS DAVID. His name will always be David, and David will always be remembered as our son, father, brother, uncle, nephew, and cousin, regardless of the disease that cut his life short. — Rebecca Orr, Delaware County
Ryan Lewis Monaghan was a loving son, grandson, brother, and friend. He was a gentle person who loved nature, animals, and the outdoors. I called Rye my red-headed beauty. Ryan was a preemie weighing only 3 pounds, 6 ounces at birth. He was a fighter since his first breath of life. The battle he didn't win was addiction. A mother's love doesn't die with her child. A mother's love strengthens and takes on a new direction. I know he is with me. — Wendy P. Monaghan, Newtown Square
We lost our son Andrew on March 27, 2016. He had just turned 21. He was a beautiful boy, full of life. He had many friends and would do all he could to help someone out. Friends who knew him would say, "I won't be surprised when Andrew becomes president one day!"
He tore his ACL playing football in high school and at 16 he was prescribed oxycodone. That is when the recreational experimenting began. By the time he was 18, it was clear that he needed help. He wasn't the boy we knew up to this point. Our family has addiction running through it. As his mom, I have been in recovery now for eight years from alcohol and opioids. We had a very close relationship and talked almost every day. I truly believed that because of our open conversations on the disease of addiction, he would be OK.
He was so young that he wasn't ready to stop partying. He assured us that he would never "do the hard stuff," whatever that means. We didn't realize then that heroin was in pill form and also being laced with fentanyl. Andrew sent me a text Easter morning wishing me a "good day." Four hours later he was gone. His Xanax tablet was laced with heroin and fentanyl. There is no way Andrew knew this as he simply wouldn't have taken the pill. Even though Andrew passed away from an accidental overdose, the police consider it a homicide that will likely never be solved. — Lisa Mincey, Greenville, S.C.
This is my brother. His name is Michael Watkins Jr. He was full of life, love, and laughter. His nieces and nephews called him Uncle Dodo. They adored him. He was the kind of uncle who had the ice cream man's number saved in his phone. He was the kind of brother who was always there if you needed him. The kind of son and grandson who loved unconditionally. Michael always reminded the family how strong we all were, and that we could get through anything. He lit up the room when he walked in. He always had a plan, some sort of idea, or invention he was going to come up with. I loved him so much. Heroin took his life at 24. Heroin took him from us. Heroin took him from having a relationship with his daughter. I miss his smile and big blue eyes and the way he made us laugh. — Janessa Litton, Northeast Philadelphia
My beautiful daughter Emily died on Dec. 3, 2016, from an overdose after almost one year of sobriety, leaving behind her 9-month-old daughter. Emily was an honor student, a cheerleader, and struggled with anxiety and low self-esteem. After she graduated from high school she started to date a boy who used heroin. After watching him use it in front of her several times, she decided to try it.
After four years of hell, including multiple detox centers, rehabs, jail, she found out she was five and a half months pregnant and went on a maintenance program and delivered a beautiful healthy baby girl.
Nine months later, on her way to work, she relapsed. The "heroin" she purchased turned out to be a bag of pure fentanyl, which killed her instantly. She was missing for 18 hours before they found her dead in her car. Emily spoke about her struggles publicly and advocated for more rehab help for pregnant women. She often said addiction is a disease that thrives in the darkness and can only die in the light. There is no shame in my family regarding the manner of her death. Emily bravely and fiercely battled the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, she lost the war. We miss her every day. — Joanne Harrison Clough, Camp Hill, Pa.
My sister Nicole lost her battle with heroin addiction around Feb. 13, 2017. We don't know the exact day she took her last breath because the coroner estimates she was lying in her bedroom for 3 to 4 days before her apartment manager called for a well-check. That was the hardest part for me, not being able to see her body and say goodbye, to touch her cold skin and kiss her cold cheek and cry on her casket. It was as if she just vanished into thin air. I cried so hard that my husband had to pick me up off the floor many times. It's been nearly 6 months and I still have moments of utter despair that MY SISTER is gone forever. And I have to remind myself that even though my heart is broken, her torturous battle with addiction is over and she is free.
But she was only 33. She was a mother to three amazing boys. She was an animal rights activist. She was a human rights activist. If she saw someone being wronged, she was ALWAYS the first to step in and speak up. She wasn't just a junkie. She wasn't scum. She wasn't weak. She isn't a statistic. She was the strongest person I knew and I miss her all the time. If there was anything more we could have done, we would have done it. But sometimes there is no rock bottom, sometimes there is just the end. — Danielle Green, Horsham
If you could have seen my sister through MY eyes, you would have seen the girl who wanted to do good and wanted to make people proud. You would have seen the girl who couldn't find her place in life and hid her tears behind a smile. You would have seen a girl whose battle became my battle, too. You would have seen the way she struggled and how hard she fought for the life that she wanted. That life was stolen from her, long before she was stolen from us. Losing her is something that I'll never be able to accept. It's hard to think about how many obstacles we have already been through as a family and the ones that we now have to face without her. Although it breaks my heart to know that I will never see her face or hear her laugh again, I know in my heart she's in a better place and she doesn't have to fight anymore. No more struggles, no more pain, no more tears for her. – Nicole Canale, South Philadelphia
Jeremy was a funny, smart, kind person with a good heart. He would do anything for anyone. He was always there if you needed him. He was my only child. He was my son, my heart, my world and now my angel. — Susan Smith, Northeast Philadelphia
My little brother Tommy died on November 20th, 2016 from a drug overdose. Their was a lethal mix of different drugs in his system at the time of his death. Tommy was only 19 years old. His 20th birthday would have been July 2. I just hope that if it can reach at least one person, touch them and make them feel their worth to live… than it would mean the world to me. Thank you for help shedding a light on this sad and horrific epidemic that is taking way too many lives. — Jennifer Mount, Fishtown
"…I know you had your struggles, as we all do in life. I just wished you would have asked for help for all of your strife. ….You turned to alcohol and drugs to numb all of your pain. Turning to that stuff you had nothing to gain. You fell victim in the hands of the poison's game." — excerpt from a poem Jennifer wrote for her brother
On May 31, 2016, my family and I said goodbye to our brother, son, uncle, nephew, cousin, and friend, Matt Guyon. God called him home just 10 days after his 30th birthday, which he celebrated with his family at Thunderbird Lanes bowling alley, one of his favorite places. Matt was always a hard worker, from when he began his first job at a young age delivering newspapers up until his last days as a plumber. He also spent many years as a lifeguard, three of which he served as part of the Wildwood Beach Patrol. Over the years, he made countless saves, performed first aid, and helped lost children on the beach find their families. Matt was very humble, however, and did not like to brag about himself or the acts of good deeds he performed. His outgoing personality and distinctive laugh were contagious, even to strangers. Matt wanted nothing more in his life than to just be "normal;" his addiction was his worst enemy. We miss him every day, but in our hearts we know that Matt is now free. — Jessica Guyon, Mayfair
My best friend lost his battle with this horrible disease in May of 2010. I still find it very difficult to talk about and find myself fighting back tears just writing this but if it helps to spread the message and helps educate one person then it's well worth the anguish. I met Danny on a 6th grade field trip and quickly became inseparable due to our mutual love for the sport of ice hockey. We went on to play together throughout middle school, high school, club teams and even against one another in college (Drexel University & West Chester University). He the was type of friend that always put a smile on my face no matter the situation.
While in college I learned that he had a dependency to pain pills and saw that quickly snowballed into a very serious issue. Before knowing the true dangers that were right around the corner, I received a call that he was found dead in the early morning after a few months of sobriety.
I can't even begin to describe the guilt, pain and utter emotion I felt after learning of his death and my heart goes out to his family who were so extremely supportive to him over the years. I love and miss Danny each and every day and still hear his voice in my dreams. That help keep his memory alive today. — Marc DiGirolamo, West Chester
I had a close friend growing up; we will call him Rich. I do not have any photos of him, as we grew up in the '90s and phones weren't as advanced as now, and no one around us carried a camera. I think we grew up differently, him being a suburban Pottstown boy, me moving there Reading. It started with partying, and drinking, to smoking pot until the cocaine days. It gradually progressed to Percocet and Vicodin and of course, from there, heroin.
Richie was at rock bottom, and was partying with some great friends in Allentown at a hotel one evening. I am unsure of the names of the people; it is between them and the Lord. At some point Rich took a bit too much in his dose. He overdosed and the action of these "friends," fearing reprisal and an end to their party and lifestyle, placed my friend outside by a Dumpster. When Rich was found, he was dead for some time.
I am unsure what happened to the "friends" he was with. I simply know that I lost one of my friends to this illness that I still battle to this day. I do not actively get high any longer, but this is a lifelong battle. The minute you put your guard down, it's ready to swing. And I've learned during my decades of addiction that when it swings, it don't miss, and every punch thrown is a haymaker which has the potential to kill. Thanks for the forum. — Terry M. Pronchick Jr., Reading
My son fought the disease for 10 years. He went to rehabs, clinics, AA meetings, halfway houses, hospitals, etc., etc., etc. I would go in his room and find him kneeling down by his bed in prayer. He would always kneel down, even when being made fun of by others. God have mercy on people who judge.
This is the worst disease I ever saw in my life and I have worked in a hospital for 25 years. — Kathleen Melleski, Torresdale
My son was murdered on March 31, 2007. I believe his death was the result of his actions relating to addiction. He struggled so hard to stay clean. Many people turned their back on him. I will advocate for him until my last breath. — Darnetta Green Mason, West Philadelphia
I lost my sister Dana on 5/15/2016 at the young age of 31. Dana battled addiction for years.
Dana's personality was larger than life! She was beautiful, smart, funny, and very sassy. She was a mother to two beautiful children whom she adored. She loved her family more than anything. Addiction took over Dana's life. It has a way of taking and taking while giving nothing but heartache in return.
I do not want my sister to be a statistic or another number on the overdose list. I didn't realize until she passed, how difficult it was for her to keep up two lives, she was Dana my sister and Dana the drug addict. My hope is that she has finally found some peace against her battle with the horrific monster, heroin. — Dawn Livewell, Philadelphia
My daughter died on 9/30/16 after being on life support for five days. She was 24 years old when she passed. At her funeral and on her Facebook page, we heard from many friends about how she touched their lives.
One in particular stands out: Teresa talked a young father of two beautiful children out of suicide. He is here today because she talked to him all night long and helped him see how wonderful his life is! Teresa had her siblings' backs and would defend them with all her might. I just wish she could've seen herself as we all did. This monster took a beautiful bright life and never looked back. — Michell Fortino, Rhawnhurst
My brother Brian lost his battle to opioid addiction on July 9, 2016 at the young age of 36. Our family is not ashamed to share his story, we want to help erase the addiction stigma and put a name and face to addiction. Brian is not just a statistic, he was a person, a person with a huge heart and a smile that could brighten any room (no matter how mad he made you just moments before). He wore his heart on his sleeve and would make friends with a stranger like he knew the person his whole life. He loved writing poetry and was eloquent with his words.
Brian tried many times to overcome his addiction. He wanted nothing more than to be a good father to his son, a good son to our parents, and a good friend to those he knew. Although he wanted to be free from his addiction, unfortunately the addiction won.
I think the reason addiction has such a stigma is because many people chose not to educate themselves on what it really means to be addicted and how drugs change the chemical makeup of the brain. The lack of education leads people to label addicts as junkies but the issue is so much bigger than a label. These people should not be written off as unworthy. They deserve to breathe just like everyone else. They deserve to be rehabilitated and they deserve to live. Addiction does not discriminate and can impede on any family regardless of where one is from or how one was raised. — Stephanie Theodoreopolos, Newark, Del.
My brother, King W. Shaffer, had the IQ of a genius. He was a father to 2 children. He wrote me beautiful cards on the holidays, for my birthday or wedding anniversary and sympathy cards when I lost a pet. He completed part of Navy SEAL BUDS training including Hell Week in San Diego.
His desire for a thrill and his lack of fear led to a broken back from a wave runner in 1996. A prescription for Percocet shortly followed. Percocet led to oxycontin and oxycontin led to heroin in 2005.
Being a part of a family that is affected by addiction almost always guarantees there will be some sort of (or much) dysfunction. For us it was coordinating many years of detoxes, rehabs and sober homes. It was hospital stays, court dates, arrests and custody battles. It was living in our home, living in a car, feeding him and driving him everywhere. It was tears and begging and pleading. But it also was a lot of heart to hearts, visits with each other and laughs. It was holidays, cooking together and eating. It was love, it was never giving up.
On October 29, 2016, King lost his life to a long battle with heroin. Toxicology revealed it was a heroin-fentanyl overdose. In his memory, My sister, mother and I have founded King's Crusade. — Suzanne Harrison, Marlton, N.J.
When I speak about Christian, I refer to him as my brother because I feel it's sometimes easier, but he was really my uncle. We were only two years apart and were raised in the same house and were always very close. As we grew older, I can honestly say he was my best friend. Christian lost his battle to addiction four years ago at age 24. He was a son, a brother, grandson, friend, cousin, nephew, uncle, and even a great uncle to my little boy.
He was handsome and had a smile that lit up every room he walked into. He effortlessly excelled in everything he attempted, whether athletically or academically. My favorite thing about Christian was his sense of humor. He was a kid at heart.
He wanted to stop. He hated hurting his family. But he thought he could control the disease that eventually won.