If you’re using drugs — specifically, hardcore substances like opioids, meth, cocaine and the like, it’s time to give some serious thought to an important topic: What do you want your obituary to say?

That’s something most of us don’t give a lot of thought to, especially when we’re so busy living life to its fullest that we don’t stop to comprehend its end.

When you’re busy dying, however, the words that sum up your existence bear some contemplation.

Drug addicts don’t give much thought to anything besides the overwhelming need to use and the all-consuming chase to get more drugs. Lord knows I didn’t, or if I did, it was with the sort of fatalistic resignation that if death found me, I would at least be able to get some rest.

That probably sounds morbid, but anyone who’s lived in the shackles of active addiction can identify.

What we don’t think about, of course, is the impact our deaths due to addiction will have on everyone around us. Even though we may go through life with friends, family and loved ones angry at or disappointed in us, they still love us.

We may not feel it, and they may keep their distance, but it’s there.

And if addiction claims our lives, that love may inspire them to use their final words about us as an example of just how deadly our condition really is. The U.S., according to World Health Rankings, is fifth out of 183 countries for drug use mortality rates, with 100 people dying from drug overdoses every day in this country. Those rates are at an all-time high and have more than tripled since 1990, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and the crisis has reached epidemic proportions — so much so that family members and loved ones are choosing to no longer remain silent when the addicts in their lives take their final breaths.

For many years, addiction was a mark of shame, and those who suffered from it were considered weak-willed or immoral individuals who were victims of their own undoing.

Obituaries lamented loss and detailed the backgrounds of those who passed, but the overwhelming shadow over their lives was seldom mentioned.

In recent years, however, there’s been a growing trend to erase that stigma through an honest dialog in the obituaries of the fallen: “The truth is, there is no ‘other’ kind of people.

There are only people, and all of us — rich and poor, white and black, suburban and urban and rural — know someone whose life is vulnerable to addiction,” writes Stephen Segal, an editor for the online obituary website Legacy.com.

I was reminded of just how visceral an effect that addiction can have on families this week, when the obituary for Megan Angelina Webbley went viral.

Originally submitted to the Vermont publication Seven Days by Webbley’s father, it’s not an easy read … but a necessary one, for those struggling with addiction and the people who love them.

“Megan Angelina Webbley, 31, passed away unexpectedly on Sunday, September 29.

Specifically, she died of an overdose, finally losing her battle with addiction. She was in Manchester, N.H., seeking treatment for her addiction. We have no clear picture of what went wrong.”

The obituary goes on to detail how her addiction began with prescription opiates are a near-fatal fall … how she would be in and out of rehabs and jails for the next 14 years … how she left behind both parents, a brother and four children. The picture beside the obituary is that of a smiling, beautiful young woman who looks no different than anyone you pass on the street or sit next to in church or stand behind in line at Starbuck’s.

Hers is an American story, because America is a country awash in drugs and alcohol, and they’re killing people daily.

Megan isn’t the first individual to have the circumstances of her death laid bare for the world to see.

A search of the internet can reveal some searing and painful final remembrances of loved ones lost, and while they’re no doubt agonizing for loved ones to write, they’re also badges of courage, in my opinion.

Because it takes a brave man or woman to point to a dead child in the pages of a newspaper and say, “See? See her? This could be you. This will be you.” They’re right. In recovery, “the bitter ends” of addiction are jails, institutions, death … or recovery.

Those written about in death notices and obituaries are beyond the hope of that final option, but if words written about them help the rest of us see a little clearer and understand a little better, then we owe it to them to not look away.

Steve Wildsmith was an editor and writer for The Daily Times for nearly 17 years; a recovering addict, he now works in media and marketing for Cornerstone

of Recovery, a drug and alcohol treatment center in Blount County. Contact him at wildsmithsteve@gmail.com.

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