30 Days of Remembrance:
In Our Hearts Is Where Your Story Lives
My name is Samantha and I am a grateful recovering addict. Almost a year and a half ago, on May 18th 2020, I lost my boyfriend due to a long, painful battle with addiction. Elijah, even in our darkest days was so full of life. He had so many goals and such big dreams that he was determined to fulfill. He was always talking about how he was going to find a way to get rich and how we would travel the world together. Eli was one of the most positive people I have ever met, and nobody has ever loved me as deeply and intensely as he did. He loved me more than anything in the world, and took such pride in taking care of me and being my protector. He would have done anything in the world for me. He always told me that nothing hurt him more than to see me sad or suffering. Elijah was a light in the darkness to anyone who crossed paths with him. He dreamed of our future together: the kids we would have, our house he wanted to build, the places we would go, and all the things he wished to accomplish.
However before we could fulfill all the plans we made, his addiction unexpectedly cut his life far too short. On that day, I just held him, begging for him to wake up in complete shock and denial that this was the end of our story.
My heart shattered into a million pieces, but the last thing he would want is for me or anyone to be sad in his memory.
For you, my love, I will live the rest of this life for you. I will be the best version of myself that I can be, keep a smile on my face, and never stop fighting this disease for myself, for those still sick and suffering, and most importantly, those who weren’t fortunate enough to make it to do it for themselves.
“I can figure everything else out in life, why can’t I figure this out?”
This frustrating thought continuously tormented our son, Keegan, throughout his 10-year battle with opioid addiction. A cheerful, intelligent, compassionate young man with a bright future ahead of him, he was a problem solver in every sense, but the one thing he couldn’t overcome was his brain’s constant craving for this lethal drug.
It started while in college when Keegan injured his back. He went to urgent care, where his doctor met with him for 15 minutes and immediately wrote a prescription for 120 oxycodone pills. From that point on Keegan’s life changed completely. He said, “after taking the first pill, it made me feel 100 times more relaxed and happier than I’ve ever felt in my life.” The only problem was, his brain wanted more, and more, and more and more. For the next 10 years Keegan advised people never to take even one pill. “It’s like Russian Roulette, you likely won’t become addicted, but if you do, your life will be forever changed. It’s not worth the gamble.” My wife, Jean, fought and won the effort to revoke that doctor’s license to practice medicine, but there are so many more.
Despite his addiction, Keegan spent the next 10 years bettering himself and pushing himself to succeed. He completed his Bachelor’s Degree, much to the surprise of his counselors and school advisors. He helped open their eyes to the fact that an addict isn’t a bad person and that it’s a disease. He went on to complete his Master’s Degree in Computer Technology and had a wonderful job with a growing IT company. With that being said, it wasn’t a completely fun life. Keegan voluntarily enrolled in rehab ten times over those years, trying to find a solution to the cravings. He went through periods of using and periods of not using. He helped dozens of other addicts along the way. He helped one person join the army and encouraged others to go back to school. Keegan was filled with compassion for all people, especially for what he called the under dogs, those whose families and friends had given up on them.
His cravings never stopped. At first, it’s easy, but eventually your mind will tell you to do anything you can to get another breath. It was explained at Hazelden Rehabilitation Center that the part of the brain most impacted with addiction is the same part that assures you to prioritize breathing, eating, and drinking, the core things you need to stay alive. Therefore, the cravings never go away for people battling addiction. The brain thinks it’s needed to maintain life and it tells you to do anything you can to get more. It’s a very sad and devastating disease. Keegan accepted his struggle well. He persisted and was productive, compassionate, and optimistic all along the way.
I vividly remember the day his struggle ended. Jean, my wife, called me at work crying hard, saying “Hon, we lost him!! We lost him!!” I knew immediately what she meant. I fell to my knees. These are the most gut-wrenching words a parent can ever hear. We told our two daughters and Keegan’s best friends. Those are the words a parent should never have to share with their children. Their only brother has died. Keegan had overdosed on a new version of fentanyl, called acrid fentanyl. It took the medical examiner four months to discover it in Keegan’s blood after his death. That’s how new it was. It’s 100 times more lethal than typical opioids and is being sold on the black market to unsuspecting buyers.
Keegan’s funeral was held in a middle of the biggest blizzard in 10 years. We were concerned few would be able to make it to the church. Our daughters had put together a wonderful tribute to Keegan with pictures of his life, his guitar, and other meaningful remembrances near his open casket in the church lobby. The mass was to start at 11AM. We barely got to the church on time for the 10AM preparations. It didn’t look like many would venture into the blizzard, but we would be happy with whomever could make it. To our amazement, by 10:30, the church was 2/3 full! Hundreds of people had come from all over the area and from other states to pay their respects to Keegan. This brought us to tears. His legacy lives on in the impact he had on others.
It was extremely difficult for us to move on after Keegan passed. He was our only son, our daughters’ only brother and brought us all great joy. He loved being part of the family and actively engaged in all our lives. The first thing we did two days after his death, as a family, was we went to Keegan’s last rehab facility where we and all the residents shared stories about Keegan, especially his generosity, nonjudgmental acceptance, and his compassion. There were many tears and hugs. The kids said seeing our grief in real life was much better than hearing stories and lectures. This was real, raw emotion. It affected others in a way we hope somehow saves at least some of them. After that day, and for the next four months, it was difficult to get through each hour, literally one minute at a time. We all helped and supported one another. The one perspective that helped us eventually learn to cope was something Keegan said two years before he passed, “I want you all to know, if I die from this, you should live your lives to the fullest and be happy. We’ll be together again, and in the meantime, the best gift you can give me, is to be happy.” He must have known, this is what we would eventually need, to help us live with his loss and for that we’re very thankful.
Keegan, you were an amazing young man, son, brother, coworker, and cherished friend. Life will never be the same without you. We miss you immensely. There’s a hole in our hearts that will ache continually and never be filled. Yet, you’re still very much alive within each of us every day. We feel your presence, see your smile, and hear your encouraging words. You continue to inspire us. Addiction is a cruel disease. You may not have been able to figure it out, but you handled it with such courage, perseverance, integrity, and a mature wisdom well beyond your years. We love you, Keegan, and know we’ll be with you again!
From a very young age, Michael was bright, sensitive, independent, with a dry sense of humor. At five years old, he could carry on a full conversation with an adult, and I used to think, where in the world is this coming from? In elementary school, he was always falling off his chair because he liked to sit with one leg folded under the other. His teacher asked him if he would be more comfortable on the floor and for the entire year, he did his schoolwork on the floor with one leg folded under the other. He continued to work in this manner even as an adult.
Michael was a brilliant artist and he loved art. Our favorite place to go was the Gallery of Modern Art in Washington DC. We would walk all the way to the back of the building where there was a beautiful garden and fountain. The light would shine through from the roof, and we would just sit there and be in the moment. Michael could draw anything from memory and would draw pictures on our driveway with chalk. When I would ask to look at them, he would say, “these are just for me,” and then he would erase them.
Michael suffered from Chron’s disease and unfortunately was prescribed into addiction. As a coping mechanism, he loved to build model airplanes. He was very good at it, and he won many awards. We enjoyed going to the airshows every year and my favorite memory was from the airshow we went to at Nellis Air Force Base in Las Vegas a year before he passed. As soon as we got there, Michael said he would be right back. He was gone for a while, and when he returned, he shared all the pictures he took. He looked at me and said “Dad, this is the best day of my life.”
Michael wanted to be an architect. He was enrolled at the University of Buffalo, but unfortunately never got to finish. Michael had a love for history, especially World War II battles. He could tell you the names of all the Generals for every battle. Michael had a passion for the New York Yankees. He could tell you the stats for every player. On Sundays, we would spend the day together at Barnes & Noble. While I was looking at music, Michael would be picking out the latest Marvel comic book. I still have and cherish all of his comic books to this day.
If I had one more day with Michael, I would hug him and never let him go. I would give anything for one more hug, one more kiss, and one more “hi Pops.” On August 9th, Michael would have turned 31 years old.
Michael’s legacy lives on through the Save the Michaels of the World Foundation. Save the Michaels supports families during their loved one’s journey through addiction and into recovery.
Daniel (Danny) Frawley 8/28/86 – 4/17/14
As a young boy, Danny Frawley loved scouts and camping. He was a loyal friend, loved to laugh and was never afraid to give his dad a hug in public. His parents taught him to never be ashamed to show you love someone. Danny was the apple of his younger sister, Cassie’s eye, and protector of her heart; having guided her through life’s experiences. Her big brother was her confidant and her friend. To his Aunt Sissy, Danny was the other half of her heart. They shared a close bond that spanned a lifetime and could never be broken; and they shared a compassion for helping others. Even while facing his own struggles, Danny was always reaching out to and helping others facing addiction, homelessness, and life trials; this was evidenced by the outpouring of testimony shared with his family at and following his funeral services. To all who knew and loved him, and who were blessed by his caring soul, Danny was someone who left an everlasting loving mark on the soul. Danny’s hopes and dreams included recovery from addiction, getting married, securing employment and reconnecting with his family. Some of his hopes and dreams were fulfilled, while others were on their way to being fulfilled, prior to his untimely passing in 2014.
Danny was remembered for his big bear hugs which could heal any wound, physical or emotional. He always knew what to say to make one’s heart whole, and he brought humor to even the darkest moments. Danny had a special gift for reading people. He could see and feel things that others would overlook. One felt comfortable confiding in him because he was such a caring and charismatic guy! As expressed by his loving sister Cassie, “I can hear his cackle in the back of my mind when I see his smile in photographs, and it warms my soul. He lives on in all the lives he shaped; igniting change and spreading compassion.”
Since 2015 Danny’s loving legacy has been carried forward through an annual WNY-area campaign organized by his family, titled “Stuff the Sneakers: Help & Hope for Homelessness and Addiction.” The campaign collects and distributes community donations of footwear and personal care items to local organizations that service adults, youth and children facing homelessness, addiction and or related less fortunate circumstances. In 2021, the campaign welcomed Kids Escaping Drugs as an additional community partner who benefited from campaign donations.
Daniel (Danny) Frawley, beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew, cousin, husband, stepfather, friend, supporter, NA sponsor and employee – is sorely missed and will never be forgotten by all who adored him and whose lives he lovingly impacted.
Today, August 28th would have been Danny’s 35th birthday. Happy Birthday to him in Heaven!
My name is Kelly Wahl, and I lost my son Ryan to a heroin/fentanyl overdose on May 11th, 2017. Ryan was born on December 1st, 1988 and came into this world at a whopping 9lbs 12oz with blonde hair and blue eyes. His dad and I were young parents and had no idea what we were doing, but I knew the moment I saw him and held him that I would never love anything more. Ryan was the sweetest boy and cherished the relationships he had with his family and friends. He was an amazing athlete and played football for Lancaster. He was the skinniest boy on the team. I remember they had to duct tape his pants around him as even the smallest pair would fall right down, yet on the field he hit like a mack truck! Ryan also played baseball at St. Barnabas for many years and was an incredible bowler like his dad from the time he was 5 years old bowling at Infant of Prague Lanes.
This skinny boy grew to be 6’4”. He towered over everyone from the age of 13. He was a great kid that never got into trouble. He was very courteous and willing to help anyone. Ryan was funny, so smart, and a big history buff. He knew everything about history to the point we thought that was the career he was going to choose in life. He did eventually start college, but he decided to major in criminal justice. His issues from a young age with anxiety and depression did not allow him to continue that career path.
Ryan had a big heart. He cared about everyone, and he loved spending time with his grandmothers which he loved dearly as well as his aunts, uncles, and cousins. There are so many funny stories about him but one that I would tell everyone, and he would get so mad at me was when he was two years old, he had gotten a happy meal with a tiny little figure of a boy and for some reason he became obsessed with this little figure that he simply called “Guy.” We could not go anywhere without Guy, and if we forgot him, we had to turn around and go get him and to this day Guy sits on my dresser.
He loved music including many different genres. Ryan especially enjoyed metal and he loved to brag about his mom being a singer in a local band. He was my biggest fan, and he would post videos and always tell his friends and co-workers “hey come see my mom sing in her band.” I loved sharing this love for music with him. He had a favorite song that I would sing. It was the Rolling Stones song “Gimme Shelter.” I dedicate it to him at each show. Ryan would always ask me to go to all his metal concerts too as none of his friends enjoyed the type of music he would listen to. I didn’t care what kind of music it was. I wanted to share this with him and a night of knowing where he was and that he was safe was something I welcomed. He shared a love for football with his dad and his sister Taylor, and I think back to those times often watching them yelling and cheering on the couch together every Sunday.
Ryan had amazing friends that watched out for him. They also helped me through so much with his addiction and this disease that took his life. I wear a bracelet every day that was given to me by my best friend and engraved on this bracelet is a note from a Mother’s Day card Ryan had given me and he wrote, “no matter what mom I’ll always love you.” He ended the card by saying “I am going to fight this disease as hard as I can for you and dad.”
The pain we all feel is unimaginable. We miss him so much and will cherish every moment we had with Ryan, until we meet again my sweet boy.
Scott Giovino was born in Plano, Texas on October 8, 1982 and passed away on March 7, 2020.
Scotty cherished his relationships with his mom, his sister Alicia, brother-in-law Dave, his twin nephews, and his many aunts and uncles, especially his Aunt Lisa and Aunt Deanna. From the time Scott was born, he was lovingly adored by his family. Although “Scott” isn’t a culturally-based name, he grew into his name and would come to be referred to not only as Scott, but also as Scotty to his close family members and friends.
The bond Scotty and his mother Felicia shared was immeasurable. She was his greatest love. There isn’t anything she wouldn’t do for her son. She was all accepting of Scott and embraced his identity. She had PRIDE in her son. She nurtured and loved him, and thoroughly enjoyed the laughs and love they shared, that only a mother and son could. There was never a dull moment within the household. It was a busy place on Ramsdell.
Scotty was an amazing athlete throughout his younger years and into adulthood. He played little league baseball at Hertel North Park for the Regals. He played hockey for four years and became a referee because he mastered hockey and became a professional. Scott loved attending St. Margaret’s and made life-long friends there whom he continued to communicate with for years.
Scott attained his college degree from Bryant & Stratton. He was a whiz with math. He delved into the accounting industry, sales, banking, and general management. He was a leader in his field and he excelled like a BOSS. Scott made countless friends in all of his work and he spent years enjoying these friendships. Scott was a dream coworker and nurtured the people around him to be confident, a better employee, and to be their best.
Scott’s home was a judgement-free zone and he transferred this ideal whenever he interacted with others. He has so many friends, literally countless. He nurtured his
relationships, tended to others, and was a true soul friend to others from all points of life. Scott stood by the underdog and was a voice for others who were weak. He shared his compassion for love and life, and always with his bright, effervescent smile that lit up the room. Scott’s laugh was contagious because it reflected his beautiful soul that exuded from inside. Scott was the life of the party.
Scott became a leader in the LGBTQ community. He was accepted and accepting of others. He was an amazing pageant promoter of Queen City Promotions. He was a pillar in the community, promoting pageants and pride. Scott was so proud of his pageant participants and was an honorary judge in pageants across the region. He was respected in the community he loved, and his community became his second family.
Scott was very protective of his little sister, as she was of him. They shared so many memories, friends, and life experiences. They stuck together side by side through all of life’s ups and downs, their worst days, and their best days. They snuck into the Italian Festival after dark when the festival was closed. They attended each other’s sporting events and family functions, and shared a love for music and dance. They shared the experience of her wedding and the brother-in-law she gave him, Dave Ennis, the brother he never had, as well as his nephews, Mason and Mateo, whom he simply adored. Scott will be greatly missed by her.
Whether times were tough for Scott, he somehow still wanted to hear, listen, and hug others who were going through their toughest times. He was always there to lift you up when you needed him the most. He will always be appreciated.
The pain we feel with Scott’s passing weighs heavy on our hearts. There will forever be an empty spot without Scott here on this Earth. We will cherish our memories of him, to hear that laugh and to see that smile. We will know Scott danced his way into paradise and into eternal joy and life. Please, in memory of Scott, just remember life is short and at times isn’t fair. It’s important to overcome obstacles and enjoy life, both the good and the bad.
My brother was an incredible person.
When Philly was young, he was a busy body! He loved to ride his bike down the street (never following the direction to stay in the sidewalk), and every summer you could find him on the swing set or in the pool.
From a very young age, Philly immersed himself in all sports, especially football and baseball. He never missed a practice or game, and the grass stains on his knees were a staple in every uniform he owned. I can remember the many times he was standing next to the stove getting ready to mold a new mouth guard. He also enjoyed playing golf and participated in karate lessons during his off seasons. He also took piano lessons when he was young, which may have been against his will.
In additional to playing sports, he loved to be a fan and a spectator. He was fortunate enough to attend a Bills Superbowl game in California, a Buffalo Sabres Stanley Cup Final game, a World Series game, and attend a private event for Jim Kelly’s Hall of Fame induction. Needless to say, the love of sports was true and deep.
There were plenty of times that Philly acted like a typical little brother. There was a time when we were in Disney World, staying at the Dixie Landing and we often times were in the resort pool. I can remember an occasion when Philly was waiting on a small bridge for me to slide underneath and he thought it would be funny to drop a pair of goggles on me as I passed by. Needless to say, I was crying and our Italian grandmother (Nana) was waiting for him at the bottom. He played nice after that.
Philly took pride in our Italian heritage. We were surrounded by our immigrant family members who embraced loud dinners, huge gatherings, lots of food, Sunday dinners and regularly attending church. We often spent times acutely listening to conversations where we tried to pick up some Italian words that our elders did not want us to hear.
Philly graduated from North Tonawanda High School and could safely say he enjoyed his high school experience. Philly was either on the football field or following his favorite bands from state to state. He was never looking for a friend, people always gravitated to his infectious smile.
Of all the things he was…one thing that he wasn’t was shy. He lived everyday like it was the last. Philly was passionate about his education and was perusing a degree as an RN. He knew how to show compassion and use his charm to make people smile. Philly never walked away from those who needed help, by working at a nursing home or learning the ropes at a hospital. Nothing made him panic.
Philly suffered an unfortunate accident that introduced him to the disease of addiction. Philly was injured and was admitted to a local hospital. He was young and given free range of life altering medication. At that time, opioids were easy to get your hands on. Many types of providers were giving prescriptions, not understanding the severe consequences that this may cause. None of us knew of the consequences that this medication (drug) could create.
After a long and vicious battle, he began living a beautiful life of recovery.
Our family lived recovery with him. He became the son, brother, and uncle that we had all be waiting for. More importantly, who he had been praying for. Philly often explained that addiction was a friend, and this friend would take every part of his mind, body, and soul and would never give anything back in return.
During his recovery, he focused on his education and maintaining his sobriety. He was a leader in the recovery community and would never hide his story. He was a pillar of strength as he rebuilt his life. When Philly moved into sober living, he began to shine. He became the President of the Oxford House and surrounded himself with safe and passionate people who were on the same journey as he was.
While in this stage of his life, he maintained his sobriety by working, attending meetings, and participating in counseling. His life changed when he learned he would be a father to a beautiful little girl who had stolen his heart from the moment she arrived.
As we learn, part of recovery can be relapse. Unfortunately for us, Philly did relapse and the enemy known as “opioid” stole his mind and body.
Philly will not be defined by addiction! What our community should understand is that addiction is a disease.
Philly was a handsome, loving, smart, charismatic, dedicated, passionate human and my very first best friend. I can still feel his scruffy face and hear him say, “Love you, Lee Lee.”
This disease stole his body but it will never take away his soul and spirit. He lives on in us every day and will never, ever be forgotten. As he often said, “It is what it is, until it isn’t.”
Love, Lisa and Family
It was truly an honor to have Melissa as a part of our lives, even if it was only for a short while. The years that Missy was with us, she filled our hearts with memories, love, and laughs that will last us a lifetime. Melissa was an amazing mom, a caring daughter, a devoted sister, an adoring granddaughter, a silly cousin, a special niece, and a best friend to many! She meant the world to each one of us. She leaves behind a huge family and many friends who will miss her deeply until the day we will see her again. Here are some words from some of the people who miss her most.
“I miss my mom. I miss her because she was sweet to me. My favorite part about Mommy was that she cared about me. I love my mom.” –Mason, Melissa’s Son
“I miss your smile, your voice, and that contagious laugh. You always knew how to brighten up any room. You left us with the most beautiful gift of all, your son. He has your smile, your giggle, and your quirky personality. You brought so much joy much into our family. I still say if only. If only I could hug you one more time and tell you how much I love you. You will always be my sunshine.” –Nancy, Melissa’s Mom
“I think the thing that stands out the most for me is how strong and smart Melissa was. She never tried to be better than anyone, just herself all the time. A lot of people didn’t like that, but I really did. One of my last times with her, we watched a movie, just the two of us, and I felt that it was her way of trying to say goodbye. You had to be there to understand but it was my favorite alone time with her, my little baby girl.” – Robert, Melissa’s Dad
“I met Melissa when she was four years old and instantly fell in love with her. She could be the funniest, goofiest girl but on the other hand, she was totally down to earth, and I cherished our heartfelt talks. I miss her smile, her laugh, but most of all, I miss not being able to pick up the phone and call her. It could be to tell her something funny, or just to tell her that I love her and that she was a beautiful person.” –Robin, Melissa’s Stepmom
It is so hard to explain how amazing my boy Colton was. His soul shined brightly. He was so loving and tender even though he was strong and courageous. He loved all kinds of literature but was drawn to poetry. Poetry connected him to who he was on the inside, and he knew he wasn’t alone in his wise and amazing way of seeing the world. He was colorful and sad. He was up at the top of the mountain and down in the deepest part of the ocean. He loved adventure and animals. His friends talk about how he would listen to them when they needed someone to hear their pain. Colton had a way of helping them find parts of themselves they could not see on their own. His hugs were like magic bullets full of love and compassion. His eyes smiled from across a room and left you feeling happy. His laugh made your day. His love of nature and simple things was always so heartfelt. Music and his colors (tie-dye) were the two things he could never be without. He loved his family. He did all the things that siblings do with his sisters and at the end of the day, they adored each other. However, sometimes it may have taken them more than a day to remember that!
His addiction stole his life and took him to places he never wanted to know but it did not take our love and he always fought to get back to us. I have never seen anyone fight for their life the way he did. His courage to face his disease was more than any person I have ever known. I could go on forever with all the things that made him great to me, but I think his greatest strength was the love he had inside him. He glowed with love, and it was awesome to love him and have an angel to call my son.
I love you baby, thank you for being my son.
The staff on the Kids Escaping Drugs Renaissance Campus helped Colton find a way to keep climbing out from the pit of hell that was always trying to swallow him up each time he turned his back on it. The campus gave our family a way to be as healthy as possible with great awareness and love and support. I hope every parent who needs it, has the strength to step through the doors and ask for help, because you will always get it. In many ways what we learned during and after Colton’s time on the Renaissance Campus saved our family and gave us Colton for many more years than would have been possible. We are very grateful every day for KED even now after he has been gone from us for 5 years.
Love to you all,
Becky, Stephanie, and Shayna
Chris was our first born and our only son. I used to love when he was younger, to chase after him for kisses. He was very smart and artistic. He loved to draw very detailed pictures which required a lot of time and patience. Chris also loved spending time camping with his father and friends. It was one of his favorite things to do.
I’m Samantha, one of Chris’ sisters. Chris had a mischievous smirk, dimples, and a smile that would always get you. He had more depth than most people ever had the chance to see and experience with him and a heart that was kind, pure and forgiving. Chris was a dreamer and he believed in the people around him in a way that lifted others and made them dream along with him. He was resilient and a fighter. He taught many of the people around him what it meant to experience love and loss, joy, and pain, pushing and letting go. He pushed others to find strength and optimism and many lives are forever changed for the better just by knowing my brother.
I’m Rachael, Chris’s youngest sister. After 10 years I have learned to not dwell on the things I wish I could have changed for him. It’s not that it’s easier to not have Chris with me, I have just learned how to remember him in the absolute best light and replaying all the funny moments we had together. I want to smile thinking of Chris or even laugh because we were great at that.
It’s so hard to believe that my little boy would be turning 40 years old today. Some of the best memories I have with Junior, as father and son, are when we went camping at Rushford Lake and Stillwater. We started going camping when Jr. was very young. He loved fishing, driving three wheelers all over the backwoods, hiking, exploring or just building a fire. At Stillwater we had to take a boat all the way up the water just to set up our camp site. It was quite an adventure for a young kid! These were some of the best times we ever spent together, I’ll bet they are Junior’s too, as he thinks about them in heaven.
We would like to thank Robin and her team at Kids Escaping Drugs for all the wonderful and dedicated hard work they do every day. We’re also very happy and proud that Christopher’s foundation was able to help the Kids Escaping Drugs mission and naming the building after our son, “Palmerton Place.” Chris would have loved knowing that he was helping other kids with this terrible disease.
Nicholas was a character and a charmer with the biggest smile, he could light up a room. Once, I believe he was 11 years old, he took the keys to my Chevy Venture SUV and took it for a ride. When he came back unharmed and the SUV still intact, we said, “Where did you go?” He responded with, “Around the corner to the store.” We miss you, Nicholas. If I could have one more day with you, I would hug and squeeze you so tight and never let you go. Fly high and continue to watch over us until we meet again. Love Aunt Maria and Adyn.
Rena was my beautiful younger sister. She was outspoken, loving, and would give the shirt off her back to anybody in need. Rena loved bowling, swimming, and especially playing bingo. She always loved coming to hear me play music at church or other gigs. Rena loved old school R & B and was always singing, believing that she had a wonderful singing voice (she didn’t). She has three children, DJ, David, and Reneisha. One of my favorite memories was Sunday dinner at her house. She loved hot wings, and it was a favorite meal of ours. I miss her coming over to my house, walking right to the fridge, and getting out whatever she wanted. Rena truly was the joy of our family.
-Eric and Pam Oliver
It is hard to describe all that was Whitney Jaynes in a few paragraphs. She was a twenty-year-old girl becoming a woman, from a small town that would change the lives of those she loved forever. Whitney struggled with substance abuse, but she fought a war within herself with every bit of strength she had. This war of mental health and addiction affects a large percentage of those around us every day. Whitney looked at life with a different perspective. She radiated an aura of empathy with every person she met. Her spirit was transparent!
From thirteen to twenty years old Whitney spent her time diving into the depths of her own soul to help others and enlighten the world. Before her mental health became an eluding obstacle, she loved dance, the simplest forms of nature, and wondrously feeling at one with the planet. This self-discovery expedition was fueled by her ability to not only survive her inner weakness and trauma, but to overcome it.
Whitney loved deeply and used laughter to inspire others. She was the friend you could always come to, and her loyalty to her family was deeper than most could see. Her mother was her safety, and her sister was her friend. Those she had relationships with found her to be devoted, quirky and sometimes very sarcastic. Her bluntness made her alluring and sometimes exciting.
Whitney did not hold back. She could be difficult when she felt attacked by her inner critic, but deep inside she had a heart of gold. She used her compassion for helping others to become a recovery coach. By sharing her personal story of addiction, Whitney was able to educate adolescents on the dangers of substance use.
She enjoyed music and listening to every little beat behind the words. Whitney danced and sang with all her might to electronic music and rap. Graphic design was a passion of Whitney’s in her high school days! Her style was iconic. She rocked the boldly drawn-out winged eyeliner with pink or red lipstick to emphasize her beauty.
She knew life was short and proudly embraced every minute even during her substance abuse battle. Whitney found recovery from addiction when she entered the rehabilitation program on the Kids Escaping Drugs Renaissance Campus. They helped her with codependency, her too forgiving nature, and the skills to lead a life free from the disease of addiction. Unfortunately, a spur of the moment decision changed Whitney’s trajectory forever.
On November 21st, 2018, Whitney’s soul departed this world and now travels the sands of time. Heroin may have caused her departure, but she gave addiction a run for its money! Whitney’s passing freed her from the pain she battled within, but she left a legacy of strength for those who are continuing their fight here on earth. This epidemic is a puzzle of beautiful souls and together we will solve it one piece at a time!
My name is Pastor Mark Sterlace and I lost my brother to a heroin/fentanyl overdose in 2016. Early in life, Brian was diagnosed with Crohn’s disease. It was severe and he was always in a lot of pain. While managing his pain, Brian turned to more aggressive and unfortunately destructive addictive solutions. After struggling with addiction for many years, Brian turned towards rehab and recovery. In and out of outpatient and rehab facilities and then finally after two stents in Teen Challenge, Brian seemed to be doing very well. He was engaged to be married with a child on the way. Then it happened! Brian received an insurance settlement and unfortunately, he went and purchased some heroin. In one slip after almost two years being clean, the heroin was laced with fentanyl. Within several minutes, Brian was gone. This awesome man who loved life, loved his family and his fiancé Vicky, a man so looking forward to starting his family was gone. Words cannot describe the pain or the sense of loss. I officiated the funeral in which hundreds of people attended, all sharing the hope to go forward. Vicky is doing well, as well as her 5-year-old son. When she looks at her son, she sees the hope that lives on in him. Brian will always be remembered. May those reading this be comforted with the love of God and the hope we have in Jesus.
My name is Gianna and I am 15 years old. I am an alumnae of the Kids Escaping Drugs Renaissance Campus and today I am proud to be celebrating 10 months of sobriety! I would like to honor this milestone by paying tribute to my dad Jesse, who I lost to the disease of addition 16 months ago. My dad was very handsome and had beautiful green eyes. He was skinny with a laid-back style, and I always teased him about his big, bald head.
He struggled with substance use most of his life and that led to long stretches away from our family but when we were together, we always had fun. My favorite thing about my dad was he was so funny. He was always sarcastic, and I inherited his sense of humor. He was very understanding and always willing to talk if you needed to.
He loved to cook, and my favorite dish was his Spanish sausage and rice. I cherish my memories with my dad and some of my favorite include getting ice cream, he’d get chocolate and I’d get strawberry, and skipping rocks at the creek. He was determined that I mastered the art of rock skipping and we couldn’t leave the creek until I had accomplished this feat. My dad loved his family. He never had much in the way of material possessions, but he was very generous. Even when he had nothing, he would give you his last dime if you needed it.
He loved four wheeling and riding his dirt bike. We would ride at grandparent’s house, and he made sure I always had a four-wheeler. The last Fourth of July we spent together was amazing. It had been five years since he had been free to see the fireworks and he was so excited. We had the best time! He loved the rapper Eminem who is also in recovery and his favorite song was River featuring Ed Sheeran. I listen to it often and think of him fondly.
Both my dad and I are very close to my grandmother. She was always there to love and support him in good times and in bad and has been a great source of support for me as well. My grandmother and I believe that when you see a cardinal it is our loved ones checking in on us. She has two cardinals in her yard, a chubby one that she says is my grandfather and a skinny one that she says is my dad.
I think about my dad a lot, but he is with me every day, close to my heart in the tear drop necklace that I wear that represents my sadness that he is gone.
If I had one more day, I would go back to the New York State Fair with him, ride the Zipper, get ice cream and tell him I love him. I would let him know that nothing was his fault and he was the best dad that he could be!
In Memory of Jacob
“My little brother, Jacob Michael Ross, battled with addiction and lost his life to it 3 years ago. Jacob was spontaneous, thrill seeking, hardworking, caring, compassionate and as fun of a person as you could imagine. He wasn’t afraid of anything and was extremely talented at everything he put his mind to. His true passion was surfing and anything to do with the ocean. Jacob had a hard time staying still and always loved to be around his friends and family. He is missed by so many people, but his spirit and excitement for life are remembered and continued in all of us who knew and loved him.” -Jade Ross
Click here here to view a beautiful video created in Jacob’s memory. Video credit: La Flecha Film Co.
Description from video producer: Life is fragile. We struggle, if ever, to fully embrace both its pain and joy. Yet surrounded by its darkest moments, Jade Ross has found the courage to use dance as a way to share her story.
I had the pleasure of meeting Brian in 2009 when I began working for Kids Escaping Drugs (KED) in the Face2Face Program. Brain graduated from the Renaissance Campus in 2005 and remained very involved as an alumnus. He served on the KED Board of Directors, chaired the alumni committee, mentored young people in early recovery, and shared his story with countless teens and parents across Western New York. I knew immediately after hearing Brian tell his story for the first time that he was dedicated, hardworking, and courageous. It was evident he cared a great deal about helping others. Due to his ongoing appreciation and dedication, I was fortunate to work closely with him for ten years.
As Brian and I worked together, we became friends. Brian was kind, supportive, and sentimental. His sense of humor is something that will always stand out in my mind. However, what I remember most about him is how incredibly passionate he was about living life to the fullest, with no regrets. Brian would often encourage me to step outside my comfort zone. He had an adventurous spirit like no other, and he loved to share it with others. Brian could often be found hiking, camping, scuba diving, snowboarding, and kayaking. He was an avid climber of rocks, ice, and mountains. He even climbed Mount Kilimanjaro to raise money for KED in the Klimb for Kids! Brian’s adventures led him to become a world traveler, having been to places like Australia, New Zealand, England, and Peru. When Brian wasn’t outside, he enjoyed collecting LEGOS, playing chess, and computer technology. Shortly before his passing, he worked for a computer company in which he led a grant project that ultimately provided an underprivileged area with Wi-Fi access.
Brian left this world to begin his greatest adventure and climb the highest mountain just over two years ago. He lives on in the hearts of his daughter, his family, his friends, and in the recovery community. I will be forever grateful for everything he did for families in WNY. His vulnerability and courage in sharing his story had a lasting positive impact on so many. I think of Brian often and smile. I am thankful that our work together at Kids Escaping Drugs created a special friendship that I hold close to my heart.
-Jessica Hutchings, Former Face2Face Program Director
Chris was a truly passionate person, especially when it came to his family, friends, and interests. If he couldn’t be perfect at something, then his attitude was “what’s the point?” He had an infectious smile, quick wit, and quirky way of looking at the world.
Chris loved sports, history, and creating things, whether it be buildings for his super heroes or a beautiful painting. Hockey was his first passion until he started 8th grade at DeSales Catholic School, when he decided it was time to try a sport where he didn’t have to rely on someone else “showing up.” He chose golf and that’s where his story began to soar. Every day, Chris would walk a mile down the road with his clubs to the little county course, where he used his lawn mowing money to get a junior membership. There, he would team up with the retired golfers to play 18-45 holes a day. Chris not only loved listening to the old-timers’ stories, but also wanted to share his stories from his 14-year-old life.
The next summer, Chris tried out for the St. Joe’s golf team. His dad promised him a new set of irons, should he make it. St. Joe’s only had a varsity team of 12 golfers. We arrived at the course for tryouts to find over a hundred candidates. Each day he made the cut, running to the car with overwhelming excitement, until the last day. As he headed toward me with his head down, clubs over his shoulder, I felt the pit in my stomach that only a mother can know seeing their child fail. Then, as he lifted his gaze toward me, I could see from under the bill of his hat a twinkle in his eye and a crooked smirk that said “GOTCHA!”
That next month while playing at the DeSales Alumni Tournament, he achieved the first of many golf triumphs. While at the 18th tee he called me at work. I picked up the phone and could hear cheering and shouting and in the most exuberant voice I hear, “Mom, I just shot a hole in one!” Chris was 15 years old. The next year, he joined the Lockport Town and Country Club where he became a celebrity in his own right with the members there. He came in 2nd at All Catholics, shot a record 66 during a summer tournament with the WNYPGA, played in the Jr. Masters in East Aurora, and made it to the State Championships twice. He was then accepted to St. John Fisher to play on their NCAA Division III Golf team.
In his final years he was accepted to Coastal Carolina University in Conway SC Pro Golf Management Program; only one of nine programs in the country at the time. Within the first two months, he passed the coveted PAT (Playing Ability Test) which is a 36 hole playing ability test mandatory in order to become a PGA professional. While Chris’ stay at CCU was brief, he made an impact on friends that he met and teachers who would not forget him.
Upon his passing, we received an official diploma of attendance and so many heartfelt words. These words from his Political Science teacher, who only knew him for one semester, sum Chris up beautifully…
“Chris was one of my students at Coastal Carolina University. He was my number one guy in a class of 36 students. He was always prepared for discussion and offered insightful comments. This young man was a superlative student with a gregarious personality. Others tried to emulate him. I LEARNED FROM HIM!!! He was a fine man with a caring heart. I will miss him very much.” God Bless, Mark Singleton.
Chris’ achievements live on with a foundation started in his memory, the Chris Maloney Legacy Foundation. This foundation is building community partnerships bridging the sport and core values of golf with those needed to raise healthy, happy children and young adults. Chris wanted to be part of the First Tee Program so that’s where it started and now connects with Kids Escaping Drugs. Our family and friends couldn’t be more proud of Chris and revel at what he accomplished in his 23 years.
Jesse was the youngest of our family. He was a brother to his sister, Rachel and his brother, Joe. He was a perfect baby and a shy little boy with a mischievous smile. As a toddler, he loved the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Power Rangers. He was not into sports, but he was the boy who loved his family, friends, and had a special bond with his dog, Cleo. Jesse also had a love and talent when it came to music. He started on the drums. I smile now when I think back on how it drove us crazy. Soon after mastering the drums, he learned that he was much better at playing his acoustic guitar, which he played every day. Jesse graduated from Iroquois High School and worked as a cook at a local restaurant in East Aurora. After work, Jesse would spend most evenings playing his guitar or video games, often with one of his many close friends.
Jesse was one of those kids who loved everyone he met, and they loved him back. He was that boy who always said, “I love you!” and you knew he meant it with all his heart. He was a real gentleman with a dry sense of humor that would always make you smile. Jesse had a smile that would light up a room.
Jesse loved to have fun and be with his friends. According to those in his close circle of friends, Jesse played hard and lived life like he wanted. Unfortunately, on June 22, 2015, at the young age of 24 years old, Jesse played too hard and lost his life. His leaving us left a huge void in so many lives – friends and family alike. The favorite guitar that he played every day was used by his close friend to play “Wish You Were Here” at his memorial service. He is loved and missed so very much.
We miss celebrating major family milestones with Jesse – special birthdays, his brother’s wedding celebration. We missed experiencing the excitement with him when his brother become a father for the first time, and he was not there for the birth of his twin nieces (Avery Jesse and Bailey Grace). There have been many major milestones missed, but we miss the day-to-day events the most. A simple “I love you” as he leaves the house or ending a phone call, the family dinners, and the trips to get ice cream on his birthday. As a celebration of his life, every year on Jesse’s birthday, friends and family meet at his favorite ice cream shop to share stories and eat ice cream in memory of Jesse – twist cone with rainbow sprinkles please!
Our beloved Alex is missed every minute of every day. He had a wonderful presence about him. He was tall and thin, handsome, intelligent, had a great smile, had a passion for history, his family and adventure. He loved being a boy scout, fishing, hiking, kayaking, camping, concerts, his dog, and his friends.
Alex was always looking for ways to make money. Even at an early age, about 8 years old, he asked me to help him get some jobs in the neighborhood. I told him we would write a letter and he could deliver it to the neighbors. Well, that’s exactly what he did. He helped one lady clean up her basement and watched another neighbor’s cat. Soon after that he became a paper carrier. A passionate paper carrier, unlike many others. He was so particular about the way he stuffed the inserts into the Sunday paper that he wouldn’t let any of us help him. So, week after week, he stood in the garage, in the cold, stuffing his inserts exactly the way he wanted them to be. I guess it never occurred to him that he could have taught us all how to do it!
He enjoyed school and won awards for academic achievement in reading and writing. He was in the chorus in middle school and sang in a quartet during one of the school’s performances. He absolutely loved social studies because he had a teacher that dressed as characters of the past and made the class fun and exciting. Alex loved learning about the history of the world and spent quite a lot of time trying to get the rest of us to listen to his take on religion and politics.
I remember one day when Alex was in high school, I received a phone call from one of his teachers. She stated that Alex was sitting in the back of history class reading the newspaper. I started to laugh because I knew my son had to be bored to do something like that. I told the teacher he was bored and that he could probably teach the class because he knew so much about history. I’m pretty sure she didn’t like that comment! I also told her I would speak to him about paying more attention in class. I did speak to him to no avail.
He made it through high school and then went off to college. He moved into his first apartment in Buffalo with a couple friends from school. He joined a fraternity, worked at Home Depot, and went to school full time. He studied geography and urban planning. He earned his Bachelor of Science Degree and graduated Summa Cum Laude. He made the Dean’s list during one semester and even passed his statistics class with flying colors. I remember his grade being in the 90s after struggling all semester. He must have been bored in that class too!
Straight out of college he interviewed for First Niagara Bank and landed a job as an Environmental Risk Analyst making $41,000 to start. A year or so after he started working, First Niagara was sold to KeyBank and Alex was at risk of losing his job. However, he was one of the only employees that KeyBank retained and gave him a raise! I couldn’t be prouder of my son for his accomplishments and the wonderful young man he had become.
In November 2016, Thanksgiving weekend, Alex’s friend asked if he wanted to take a trip to Iceland. He was conflicted because it was the weekend when he would hang out with his family members from Syracuse, and everyone would go out and have fun. He asked me what I thought he should do, and I reassured him that it would probably be a trip of a lifetime. And so, it was. He took beautiful pictures and had a great time. I was so very happy for him to have that experience.
Then, my world as I knew it was over; my precious son was gone. I knew I would never be that mom, friend, or teacher again. Too much had changed. I had to find a new way to live in this world, a way to live without the presence of my son.
The world is without an intelligent young man who had a promising future ahead of him. He is missed every day and loved more than words can express.
Thank you for the opportunity to share Alex’s story because his life was much greater and richer than the facts of his passing.
Felicia was one of the most loving, courageous, big-hearted, and beautiful girls I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing! She accomplished many great things in her life that made everyone who knew her proud. Felicia was a beautiful soul, inside and out. Felicia has always been a free-spirited, animal loving, independent and wanderlust girl. Her smile and laughter were infectious as was her passion for life. We lost Felicia a little over a year ago and miss her so much.
If you knew Felicia, you know we could always find her outside during a rainstorm, dancing and truly living in the moment. Felicia took the saying “find the time to stop and smell the roses” to heart and could often be seen admiring the beauty in nature. She loved the sunrise and sunset and would pause to gaze at the moon. Felicia was a true nature lover and restless soul. She was always willing to help those in need and share her love with anyone she met. She was a daughter, sister, granddaughter, niece, cousin, and true friend to many whose lives she touched with great sincerity. She was a huge Buffalo Bills fan. She would have been so happy and proud to cheer the Bills on during this past season’s playoff run. Felicia also loved her Polish heritage and celebrating Dyngus Day with family each year! Felicia enjoyed live music and country concerts with her cousins, spending time with her siblings and parents, and hanging out at the beach. Felicia truly was a ray of light and always took the time to listen and care for those around her. She lives in the hearts and souls of everyone she touched. We miss her so much and feel the loss of her presence with each of us every day. In honor of Felicia, we ask people to slow down, live in the moment, and maybe even spend some time dancing in the rain.
Cameron was a compassionate young man with a lot of love to give. He lost his life at the age of 23 to the disease of addiction. Cameron was pursuing a career in the field of Nursing because he wanted to help others. Cameron loved his job working with children with disabilities. His famous saying was, “you know it was a good day at work when you come home with paint and marker colors all over your hands.” Cameron was a black belt in Taekwondo, he loved doing magic tricks, was a pro at solving a Rubik’s Cube, and enjoyed making origami. Cameron enjoyed spending time with his family, he loved his animals, especially his bearded dragon. Cameron would give the last dollar in his pocket to someone in need. He never wanted to see people go without. He had a heart of gold. After spending a Christmas at Renaissance House and seeing first-hand the amazing people who cared about the residents, Cameron started a tradition to give back each year by giving the rehab program a Christmas gift of the residents’ choosing. Cameron wanted to be one of those people that spread the love during the holidays. Despite him no longer being here physically, his tradition will remain alive because he would not want it any other way.
“Marlee is my younger sister. We were very close and she was my best friend. She had SO many friends and was well liked by everyone. She lit up a room when she walked in. Marlee was 5’10”, well-dressed with blonde hair, a loud voice, and a big laugh. She got along with everybody.
Marlee was the funniest person I’ve ever met. To this day, I don’t think I have met anyone funnier. She made everyone laugh, was constantly making jokes and loved taking funny pictures. She could just look at me and I would immediately start laughing. She was hysterical.
I’m pretty sure Marlee had her own language. She would make up all of these nicknames and words. No one knows why or how she came up with them, but we all just seemed to go along with it. I still use some of her words sometimes.
She was so good with kids! Marlee just had this natural energy that kids were drawn to and they loved her. She was like a kid magnet.
Marlee loved to hang out with her (many groups) of friends. She loved to go to concerts and the beach. You could find her at any social event.
At the time of her passing, Marlee was enrolled in college. She worked in a local restaurant, which she really enjoyed, and was very popular with customers. Her personality and work ethic were perfect for customer service. She was taking Criminal Justice classes at Erie Community College. Marlee was still trying to figure out what she was passionate about, but she spoke highly of wanting to be a detective or working in criminal investigations.
Marlee was a very loyal person. She stood up for what was right and wasn’t afraid to speak up. She didn’t care if you were her personal friend, family or stranger, if it was wrong then she would make it right. You could always count on her. I always liked that about her. I was never that bold or confident to speak up like she was and she motivated me to be a stronger person.
As her sister, the hardest part of losing Marlee is trying to live my life while not having her there. I have had to get married without her there, graduate college, buy my first home, and have two children that will never be able to meet their aunt. Holidays are hard, birthdays are difficult. Knowing that my kids won’t have a relationship with Marlee is extremely difficult to think about. She misses out on so much that I never thought she would.
A sibling loss is a different kind of pain. That’s your built-in best friend, someone who is supposed to be by your side forever. I miss Marlee so much but I know she wouldn’t want me to be sad or put my life on hold because of her. She would want me to succeed and do my best, so that’s what I try to do every single day.
I know that Marlee is always watching over me, my parents, and my family. Not a day goes by that I don’t think of her. Both of my kids have a lot of little quirks in their personalities that remind me of her. My daughter looks just like her too! It gives me comfort to know that I still have a little piece of her here with me.
My life is forever changed because of my sister’s passing, but it is so helpful to me to share my story in the hopes of inspiring others.
Thank you for letting me share my sister’s story. She was a wonderful young lady, and she is missed by so many!!”
We Want to Share Your Loved One’s Story
Each day during the month of August, leading up to Overdose Awareness Day on August 31st, Kids Escaping Drugs will feature 30 stories on our social media platforms of beautiful and cherished individuals whose lives were lost too soon to the disease of addiction.
We invite you to tell the story of your love one’s life. What were their hobbies? Who is their family? Too often, the focus is placed on an individual’s battle with addiction. At Kids Escaping Drugs, we want to know why the world is not the same without your loved in it.
Interested in sharing your loved one’s story? Please reach out to Suzanne D’Amico at email@example.com or 716.827.9462. Include photos, a short one minute video, a written paragraph, or bullet points and we will put together a memorable piece to honor your loved one.