Deadly addiction changes the way families remember loved ones in obituaries

Posted at 6:02 PM, Feb 15, 2017
and last updated 2017-02-16 12:18:42-05

The deadly heroin crisis in our communities is changing the way victims' families choose to remember their loved ones.

Families are much more forthcoming about their cause of death.

The number of death notices in Northeast Ohio that now contain the words addiction, heroin, and overdose is soaring. 

"I was pretty much in a daze, and my family picked me up," said Greg McNeil.

McNeil described the heartbreaking moments following his son Sam's death.

"Deep in my heart I knew exactly what happened, and how he passed. There wasn't any evidence around or anything else, but we knew," said McNeil.

At the age of 28, after two stints in rehab and a daughter on the way, Sam McNeil lost his battle with heroin.

"When he was in the grips of addiction he talked with me several times that he wanted to do something so that others wouldn't follow in this footsteps," said McNeil.

As for how they could honor Sam's wish? His aunt and Godmother had an idea.

"We need to say what a loving, wonderful person Sam was, but second of all, we need to put it in there how he passed away. We have to help other people," said Beth Trivelli.

While faced with the gut-wrenching task of writing Sam's obituary his family included this:

"Sam died from a drug overdose after losing an 8-year battle with addiction. If one person reads this and it stops them from going down the path of addiction, then his death was not in vain."

"We know other people don't put it out there, but we feel like in order to help people Sam would want us to put it out there, and it was painful, it was really hard," said Trivelli.

"We thought long and hard, but at the very end, we decided that was the right thing to do," said Greg McNeil.

Those scrambling to save people like Sam from addiction in Northeast Ohio say they're seeing more and more families submit obituaries like this.

“They may not have any idea what they want to do, but they want to bring it out and let people know that it's happened and we've got to do something about it," said William Denihan, ADAMHS Board of Cuyahoga County.

And those families, whether they realize it or not, are empowering themselves during tragedy.

"We're still grieving. That helped in some small way by doing that, by putting it out there, by being real about it and not being bottled up" said McNeil.

That honesty continued well after writing Sam's obituary. Several people spoke about his struggles during his funeral service.

It's a story his family is still sharing today as they work to end opioid abuse through "Cover 2," the non-profit foundation they set up in Sam's honor.