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‘She Wanted to Live’: When Obituaries Are Honest About Addiction

by Stephen Segal

In 2017, more and more families are speaking out about their loved ones’ addiction deaths.

We never expect addiction to kill the most familiar among us. There’s this dangerous idea that’s grabbed hold of the popular consciousness over the years that drug addicts are a whole separate category of people, people who would never include Kim who sat next to me in English class and was a sweet girl who loved “Game of Thrones” and just wanted to make her mom happy. 

But 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.


A family friend of mine died this year. I knew her as a wholesome, hardworking college kid, a good student who was kind to animals and to other people. She overdosed on heroin. Her loved ones were devastated. They didn’t see it coming, because she’d been hiding her addiction out of shame. The people who would have done anything they could to help her never had the chance.

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More and more often, the families of those who die from addiction are choosing to tell those stories publicly, in grief, but without shame, hoping that a true recounting of these personal demons might help others find a different path.

2017 began with one such story being widely shared across the nation: the obituary for Casey Schwartzmier, a 20-year-old from the outskirts of Pittsburgh whose mother wanted to honor her memory by making sure that other families understood how much her life meant.

As an editor at Legacy, it’s my job to read obituaries every day. And as families are increasingly inclined to be more frank and honest and vulnerable than ever before in the obituaries they write, it’s almost overwhelming to realize just how many young people are struggling daily to survive. 

In 2017, there are hundreds of obituaries being published that talk plainly about the heartbreaking dangers of heroin and opioid addiction. Today, on International Overdose Awareness Day, here are ten of them, written to preserve the memories of much-loved young adults whose families hope their life stories can make a difference for others.

R.I.P. Casey Marie Schwartzmier, 20, Pennsylvania. “Casey never wanted to be defined only by her addiction and mistakes… she was a beautiful, intelligent child of the suburbs who fell into its grip. It can happen to anyone. She was feisty and outspoken but would do anything for anyone and always lit up the room with her smile and sense of humor even while struggling with her demons. She loved her family deeply, wanted to adopt every animal she saw, and play with every child she came across. Casey believed strongly in second chances, maybe because she craved another chance for herself and other addicts, so she donated her life saving organs to give someone else a second chance at life.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Reghan Michelle Berry, 22, South Carolina. “Heroin told her, ‘I can make you feel accepted, I can make you feel alright, I can make you feel worthy, I can make you feel normal, I make you feel loved and I can make you feel nothing and make you feel like everything will be okay.’ 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.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Samantha Cody-Neuhoff, 24, Illinois. “’Sammi’ Cody-Neuhoff… and her unborn daughter, Aadinynah Grace Neuhoff, passed away Friday, May 12, 2017 in Springfield due to Sammi’s heroin addiction… Sammi had told family members that she was surprised that even after the first time using heroin, it had a grip on her. Some of her friends were using it, and she decided to use it too… the cravings are so strong and the fear of withdrawal is so great. Opioid addiction can be treated… Treatment helps people stop using drugs and helps them get through withdrawal and cope with cravings. ” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Christina Westfall, 24, Michigan. “As a child, Christina was a treasure and was loved deeply, with so much promise and yet she still died from an overdose. Addiction does not discriminate. Using heroin once is all that it takes to get hooked; from then on you are playing Russian roulette. This is what happened to Christina. Heroin is a demon that affects the way your brain processes pleasure, taking over not just your brain but your life, destroying families and friendships…. The day Christina died, a part of us died along with her. We will miss her every day for the rest of our lives.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. India Rose O’Neil, 20, Rhode Island. “During the early morning hours of April 7, 2017, the illness and addiction that had stolen India Rose O’Neil’s sparkle took her life. Her friends and family will remember her for the beautiful, funny, smart, sunny beacon of light that she was. India was born December 15, 1996, in Westerly. India was a 2014 graduate of Chariho Regional High School, a member of the National Honor Society as well as a member of her school’s cross country, indoor track and softball teams. India enjoyed large family gatherings and spending time with her girlfriends… The memory of her bright smile, quick wit and sunny disposition will never be forgotten. Our broken hearts will forever feel the loss and emptiness of her absence.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. George E. Simms III, 24, Pennsylvania. “If anyone thinks that it can’t happen to them, read on. George was a 2011 graduate of Wyoming Valley West High School, where he excelled in academics and most notably sports… He was a four-time letter winner in football and wrestling at Wyoming Valley West. In football, George was named super sophomore in 2009 and team MVP in 2010. In wrestling, he was District 2 champion in 2011. For those that knew George, he had a smile that could light up a room, and a laugh that was contagious. He was a loyal son, brother and friend. He had a thirst for life and experiencing all that it had to offer. His addiction began shortly after his high school career, and he did attempt to overcome this battle. (Read his full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Victoria Rae King, 21, North Carolina. “Died Friday April 21, 2017, after losing her ongoing battle with addiction…. Victoria graduated from South Lenoir High School where she was a member of the cheerleading squad. Victoria was a brave, fearless, and beautiful young lady. Victoria was very passionate in what she believed in, and she touched the life of every person she met. Victoria loved to care for her animals, she loved to sing and write, and she lived a life that was all her own. For the past three years Victoria struggled with an addiction to heroin.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Matthew Delash, 25, Maryland. “Matt was born on April 17, 1991 in Weatherford, TX, and considered himself a true Texan even though he lived in Maryland since the age of 6.Many knew Matt only through the lens of the addictions he battled for years. That wasn’t the real Matt though, and those fortunate enough to truly know him immediately recognized him as one who would give the clothes he was wearing to help a friend in need (and did so more than once); one who ended nearly every conversation with those he cared for with ‘love you’; and one who considered his close friends to be like brothers and sisters, which he often called them.” (Read his full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Amber Nichole Boyer, 30, Ohio. “Passed away Sunday, February 19, 2017 after a long battle with addiction. Born on April 17, 1986 in Barberton, she was a 2004 graduate of Wadsworth High School. Growing up Amber had a way about her that drew people to her, she always had an infectious smile that could light up a room the moment she walked in. She was a beautiful, adventurous and free spirited soul. Amber had a big heart and deeply loved her family and friends, and was very passionate about animals… Amber is now at peace, she will be deeply missed by all. We will always cherish the good memories and times that we spent together.” (Read her full obituary here.)

R.I.P. Michael “Seth” Morgan, 24, North Carolina. “The last 106 days of Seth’s life we watched as a struggling young man became a humbled young man striving to right wrongs, help others in their recovery and build character. He wanted nothing more than to be a good Dad to his daughter, someone she would be proud of and be able to spend time with her on a regular basis. This is reflected in every entry of his Gratitude Journal. Seth fought hard with everything he had but in the end, after 106 days clean, he relapsed and lost the battle. Heroin took his life in an accidental overdose.” (Read his full obituary here.)



Related stories

ADDICTION, SUICIDE, AND OBITUARIES: Read about the beginnings of the cultural shift in attitudes towards candidly acknowledging drug use and other sensitive topics in obituaries.
52 WEEKS, 52 FACES: Opioid addiction is rapidly rising, and, according to the United Nations, opioids now account for the majority of overdose deaths. As the death toll mounts, families are increasingly using every avenue available to plead for help and awareness. Read more on how obituaries are playing a critical role in these efforts, and see the faces of those lost to this growing disease.
FAMOUS FACES OF ADDICTION: These high-profile deaths can provide a platform for greater awareness of the non-discriminatory nature of drug abuse. Click here to view a slideshow of prominent figures who struggled with addiction.

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