Obituaries are a great way to let your community know about someone that you thought was a great person. They are a great way to honor someone and share some facts about them that would interest others. A viral obituary was recently released and inspired an online memorial project to honor those who lost their lives to opioid addiction.
On the day Alexa Rose Cioffi died, she was too sick to take care of her two-year-old son Frankie. Her father, Frank Cioffi, decided to help her out by taking his grandson to the store to buy diapers. When he returned back to her house with Frankie, Cioffi thought Alex was asleep. He made himself a snack, changed the baby, and found Alexa lying sideways on the bed. He discovered she was unconscious and not moving. He called 911 and started CPR where he found marks on her neck and chest. The EMTs injected Alexa with Narcan medication but it did no good because it was not an opioid overdose.
Alexa died of acute bronchial pneumonia as a result of substance abuse. Alexa broke her wrist in a car accident at 17 and was prescribed opioids. She did not become addicted until her mid-20s. It was not until she stole from family members that Cioffi realized something was wrong. The autopsy showed traces of fentanyl. After she died, Cioffi adopted his grandson and wrote in the obituary that he wishes Alexa could see him.
Cioffi never shared the details of his daughter’s death before. He, along with others who lost loved ones to opioids, wrote about the honest and personal details about them in an online memorial project called All Our Hearts. This project was made by Seven Days, a Vermont-based newsweekly to show to the human cost of the opioid crisis. This site currently features 12 memorials written by parents, siblings, and partners. They would write about who these people were before they discovered drugs as well as their darkest moments and how addiction changed their relationships.
The idea came from an obituary that got an overwhelming response. Kate O’Neill wrote about her sister Madelyn Linsenmeir who struggled for 12 years with opioid addiction before she died. O’Neill learned just how much shame there was in addiction when her sister was alive and how she wanted to put a face to this epidemic. All Our Hearts manager Cathy Resmer saw this obituary and saw 1,000 heartbreaking comments on it. She realized that these comments were a safe space. It reminded her of the AIDS Quilt that helped break the stigma of those who died during the AIDS epidemic. The name for the project came about when O’Neill wrote in Madelyn’s obituary, “Know that we believe with all our hearts that you can and will make it. It is never too late.” It was not easy for Cioffi to share the details of his daughter’s death to online strangers, but wanted to encourage others to seek help before it is too late.
One of the memorials in All Our Hearts is when Sandy Camilletti spoke of how her daughter, Angela, was held down and injected with heroin at a college party. Angela was an avid skier and snowboarder as well as a lifeguard, swim teacher, dancer, and dance teacher. She played the Sugar Plum Fairy in her high school production of The Nutcracker and was studying criminal justice before she died of an overdose in 2009. Camilletti said she did not feel like the mother/daughter dynamic they both had was ever the same. She felt fear, lack of understanding, anger, and hopeless. Angela did not enter recovery until she entered her third rehab in three years. Camilletti said the love they had for each other never changed. Angela’s youngest sister, Lena, helped develop All Our Hearts.
Angela overdosed on over-the-counter medication and methadone. Lena would never hear anyone speak of heroin addiction outside of her family. She felt like it was of great importance to be honest about her sister’s death as it was therapeutic for her and did not want other families to go through this pain.
Melissa Shepard wrote an obituary for her 34-year-old brother who died in Ohio after shooting up a drug he had no idea of. What he thought was heroin was actually a mix of heroin, fentanyl, carfentanil, and cocaine. The police said he took something he had no idea what he had and it went straight to his heart. Shepard loved football and Tom Petty. While it hurt Shepard to write about her brother’s death, she knew it was important to open up discussions and for harsher punishments to come to those who sell drugs.
These obituaries teach the world about the horrors of addiction. We can read through each writer’s words how painful it is to lose a loved one to something that can be treated with the right guidance and support. In order to make sure your obituary appears on All Our Hearts, fill out an online form on the Seven Days website or call the paper. The team then contacts people who submitted their entries and interviews them to get additional details of their experiences. By submitting an obituary for this project, you are helping break the stigma of addiction and honoring your loved ones.
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