Crystal Bissonnette’s eyes lit up when she talked about searching for boutique hotels for weekend getaways with her husband, Marc. But then reality set in. She is a grandmother-turned-mother to her 2-year-old grandson, Anthony.
Anthony is the son of Bissonnette’s son, Ryan, who was serving a jail sentence related to his heroin use at the time she spoke to Rare. “It’s hard,” said Bissonnette. But when she thought about Anthony, who she describes as a “happy, healthy baby,” she said “it’s all worth it.”
She and her husband of nearly 30 years have distanced themselves from son Ryan.
“We’ll give him moral support and that is it. We’re not giving him any financial support at all,” Bissonnette told Rare, adding up the toll that her son’s 10-year addiction has taken on the family. “Through this process we have lost two cars, we have lost thousands of dollars, and my deceased mom’s jewelry has all been stolen and pawned.”
She added: “We’ve been through a lot and we’ve lost a lot. He is our son and we love him dearly, we always will, but [it’s] just enough,” Bissonnette said of her now-27 year old son. “We can’t do it anymore and it’s probably the hardest decision we’ve ever had to make.”
We've been through a lot, and we've lost a lot. He is our son, and we love him dearly — we always will. We can't do it anymore.
Unfortunately, Bissonnette’s story is not unique. She is one of many mothers who have become caretakers for their adult children and their children’s children. The story of what the heroin epidemic has done to families can be divided into two categories: those who are coping with children in the grips of addiction, and those who have had to bury their children because of it.
Amanda Jordan falls in the latter category. On Sept. 5, 2015, her son Christopher Honor died from a heroin overdose — two days after being released from five and a half months in jail.
“I picked him up, he was doing good,” Jordan recalled of the day she picked Christopher up from jail. “We went to breakfast, he applied for a job, happy as could be. We were going to go to the Patriots game” later in the evening. But he ended up drinking during the day and missed the game, and then went back to using heroin that evening.
On the morning of Sept. 5, Jordan got a knock on the door.
“‘Do you have a son, Chris?’” Jordan recalled the police officer asking her that morning. “ ‘Well he’s gone’,” the officer said.
“And I said, what do you mean, he’s gone? She’s like, ‘He’s dead. He died,’ ” Jordan said. “And at that minute I died, I just fell to the ground.”
Jordan spoke to Rare nearly eight months after she lost her 22-year-old son.
“Everybody says it’ll get easier, and I don’t feel it does,” she said. “I wait for him to come home.”
Everybody says it'll get easier, and I don't feel it does. I wait for him to come home.
Family members who’ve lost someone to addiction also have to battle guilt — the feeling that perhaps they could have prevented the addiction or somehow saved their loved one from the drug’s grip.
“I feel like a lot of people, they do turn their backs on the heroin addict because it’s such a stigma,” Jordan said.
Bissonnette also expressed concern about the vilification of drug addiction. “There seems to be blame going all over the place” when someone is addicted to drugs, she told Rare.
“The hardest part for me … was just being able to freely admit” that her son was addicted to heroin, Bissonnette said.
Both mothers echoed a sentiment often expressed by families hurt by the heroin crisis: If their loved one’s suffering can bring attention to the crisis, and potentially save another life, then their losses will not be in vain.
Rare politics reporter Yasmeen Alamiri and videographers Tolleah Price and Dan Yar spent months researching and reporting this series — traveling to Maryland, New Hampshire and other heroin-torn places while talking and listening to users, police officers, public figures and devastated families all affected by the epidemic. See the full series at on.rare.us/HeroinInAmerica.