Though in my time on this planet I have known many parents who lost children, losing one to addiction is one of the most difficult situations I have encountered. I try to choose my words and questions very carefully and often second-guess everything I say.
I had the pleasure and honor of being connected by a new friend to Megan Megale, whose son Matt died from a fentanyl/opioid overdose - in the bathroom of their home while she was in the next room watching TV. It was difficult to know what questions to ask this grieving and courageous mom, but i hope I have touched upon the main points so that anyone reading this can get a glimpse of the magnitude of her and her family's grief as well as the magnitude of the opioid crisis in this country.
The family has chronicled their events and emotions in a book written by Matt;s sister Shear, for all the world to see. Fortunately or coincidentally, Shea, who is wheelchair bound due a disease, was already a prolific writer who enjoyed putting her thoughts into words on a page.
The goals of the book are twofold. The family is bearing their souls for others to see what they went through, but they also want change to come from it. They want to change the way rehab in this country works and take the stigma away from addiction. They know they cannot change it all but hope that what they are doing makes some small change or makes someone, on any level, think differently. And, in speaking to Megan, I can safely say that one message they want out there is that this can happen to anyone - to any American boy.
BTS: Tell me what this book is about.
Megan Megale: American Boy, The Sister Left Behind is the chronicling of my younger daughter Shea’s interpretation of Matt’s struggle with addiction. As difficult as it was to put this book out, we know our honesty and journey will help millions of readers, not only those who struggle with addiction directly or from afar, but for those who don’t yet but could. We were no different than any of your readers. Never did I think this would be the path for my son, but when you hear how Matt started using heroin, you will be startled at how easy the beginning started.
BTS: I cannot imagine how much you miss him. What do you think about the most?
Megan Megale: What do I miss most about my son Matt, oh Goodness, where do I start? Matt was this All- American kid, he had a heart bigger than his body and wished well to everyone he encountered. He had this grinny smile, and as my only son, my two girls always claimed him as “my favorite.” There is something very unique though about a mother and son. In high school Matt took two girls that asked him to prom! What girl does that? He loved life, lived it robustly and he was as perplexed as we, at how addiction snuck into his life.
I miss everything about him and was asked in a prior interview a similar question to which I replied, “had I known the outcome, I would still have considered it a privilege to have been given the opportunity to parent him.”
Many other families that have lost a child have told me they have had an encounter with their loved one, a smell, a remembrance, a song on the radio and I find myself jealous that I have not.
I want and strive every day to take time to pray to Matt and know he resides in my heart. I know that.
“I am not losing you to drugs.” I thought I was in charge. I was not." - Megan Megale
Megan Megale: After Matt passed, I sat in the leather chair in my office for month looking out the window. I was barely functional and had no idea how or if life could continue with this loss. Shea had entered counseling two weeks after the horrible night but I was paralyzed at the thought of having to relive the event to another was unbearable. Christmas came with no presents under the tree and no joy in our home. We all dreaded the day and the obvious person missing.
BTS: When did you find out what your daughter was writing?
Megan Megale: Shea presented us all with a manuscript, and as an already accomplished and published author, we were pleased she had been able to return to writing. She told us this was going to be very difficult, but she had written this story about she and Matt that she wanted us all to read. In it was a very raw story that in my heart I knew had to be told, but wanted it told by someone else.
After much family deliberation, we all agreed if we do not open up our home to what addiction looks like we are not addressing the stigma of addiction we so often discuss, we just enable it.
The book launches November 4, 2019.
BTS: Did Shea or the family do any research for this book?
Megan Megale: No research was needed, we lived it. We made mistakes, made good decisions on Matt’s behalf and sought the HANDBOOK of ADDICTION, to find out there is not one for parents.
There is not one chapter in this book that does not make you feel as though you are living on my couch. She is the most prolific writer and everyone that has read the book prior to release has been blown away that at this age she can capture everything you feel, smell, see in her words. I love so much about the book, but it is still hard for me and I assume for her.
BTS: What was Shea's relationship with Matt like?
Megan Megale: Matt was more than a brother to Shea. He often was her caregiver, as she is wheelchair dependent, and he loved her so deeply. He had told Shea two years prior to his passing he felt she should apply to college away from home that would be challenging to her. He felt he was going to be unable to overcome his addiction having been frustrated he could not beat this, so he would dedicate himself to going with her to ensure she is cared for and gets the opportunity. She applied to 13 prominent schools got into 8 and three months later he died. That level of love from one sibling to another astounds me to this day.
BTS. Tell me about the American Boy Project. What do you want to be Matt's legacy?
Megan Megale: The AMERICAN BOY Project addresses three things that must change. Twenty-eight days in treatment is not enough, the stigma of addiction debilitates these kids when they are trying to find a job and feel worthy, and the resources that are available for this disease far diminish those of other diseases and that must change. We are doing that. We also started a facebook group call the AMERICAN BOY MOTHER’S SUMMIT which is a group of not experts but strong mothers there to support others going through this nightmare.
I would also encourage all your readers to read the article I wrote for The Today Show that went viral entitled “I thought I could Love My Son Through His Addiction.” The opioid epidemic has no demographics. It grasps you and will not let go. I fought alongside Matt and said to him often, “I am not losing you to drugs.” I thought I was in charge. I was not.
This book we thought was a gift to our family. We know now, it is a gift to every parent.
Today Show article here:
The book is available at Barnes and Noble in stores and online.
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