Reflections on Loss to Substance Use

Every time I hear of a loss to substance use, my heart breaks a little more. Another family shattered. Forever grieving the loss of dreams and celebrations.

It brings me back to that moment in the ICU and still in shock, I looked at the social worker with a little indignation, “Did I want thumb prints of son?” “Thumbprints to bring to family events in the future “ she said.  NO …I mean “Yes I’ll take the thumbprints” but, NO!! I want my son to be there at these “Graduations and Weddings” of the future. What the h** is a set of ceramics going to do for me, no..thank you. I want Sean there, happy, sober and healthy. Happy, joyous and free-just what the I thought rehab promised (and it does happen for many people).

Families suffer not just the loss of their child but, the stigma surrounding substance use compounds the loss. For many of us, the loss comes after suffering in silence for many years. Rarely, is there a “CaringBridge” site for families with children who have a mental illness. No fun 5K to support “Substance Use Disorder” or a Go Fund Me for the tremendous expenses.

No too many look away, it’s too scary. Too close to home. They don’t call or send a text. Sometimes they don’t even reach out when your child is in the ICU in a coma, waiting to have organs removed to serve a more deserving person who will, undoubtedly, care for them better than he has.

No, you are left with the emptiness of the loss and all the whispers. “Don’t worry we didn’t tell anyone” “You don’t need to tell anyone what has happened”.   Take a few days off, as in don’t take too long, you don’t deserve it because it’s not a real loss like cancer. No, your child was “bad” and his death was just what served him right.

Sadly, that is the reality that I experienced, just 4 years ago. We haven’t made much progress. It’s not like a cancer death.

Don’t misunderstand, I know if someone with cancer were told they could survive if they didn’t drink alcohol or take oxy they would absolutely stick to the prescribed regimen. I have every wish for people to live cancer free.  Substance use messes with your brain. It’s the brain disease that wants you to die, to fight everyday against your own self.  “You don’t deserve to live” “You’re just a bad egg” all words Sean told me about himself.

People with substance use fight every day to get healthy, it’s a momentous battle. Sean cried just days before he died “It’s just so hard, Mom” with tears streaming down his face. I tried to take him to treatment that Thursday. He didn’t want to miss work, he didn’t want to let his coworkers down. He was dead 5 days later. Fighting a battle no one could see.

Finally, there are lights in this darkness .. Many people did reach out and I am so grateful to them. My sister ,many  friends who dropped everything to help.. pick up a car, pick up Ned.  So many who visited Sean in the hospital to say goodbye. The people that tried desperately to save Sean after the overdose. (No one dose of Narcan isn’t enough.).the EMT’s and ER and hospital staff that fought hard to save him. So many who came to the funeral. Rearranging schedules to be there for us. Cheryl Juaire is one of those lights, there for all of us Moms of loss. The warrior Mom who cares for us.



This Thanksgiving has been different. It is the first Thanksgiving I have spent away from my son Ned. I had a COVID test pending due to an exposure and didn’t feel it was safe for him to come home. Luckily, the test came back negative a few days later. So, I was left to with time to reflect on some years in the past.

There was the Thanksgiving, I spent the day on the phone with Sean, unable to get him into treatment and he spent the holiday in jail. I spent the day before all day with the insurance company and couldn’t get approval for treatment in time to get him out. Then, there was the year we spent away from him as he was in treatment, only to have him get into trouble and get kicked out the very next day.

Interestingly, my favorite was year was at a treatment center that felt more like home to me. Ned, Tim and I flew out to be with Sean. We all gathered at the men’s house and had an amazing dinner with other kids and their families. What was astounded to me was the laughter. People enjoying the company of their loved ones. Most family visits I remember had tears and drama, we had just a few hours to have very tough conversations.  This time we had a joyful event to share and no hard decision talk. We could just be a family. Of course, we were all confident of the bright future our children had on the road to lasting recovery. The magical thinking that overcomes every parent when their child enters treatment, this will be the time. Surely, they have reached their bottom. They will succeed and we will all live happily after. Sometimes the dream comes true. Don’t give up hope.



This site is devoted to improving treatment of mental health in honor of Sean Blake.  He was a young man who loved kindness.  A poet, writer and chef. He gave gifts of stories, letters and recipes.  Sean showed his love by cooking for family, friends and strangers alike.  You may have seen him reading palms on Church St. in Burlington, VT.  He touched many lives with his wit, charisma and love of life.

The site is maintained by Sean’ s family. We hope to show that Sean was more than his disease. We share our stories and many stories of families affected by substance use disorder. We hope there will be less stigma and shame with mental illness and substance use disorder. We hope to raise awareness of the dangers of opiates and risk of death from their use. We advocate for compassionate treatment and harm reduction. We hope to show healing and growth in our recovery from his death.

As anyone reading this can understand, Sean wanted to live, he wanted sobriety. It takes only one moment of  weakness with an opiate to cause serious consequences.

Sean died at age 27 from an overdose of alcohol and fentanyl, combined with marijuana.

We will miss him forever.


With great sadness we report the passing of our beloved dog, Yves. Yves was 14 and suffered from cancer. Despite surgery, he had a recurrence and was not able to recover.

Yves was a standard poodle, adopted at five months. He was fiercely loyal, sometimes to a fault. He gave us tremendous comfort, especially around the time of losing Sean. He was a gentle, loving dog. He especially enjoyed hiking and walking. A reluctant sailor and swimmer, he preferred land to docks and boats.

Most importantly he was tremendous friend to our kids, comforting them in times of need. He was the “Nanny” of the family. A constant extension of our love, whenever we were at work or away. He was at home providing companionship.

I know Sean is anxiously awaiting a reunion with his canine friend. Grandma Blake and Grandpa Grossman and Jill too.


“Just another word, for having nothing left to lose.”
It’s a dark scary world, with lots of beauty thrown in the mix. My job is to find it, my
job is to enjoy it, and our job is to share it. Is this not the best way we use language, art,
music. To share all the beauty of this world with each other.
Freedom is a complex noun with many relations to America, to the amendments of
its constitution and its way of live. We fought many wars for freedom. I don’t know if this is
freedom for me. I like living in the U.S. and having the freedoms I was born with but this is
a little too vague for my liking. Freedom is an opportunity, what we do with it makes it so
1641 : Massachusetts is the first colony to legalize slavery. The next two hundred
years was marked with the slavery of Africans in the colonies and later the United States.
Interestingly documented are the decent conditions slaves had. When you think of slavery
do you think of chains on beds, whips and terrible living conditions? That wasn’t the case
for most slaves. They had good living conditions, 3 meals a day and a long but not insane
work day. What they didn’t have was an education. They did not have the right, to learn to
read, to go to school, or to grow. This is the worst thing you can do to another human
being, refuse them an education. That is unforgiveable. Freedom it is an opportunity to
learn. But it’s more than that.
Opportunity, as I said is a chance to grow. What all humans have is free will. The
ability to move think and operate without the need to rely on animal instincts. Whether god
given or gift of evolution or a bit of both is an argument for men much smarter than I. I’m
more concerned with what we do with freewill. Ever take a day to hike a mountain see the

amazing view? Ever take night to head downtown catch a show and dance the night away?
Ever fall in love, be so close to someone else, you feel like you’re the same person? I love
doing all three and its cause of freedom I can. Freedom is an opportunity to see beauty.
The mind, one of the most amazing and complex organisms in the universe. We are
talking more complex then solar systems, right in between our ears. Freewill exists in
these many neurons and electric storms of energy. The fact that we know all this today
came from free men and women. And I don’t mean free as in not slaves or free to speak.
Some of the greatest minds were and are free thinkers, nothing holds them back they are
not afraid to question current facts and then they change the world. The world was flat at
one point and the center of the universe. Americans used to have slaves. We use to have to
kill our food. Whoever came up with the idea for a grocery store might be the smartest
man alive and he gave us a lot of freedom. With the ability to buy food rather than hunt it
think of how much we grew. The first markets help changed us from nomadic people. We
started building marble statues, having dramas, living a new life. Freedom is the
opportunity to grow.
The joy we feel when someone returns a smile, when a musical chord hits our
hearts, when we see something beautiful. That feeling when we think a free and amazing
thought that’s unique and creative. That is freedom. Emotions, thoughts, feelings these
are freedom. I implore you to seek out the freeing release that opportunity gives you.
What every opportunities I have today, I’m very grateful. I take them and I learn, I grow
and I see the beauty in life. And darkness slips away and the world is a much better place with a free Sean Blake in it.