1976 great people-every one more than a dot on the Celebrating Lost Loved Ones Map. Each has a story (click on each picture) of great lives lost to opioid and addiction epidemic. Families can add loved ones directly to the map. https://t.co/nJS19s9sPD #OpioidEpidemic #EndOverdose pic.twitter.com/Nci0JMMKEF
— Rx and Heroin Maps (@RxHeroinMaps) February 17, 2019
Most of the photographs are of young people.
Their faces beam—perhaps they’re sharing a private joke with the person holding the camera or phone, or they’ve simply been caught in a moment of hamming it up, now frozen in time.
The pictures look like they could’ve been lifted from any college-aged kid’s social media feed. But the map to the left of the photos tells a different, darker story.
The Celebrating Lost Loved Ones map honors people who’ve died from opioid-related causes. Jeremiah Lindemann, a mapping technician, created the map after his younger brother, J.T. Lindemann—son, brother, father, and musician—died from prescription drug use. (In addition to creating the map, Jeremiah recently completed a fellowship where he aided communities in mapping the opioid epidemic—you can read more about his amazing work here.)
The map is powerful for many reasons. For one, it humanizes the opioid epidemic we hear so much about. Seeing the faces in the photographs helps shatter the stereotype many have about addicts—that the addicted are, somehow, other. That it couldn’t happen to us, or someone we love.
I discovered this truth a harder way. In 1999, my younger brother Will, who was my only sibling, died in his apartment in Seattle from a combination of heroin and alcohol.
We’d grown up in a loving, upper middle class home. Our parents loved us and loved each other.
This happens to other peoples’ families, not ours.
The thought darted through my mind just after I heard the news that catapulted me into a different life, one without my little brother.
But it was happening to our family.
It’s happening to families everywhere. The map honors almost 2,000 people who’ve died from opioids—a mere fraction of the more than 72,000 deaths that occurred in the United States in 2017, according to the Center for Disease Control.
It’s been nearly 20 years since my brother died—he’s been gone almost as long as he was alive, now. The pain has softened, but I’ll always have a brother-shaped hole in my heart. I’ll always wish he was here for all the major milestones, all the mundane moments.
And I’ll always wish that when I tell people how he died, they could see the collage of memories that swirl around me: Will’s love for loud music and pepperoni pizza; the sensitivity that seeped out in the poems and songs he wrote; his tenderness toward children; the dark sense of humor we shared; and the distraught faces of the hundreds of people who showed up for his memorial service.
The love that still echoes loudly for him; the way it both breaks and mends my heart when my children, who never met him, say his name.
The map allows those who’ve suffered the death of a loved one to opioids to honor them, to help them be remembered, be seen. To share that they struggled with addiction, but they were so much more than their disease.