The family of a young Vermonter who died from a drug overdose used his obituary as a call to action to break down social barriers, like stigma and shame, to getting help for addiction.
Sean Tyler Stem, 26, died last week, and was remembered Monday with a memorial service in Burlington, attended by many loved ones. The large group remembered Stem as gentle, sensitive, as someone who loved to laugh, and who was generous with hugs.
"Oh that boy was so amazing," remembered Shannon Stem, Sean's sister. "We really wanted to celebrate him today."
Sean struggled for a long time to break heroin's grip, Shannon Stem said, even seeking professional drug treatment.
"We could not find a way to help him," Sean’s older sister told necn, describing how it felt like her brother was slipping away from his many friends and relatives who cared deeply about him.
After Sean's death, his family chose to use Sean's obituary as a call to action. In the remembrance, the Stems wrote of their hope that more people will keep "asking for solutions to this tragic epidemic" and that communities will "tear down whatever obstacles" stand in the way of getting help, like "fear, loneliness, shame, [and] stigma."
"We have to be able to openly and honestly talk about this, and not have any shame," Shannon Stem said in an interview following Monday's memorial service.
Sean's loss has become tragically familiar in this country. The Centers for Disease Control said 78 Americans die every day from opioid overdoses, whether heroin, or prescription painkillers.
In Vermont, numbers from the Vermont Health Department showed in 2015, there were 53 deaths statewide from heroin and fentanyl, a powerful painkiller that has been increasingly mixed with heroin to make more potent doses.
Shannon Stem said her family is working on launching a foundation to combat drug use. One way of doing so may be to support services following drug treatment, Stem said.
"The only way we can fix this is if we all come together as a community; we take this on as a team," Stem told necn. "We can't keep quiet about this."
The eventual foundation will surely have the same spirit as the final line from Sean's obituary: "If you or a loved one is fighting addiction please know you are not alone."
Donations to the foundation can be made care of attorney Norman Blais, 289 College St., Burlington, Vermont, 05401.
To read the full obituary for Sean Stem, visit this website.