Families touched by overdose deaths are encouraged to remember this time of year as a time to break down stigma. Aug. 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day. In Rockford, families who have lost loved ones to addiction recently gathered to remember them in a symbolic way.
One by one, they dropped single stems of bright red roses into the Rock River.
Nick Shoudy was 20 years old when he died of an overdose involving Fentanyl. That was six years ago.
His father, Daniel Shoudy, says this was the first time he came to the gathering hosted by Hope Over Addiction. He came with his mother, Carol.
"She tried to get me down here, but I did my own blocking and tried to deal with it my own way," Daniel Shoudy said.
Shoudy says he feels like he is getting to a better place with the grieving process.
"Not closure, but it’s like a pain that kicks you in the gut every now and then when you see a boy and his dad running around," Shoudy said. "He’d be 27 years old right now and I probably would have had a grandkid and that kind of stuff."
Carol, Nick's grandmother, says she relies on her faith to help her find peace. She encouraged her son to come out and release a rose in her grandson's memory.
"I felt that it would help Dan with his closure because he doesn’t like to talk about it too much," Carol Shoudy said.
"It takes a while to get anything out of me," Daniel Shoudy admitted. "But I’ve got the feelings inside. I don’t run around crying my eyes out every day of my life. I don’t think my son would like that. He would want me to carry on and remember his name. He wouldn’t want me pulling myself apart. But I would switch spots with him in a heartbeat."
Down a walkway along the river, Mike Schiro gazed across the water. His son Joshua died three years ago from an overdose.
"My son was a fantastic kid. He was very smart. He was real good football player and baseball player," Schiro said. "He got hurt in football his senior year and they were going to the championship. He got a scholarship to college. He got hurt again, and they told him he could never play football again, so that really broke his heart."
Schiro says a series of deaths in the family also troubled his son.
"It’s not an excuse, but he ran into someone who said, ‘Hey, this will make you happy and get out of it.’ To this day, I know who that person is, but I don’t blame that person because my son was the one that put the needle in his own arm." Schiro said.
At six years old, Schiro's granddaughter has been coming to this event for half of her life. Joshua was her father. She threw a rose into the Rock River in his memory.
Mike Schiro says breaking down stigma is a way to honor his son.
"I know that there are a lot a people out there that are afraid to admit that their son or daughter is on [drugs]," Schiro said. "You can’t be like that. You have to be there for them."
He says he is still learning to process what happened.
"What hurts me this most is that I found him. The first thing I did was start kicking him and yelling at him and then I saw the needle. Instead of telling him that I loved him, I started calling him every name in the book. I wish I could take it back," Schiro said.
The roses are left one day a year. For those sometimes long hours and days in between, Hope Over Addiction encourages participants to continue to find support in the community throughout the year to come.
Leaders with Hope Over Addiction say they will continue to train families in the use of overdose reversal drugs.