Episode 5: Traumatic Loss and the Stigma Surrounding Addiction
Episode 5: Traumatic Loss and the Stigma Surrounding Addiction
In episode 5, Alyssa sits down with the wonderful Patty DiRenzo, who lost her beloved son, Salvatore, to a heroin overdose. Patty and Alyssa discuss the difficulties of traumatic loss, the stigma of addiction, and the inspiring ways in which Patty has taken her grief and used it to help save hundreds, if not thousands, of lives.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:00:23] Welcome to episode three of the Light After Trauma podcast. I’m your host, Alyssa and today I have with me, Patricia or Patty DiRenzo, Patty is an inspiring woman who has nothing short of a powerhouse in the field of mental health and addiction, particularly in the state of New Jersey. In 2010, her beloved son Salvador passed away from a heroin overdose. Since then, Patty has been at the forefront of change when it comes to addiction and mental health in New Jersey, most notably, she was an integral part of advocating for the passage of the Overdose Protection Act.
Thousands of lives have been saved because of this legislation. And Patty continues to get the word out through her advocacy, community outreach programs, and Naloxone trainings. Patty also serves as an advocate for the National Council on Alcoholism and Drug Dependence. And as a member of the Camden County Addiction Awareness Task Force in South Jersey.
As a task force member, she spearheaded the effort to ensure every police department was equipped with Naloxone resulting in the first county in New Jersey to have a hundred percent participation. She also plays an important role in other task force initiatives, included training and supplying residents with Naloxone.
Advocating for policies that expand treatment access, increasing prescription medicine take back programs, and educational events: including physician trainings, awareness events, and parent child workshops. Patty is dedicated to preventing other families from suffering the loss that hers did, and she will continue to be an advocate in the hope of saving lives and lifting the stigma associated with the disease of addiction.
So without further ado, I would like to welcome Patty. Hi Patty. How are you?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:02:52] I’m doing well. How are you?
Alyssa Scolari: [00:02:54] I am good. Thank you so much for being here today.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:02:58] My pleasure.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:03:02] Just in reading your bio. I am blown away by the things that you have accomplished and what you have done with what I can only imagine must be overwhelming and at times unbearable pain and as I was reading your bio, and as I was learning more about your story, one of the things that I realized is that Salvatore passed away in 2010
and it’s now 2020. So is it coming up on 10 years or has the 10 years already passed?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:03:42] September 23rd will be 10 years.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:03:45] Okay. And today as we record this is August 7th, so it will be 10 years. And I just look at all you have accomplished in 10 years, and I just wonder, I would assume for you, it wasn’t like this in the beginning.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:04:08] No, not at all.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:04:09] So what was that process like of you getting to this place where you became, like I said, just this absolute powerhouse in the field of mental health and addiction, how did you go through that process?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:04:26] Based on the way that Sal had passed. We were told that it wasn’t certain, but it did appear that somebody was in the car with Sal when he overdosed. But obviously left him to die instead of wanting to help him. And like after he passed, I had so much anger and so much hurt and so many questions because I just did not understand how that could happen to anybody who leaves somebody to die, and the more I kept thinking about it and the more I was talking to people at that point, I was a legal secretary. So I honestly didn’t know that much about the field of addiction. I failed in many ways in Sal’s addiction, not catching signs, but I know so much more now. And, after time went by and I was really thinking about it and I was talking to people and I was hearing comments, just the stigma associated with addiction.
It’s just heart wrenching to me. And I just thought this is what my son dealt with every day, while he was active in addiction, the way people treated him, like just reading comments and articles, I’m thinking. These are people that like, they have no clue. And I just kept thinking about it. I was at first angry at who would dare leave my son.
Now, I hope something happens to him and they should pay. But in reality, after going through all these channels and thinking about things and scenarios and reliving it, I realized that person was stuck with the same stigma the Sal suffered with. And at that moment, Their first thought was, Oh my God, I’m gonna be arrested.
What do I do? And there was probably fear upon them and they panicked. and left and in a weird way, I get it. So that’s what drove me. I started making phone calls. I don’t even know who I was calleing in the beginning. I was calling anybody that would want, to hear me. And I luckily found the drug policy Alliance and they had told me, I told them Sal’s whole story, how he passed.
And they said, we have a 911 law that we. Had passed in other States and we’re currently just working on it in New Jersey. Would you love to join us? I said, yes. So that was where I started my advocacy because to me, and the 911 legislation as if somebody was with someone when they overdose, they don’t have to be afraid to call 911 because they are immune from being arrested because saving a life is more important than arrest. And that was how it started.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:06:52] Wow. Now, how long after Sal passed, did you start to become involved in all of that?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:07:01] Probably about a year after his loss that I started, because for that first year, I honestly don’t remember much of that first year. I think I was just numb like those parents,
but then the anger started and then, you just go through all the stages of grief. And my anger brought me to my advocacy and that’s when it all started.
And that was, 2011. I started advocating and working with them.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:07:26] And that’s how ultimately you helped get that Overdose Protection Act passed, and that is such a huge thing when it comes to addiction, is that and what I hear you saying is that there is a potential that your son could have been saved if this law had been in place,
Patty DiRenzo: [00:07:44] Exactly.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:07:46] because it was suspected that he was not alone in the car. And just to be clear for the listeners out there. So this Overdose Protection Act, this has passed in different States, aside from New Jersey?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:08:01] Yes, there are other states that have this law. And in fact, which, I honestly feel like it should be a federal law, but
drug policy Alliance was advocated in different States. There’s a good amount of States now that have it, but not every state. If you go on the drug policies website, you could look up all the States that have enacted the 911 legislation.
Ours was passed into law May 2nd of 2013.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:08:23] Wow. And that offers full immunity for anybody who calls in an overdose in order to save a life.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:08:32] Yes. And also immunity to the person in the overdose situation and our laws. You know also expanded the access to Naloxone because it was first vetoed by the governor. When we first went to the
vote, it was hard to beat it. Yes, but, it actually ended up in our favor because after that veto, they worked on it more and the added the Naloxone parts of it.
So now we can save lives. Now all of our officers have Naloxone and they helped to save lives with it. And I know that we’re doing a great job here in the county.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:09:05] Yeah, we really are. Can you explain a little bit about what Naloxone is and how it works?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:09:10] So anyone that is overdosing with an opioid based drug, Naloxone will reverse that overdose. And it’s a nasal spray. It’s a very easy to use spray there’s other forms of that, but the nasal spray is the most common.
And you just , when someone has an overdose, you put it in the overdose position and spray up their nose and it reverses the overdose. And the good thing about Naloxone is it’s 100% safe. So if I have at my house and the child squirts up their nurse, it’s not going to do anything to them.
It only reacts to opioids and
Alyssa Scolari: [00:09:47] Oh, wow.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:09:48] RIght
It’s opioid based So they have any other drug in their system, it won’t reverse it.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:09:54] Wow. So this is something that actually, and I did say you’re advocating for, families everywhere to have this on hand in their homes, because it sounds like, there’s really no danger to it.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:10:07] None whatsoever. And honestly, if you have elderly parents, or grandparents in the home, you should have Naloxone, even children. How many children get into medicine cabinets? Little toddlers. Naloxone will reverse that overdose if it’s an opioid based medication.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:10:27] Wow. That’s amazing.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:10:29] Yeah.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:10:29] Okay.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:10:30] I can’t even begin to tell you how many families have probably been trained in Naloxone and have Naloxone on them. And I have it in my house. I have it in my car and I have it in the office. Because you never know
Alyssa Scolari: [00:10:43] Now do you offer those trainings?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:10:46] through Camden County, we offer the trainings Yes. And they’re all free.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:10:51] And one of the things that you had touched on. A little bit earlier is stigma. And that’s something that I wanted to talk about because there is so much stigma that surrounds not only addiction itself, but I have found also stigma surrounds family members of those who suffer from addiction. And I’m wondering what was that like for you? In what ways were you and your family and your son experiencing stigma or discrimination because of his addiction?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:11:32] Yes, I didn’t personally face that much stigma because I was never shamed of Sal’s disease. So I shared, I was open about it. I sheltered a little bit with my family when he was so sick and so struggling because it’s, so it just takes the life out of the family. It’s so hard to explain to somebody who has no idea what it’s like for a family when they have a loved one in the house, struggling with addiction.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:12:02] Oh, it’s so traumatic. It’s traumatic for the whole family.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:12:05] It’s totally traumatic. It takes every ounce of your energy. I’d wake up in the morning. And the first thing I do is go in his room and look to see if he’s breathing. That’s just what you do, and then if I leave and he’s home and my daughter and I were constantly”Is Sal home, is he okay?” It’s just…
it’s exhausting. It’s a very exhausting disease, but I tell people not only for us, but also for the person who has it. Yeah. Because their whole life is a, has been stigmatized because people don’t see the real person they are. They only see the shell
and what they believe in their mind is, an addict, some dirty person, and it’s not, and it breaks my heart when I think of when Sal was out in public, the way he was treated by people while he was actively use. And because he was such a passionate, beautiful person. And to think that people would treat him badly based on what he was going through hurts me so much as a mother to think of what he dealt with and that stigma it’s just, it’s something that. sadly causes a lot of people to not come forward with the disease because of the shame, the stigma, and if we get rid of the stigma, more people will come forward and all their families and share their stories.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:13:30] Addiction is looked at more so as a choice and what it really is a disease.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:13:36] It is.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:13:36] And it’s this vicious cycle that you can’t get out of. And it’s. It’s traumatic for everybody all around. And now you said you have a daughter, you have a daughter as well.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:13:48] I do.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:13:49] Okay. How old is your daughter? Was she younger or older than Sal?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:13:52] She’s
older. Sal’s the baby. Blake is 39. She’s 39 in May. She’s a teacher, an elementary school teacher and It was always the three of us, I’m a single parent, but I’m very close with my ex and his family and a very strong family bond, but it was always me, Blake, and Sal, it was our clic and Blake and Sal were extremely close though.
We all are dealing with this loss, and all in different ways because she is a sister who lost her brother and people forget that sometimes that was her brother, her best friend now. And sometimes I forget that.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:14:30] Absolutely. And one of the things that I have found that often occurs in any kind of traumatic loss in a family like what you’ve experienced, tends to break apart a family. How did you and your daughter’s relationship survive the loss of Sal?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:14:56] That’s a good question because we just. I think because we dealt with his disease as a team, like we were in it through thick and thin her and I, and honestly, Blake was more of my rock. I broke down way more than she did, but she has her moments, but I feel like she’s more there for me. And I think the sad thing about that is that. When there’s a loss like this, you think everybody tends to go to the mother and, because she lost her child and they, like I said, they forget there’s siblings and there’s others and there’s a child and the grandparents, but the mother is the one that people really tend to try to embrace.
But we originally after Sal first passed as a family group, including my ex-husband and his wife. Brianna who’s Sal’s long-time girlfriend and my daughter and myself, we all went to a group family counseling because we needed to understand that we all grieve differently. We’ve all had a different part in Sal’s life, and I can’t get mad if my ex doesn’t get sad or something, I get sad over it because we’re different, we needed to come to that understanding.
I think that we are Very well as a team is we understand everybody. We all understand how each other agrees and what we all need, and we respect one another. And I think that’s important.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:16:30] I actually think that’s crucial. I think what you said is so crucial for families in grief, especially families who are grieving a traumatic loss. Everybody grieves differently. And some people for the first year go on with their lives and act like nothing happened. Some people cannot get out of bed.
It’s different for everybody. And I think that families tend to get mad at each other. Why? Why are you not sad? It’s the first Christmas without our son? Or why are you not more upset about this? Or why are you acting so upset about this and everybody gets mad at each other. And did you find that going to a counselor was really helpful in terms of helping you all to respect each other’s boundaries and respect each other as grieving process?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:17:24] Absolutely. I would recommend it for any family that goes through this because I do have a lot of parents that, somebody will ask me, can you reach out to, she just lost her child. And that’s always a complaint: “That is my husband. He’s just doing his thing. He’s living his life. Why is he not upset?”
And I try to explain to her. Everybody’s different. It’s not that he’s not grieving, he is, but we all do differently and you have to give him his space and understand that. There’s a lot of marriages that are probably broken up over the loss of a child.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:17:56] The majority of statistics show that the loss of a child is very predictive of divorce or separation. And yeah, it really drives families apart. And I think like you said, it’s because the grieving process is so different. It’s so different. And we have a hard time when we’re in our own grief. We have a hard time understanding why somebody doesn’t seem to be feeling the same way that we feel
Patty DiRenzo: [00:18:24] Exactly. And I’ll make it a product of that because there’s times that I’m in a lot of different groups of parents who lost children to overdose. And some of them will say as you said that like the first year they couldn’t get out of bed, that they were on medication. I was thinking and I’ll think I’ll stop. Oh my God, I went back to work. I was functioning like. Did I not grieve my son the way I should have?
what did I…what’s wrong with me? Why was I able to function? We’re different.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:18:51] Absolutely. And you know what, that’s a great point is that there’s also a lot of shame around the grieving process for those who did go back to work and did continue on their lives. And then you see other people whose lives fell apart and you think what does that mean about me? Does it mean that I didn’t love my child as much as that person. It has you thinking all these kinds of shameful thoughts and guilt…
Patty DiRenzo: [00:19:19] That’s so true. And I think at times I felt like when I was at work are people looking at me thinking: “Look at her, she’s okay.” ” She lost her son and she’s working now.?” Yeah, it was few months, but I didn’t stay out of work that long. I think I needed myself. I needed to go back to work. I was afraid that if not, I would cocoon and just get worse and worse.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:19:42] Yeah. And not only did you go back to work, but you also just, all that you have accomplished in 10 years. And again, I know we say it’s coming up on 10 years and that might seem like a long time, but to somebody who’s never, to somebody who’s experienced grief, I should say 10 years is not a long time.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:20:04] Not at all.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:20:06] Not even a little bit.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:20:09] No. It’s weird because it is, and it isn’t. I sit, like I just said to my daughter not long ago. I said, Oh my gosh, 10 years. I can’t believe that my son has not been here in physical form in 10 years that I have not seen him. It’s just, I remember when Sal was actively using and I was always so scared and I would say Oh my God. Something ever happens to him. Oh, I don’t know what I would do. I don’t think I could either live any longer.” Now it’s 10 years later and I’m still here and life is going on. And I think the things that scare me are, of course I, there’s no sense of his smell anywhere because before I’d be able to go into his room and smell his clothes and it still smelled and I could remember his voice, but I’m losing that now.
There’s things like I have to keep reminding myself what he heard, what he sounded like. And it’s just weird things that are happening to me now, coming up on a 10 year, she’s like people are gonna forget him or I’m afraid that people are gonna say, Oh, it’s been 10 years. You should be fine.
But I’m not.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:21:18] No. It’s, the process, even though you’ve done so much to make sure that people do not suffer in the way that you have, but even after 10 years, and even with all you’ve done, that pain is still there.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:21:42] It is. And it’s never going to go away. Anyone who tells anybody that it gets easier or it gets better, is lying I don’t care what Anybody says it never gets easier because I still go to bed every single night. And the last thing that I think of is Sal and when I open my eyes in the morning, the first thing I think of is Sal and the thought that he is really gone, and I’ve got to get out of this bed and I got to go through another day without him.
And that’s not easy.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:22:14] How do you do it? And when you say it, it doesn’t get any easier. Is that sort of raw pain still the same as it was in 2010 or has the pain shifted shapes a little bit? Does it look a little bit different now?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:22:33] Yes. It’s definitely shifted shapes as you say. It definitely does, but it’s still there, and like you say, it’s there on a different form because if I sit and think if I put myself to really think hard about Sal’s life, when I’m alone at nights, and imagine what he went through that, it comes back almost like the same pain, because I’m reliving him and thinking about what he went through.
And that makes me so sad because I feel like any children or people who are suffering with addiction. It’s just very sad. It’s just sad. It’s a sad life for them. They don’t want to be like that. And it’s so hard for other people to understand what this disease does to somebody.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:23:22] It’s so hard and, I read a lot of, I’m not sure if you’re familiar with David Kessler, who is a grief expert and he also lost his son to an overdose and yeah. One of the things that he talks about is even though the pain doesn’t go away, it does, as I mentioned earlier, shift a little bit and take on different forms.
And one of the things he talks about is this new concept of the sixth stage of grief, which he calls was finding meaning. And he wrote a whole book on it. And he dedicated a chapter specifically to those who, to parents who have lost children. And when I look at your bio, I see how much meaning you have found.
I can see it from the outside, but do you see it?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:24:23] I do. I see it and that’s, I think also what helps me to keep going because when I get really sad and start feeling like that, I think of all the accomplishments and everything I’ve done. And I know that my son did not die in vain. He has saved so many lives, just, sadly from his death, so many lives have been saved and that means the world to me.
Cause I know that would make him happy. And I do. I think I have all the accomplishments and everything that’s been done. And I feel proud. I do.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:24:59] That makes me so happy to hear you say that because I look at you and I look at all that you do. I just think it is so admirable and you have taken such unbearable pain and you have created meaning in the most heroic way. You save because of you, you save lives, I would guess every day, every single day, because of you and because of your son and his story, and you did mention your son has a son, and… okay. Talk a little bit about, is there any kind of healing that you find and spending time with him?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:25:43] that’s another bittersweet, because I have this beautiful grandson and that’s, I actually feel privileged that I have a piece of my son’s still, a piece of him is here because I talked to so many parents who say, I wish my child had a child so that I could have a piece of them. I know also, I almost, I’m so lucky because I do, I have that and he brings me such joy, but then there’s times where it’s upsetting for me because you have Father’s Day comes around and he doesn’t have a father and he’s 11 years old now. And he knows how his father passed. We’ve told him because it’s important. But I feel like, yeah, now here’s a little boy who will never truly know the great person his father was.
And if we don’t erase the stigma, he’s going to think that his father was a bad person, probably what he’s going to hear on the streets. And that scares me. So I constantly talk about Sal. And so his son, because I want him to know how proud I always was with his father and a good person he was. And I love having him in my life. It’s amazing to have him.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:26:53] Yeah it’s the part of your son that is able to stay and that you’re able to have contact with him. You are able to, it’s so important, I think that you are talking to him about how his father passed, because it does reduce stigma and shame surrounding addiction. And also it’s important for him to know that his father was so much more than an addict…
Patty DiRenzo: [00:27:23] Exactly. And thank you.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:27:25] He was so much more than his disease. There are so much more to people than what they struggle with. And somebody with depression would not be labeled like, Oh there’s the depression, but we tend to say, there’s the addicts.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:27:46] If there’s a theft somewhere, It was probably some junkie, it’s just always.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:27:51] Yes.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:27:51] It’s just always negative comments and it has to stop.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:27:56] Absolutely. If you could, what is some advice that you would give somebody who is actively using does want to seek help, but fears that stigma what’s something you might say to somebody.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:28:12] I always say come forward, share your story, never be ashamed. I tell anybody, please don’t be ashamed. In Camden County, You could call us any day and we’ll give out free funding and we’ll help you get into detox treatment. It’s just, people need to know that their life matters. It really does. You know what, and they should never be ashamed of what they’re going through, because there’s people out there that, it’s people on the streets, that just needs somebody to reach out to them and just let them know that they care about them.
I was doing handouts in Camden when the 911 law or Overdose Prevent Act the same as the 911 law giving out the Palm cards to let them know that there’s a 911 legislation and I would walk through Camden and hand them out and just see their reaction when they knew that I was there because I care.
And I was given that and the Camden police would do this with me and it made such a difference when an officer went up to somebody and say here, I want to give you some information. You need help. Or if you’re with somebody who’s overdosed and we won’t arrest you, please know this laws in effect and they, their eyes would light up because you could tell, they just want to know that they need something.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:29:31] Asolutely. And they want to know that it’s not too late because I think so many people who struggle with addiction feel like it’s too late for me.
It’s just too late.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:29:43] And it’s not.
No, I say it’s never too late.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:29:45] No.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:29:46] People complained about, saving someone’s life, maybe 10 times with Naloxone 10 different times. I don’t care because you know what, maybe on that 11th time, when that person is saved, maybe then they’ll go into treatment and we’ll save their life.
Going forward. I don’t care how many times it takes.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:30:03] Oh, so you’re saying people have almost added to the stigma, because they’re saying that they’ve used Naloxone, which is also known as Narcan, by the way.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:30:15] Yes,
Alyssa Scolari: [00:30:16] People are saying that they’ve used it, several times on the same person and this person clearly doesn’t want help or, they write that person off.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:30:26] And yeah. Think about it. That’s your child. I would want him to be saved as many times as he could, until he finds that moment that he wants treatment.
Yeah. I don’t care what it takes.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:30:40] Absolutely. And it’s the same thing with, let’s say if somebody was struggling with an eating disorder, you don’t expect somebody to just stop and never relapse again. That is…the expectations that we place on people who battle addictions are just unbelievable because we expect them to just go on a treatment, get clean and then that’s it.
But it doesn’t work like that. And the problem is, unfortunately, their addiction is more life-threatening than other addictions,
Patty DiRenzo: [00:31:14] And also there isn’t, a continuum care or people come out of treatment. There’s no continuum of care. It’s just, okay, you finished treatment. See ya some go to sober living but there’s so much more that needs to be done because initially there’s a reason you picked up and tried something.
And usually it’s because you don’t feel good about yourself. You’re looking for an outlet. So you need, to sit and go speak to someone. You need after you come out of treatment to continue seeing somebody and having a one-on-one, therapist that you talk to because there’s something inside of you that you aren’t happy with.
And you’re not going to get that information in two weeks and treatment.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:31:55] I totally agree. Going to an intensive treatment program for two to three weeks or 30 days, or even 90 days, and then you come home when you come home, that’s when the hardest work begins.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:32:08] And if you don’t have support systems, sadly, you’re probably going to relapse,
Alyssa Scolari: [00:32:13] Exactly.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:32:14] and I think a lot of places I went wrong and like I said, I wasn’t familiar with anything. It’s the first time I went away to treatment. And he came home. I was just like, I thought he was fine. I was like, Oh, you went to treatment.
He’s cured. I had no clue, and it wasn’t long after he was home that he ended up relapsing and I just didn’t get it. And, I think that has to change and we need to have that continuum of care. And I think that families need to be educated, how to deal with them when they come out of treatment.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:32:46] Yes, because addiction is often a coping skill. And like you said, somebody usually picks up an addiction because they are trying to numb something out. And until you get to the core of that, their risk of relapsing is always going to be heightened.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:33:07] I agree.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:33:08] Now in terms of the work that you’re doing right now, do you have any big projects that you’re working on?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:33:15] Right now we have coming up in Camden County, August 31st is International Overdose Awareness Day. So what that means for Camden County is that the Ben Franklin Bridge and City Hall in Camden will be lit purple for overdose. Purple’s the color that we wear for overdose. Also at Timber Creek Park and Gloucester Township.
I don’t know if you’ve been to that area. Are you,
Alyssa Scolari: [00:33:39] I have. Yes.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:33:40] Have you seen the Memorial that’s being installed there?
Alyssa Scolari: [00:33:43] No, I
Patty DiRenzo: [00:33:44] ribbon? So there’s Hope and Remembrance Memorial for overdose victims that is being built at Timber Creek Park. It’s going to be finished for August 31st and we’ll have a Ribbon Cutting.
And what it is there’s pavers. Family members were able to buy to remember their loved one. And it’s just an area for. Families who have lost somebody to an overdose to go and reflect and sit. And it’s an absolute beautiful site. We’ll do the ribbon cutting on the 31st. And we’ll also do the overdose remembrance vigil that night.
It’s the first big event for Camden County right now, since COVID. So we’re working very hard to ensure that, it’s a safe event and we’re covering every precaution we can. And it will be live streaming on Facebook also.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:34:31] So you are still going, still making meaning. I know you’re just getting started aren’t you?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:34:37] It’s just, it’s important to me to make sure that our children are heard through us and the parents that I feel like I need to be there to represent Parents who were lost like I was. I had no idea what to do and how to deal with things and what I’ve learned. I want to share with other parents to help them.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:34:59] And an effort that you can help somebody and maybe reduce somebody’s suffering even just a little bit. It makes it all worth it.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:35:11] It does also, I just want to share a bit Camden County has two free programs. One is H.A.L.O., which is Healing After Loss of an Overdose and a specific group sessions for parents or anyone who else somebody to an overdose because as we spoke, even after your child’s death, we’re a little bit stigmatized as parents who lost somebody to an overdose because our child’s passing or death is not seen the same as other losses that parents have.
If it was, cancer, car accident,
ours is almost as if people look at us and are like what did you expect was going to happen? So I never found that I could just go to a grief group and feel comfortable sharing Sal’s story. So Camden County created, H.A.L.O which is specific for overdose and they’ve also just created halo youth and that’s for 12 to 17 year olds who have have lost either a parent or a relative to an overdose.
And they’re both great in there. They’re at the Living Proof Recovery Center. I can send you the information for both of those.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:36:24] Yeah, that would be great. And so that’s just in Camden County.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:36:29] Yes.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:36:29] Okay. I think that’s so important because people who have lost loved ones due to an overdose, it’s a different type of grief because of the stigma. As you said, people will look at it differently and people tend to have less sympathy and they tend to not want to talk about it as much.
And it’s very important to if anybody out there is listening, who is thinking of joining a grief group for the loss of a loved one due to an overdose, try to find a group that is specific to loss from an overdose, because I think that you’ll get more, much more out of it.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:37:11] Yes. And there is another one that’s throughout the United States, any it’s called G.R.A.S.P. And that’s specific to a loss with substance use.
And you can just Google that on the internet and different areas. Different G.R.A.S.P in different locations will come up, that you could find one in your area.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:37:32] Oh, that’s perfect. And what I will do is I will actually I’ll link that website for everybody in the show notes so that you all can have easy access to it for those of you who are looking. And I think the final thing that I wanted to ask you, Patty is with all the work that you do for others and in the way, in which you’ve dedicated your whole life to saving others.
What are some things that you do for yourself to get a little bit of relief from everything that you’ve been through?
Patty DiRenzo: [00:38:11] I don’t do a lot. Self-care for me is honestly spending time with my family and my grandchildren. That’s honestly where I find my joy in, where I’m relaxed. I’m just most comfortable with my immediate family. And I love being with my grandchildren. I go to work every day. I come home and my life is to my grandchildren.
So that’s what makes me happy. My daughter, I go to her house for the weekend. She has a pool in the back and we just relax and we enjoy our life and make memories.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:38:39] That’s beautiful.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:38:40] Yeah. Yeah.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:38:41] Family. It’s so healing. It’s so healing and I’m thankful and glad and happy that you are able to be present with your family and still make good memories in spite of everything that you’ve been through. And I think it’s important for people to hear that yes, in the aftermath of trauma and loss, there is overwhelming pain, crippling pain, but that it is possible to have happy memories in the aftermath of it.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:39:18] It absolutely is. Just one thing I just want to add to that. If you don’t mind.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:39:23] Not at all.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:39:24] Originally like in the first year when Sal first passed, whenever we spoke about Sal, my daughter and myself, it was always all the bad stuff. It was always, I remember when he did this, remember he got caught, like we just kept reliving all of his addiction life.
And then someone told my daughter, Blake, they said, stop doing that, put that away. That’s gone. And you remember your brother remember The good brother, the brother that was present, your brother you grew up with when Sal was not using the, Sal was a part of your family, all the good memories you have with them and going forward that’s what we do now, because that always makes us smile. So we share our stories about Sal and share the fun times and the goofy times. And we put aside those bad times because that wasn’t truly him anyway, that was the shell of him acting out from his disease.
we need to remember the person Sal truly was.
And I advise anyone who loses someone to substance use, to remember that and to just always remember the good times with their child or their loved one.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:40:31] Yes. That’s what helps you hold on. Is those good memories
Patty DiRenzo: [00:40:37] Yes.
Alyssa Scolari: [00:40:38] I just want to thank you so much for coming on the show and sharing your story. I know that you made yourself really vulnerable today and. I really appreciate it. And I know that our listeners will appreciate it. You are one brave woman, so thank you for all that you do. And for all the lives that you’ve saved.
And quite honestly, I can’t wait to see what you continue to do in the future.
Patty DiRenzo: [00:41:07] Thank you so much. I appreciate it. I appreciate you airing this because again, raising awareness. So thank you.