My name is Violeta Astilean, and I lost my son, Theo, when he was 25 years old to a fatal combination of heroin and Fentanyl on May 17, 2015. I’m from East Hampton, NY where Theo graduated from high school. We came here from Romania and moved here 30 years ago.
I remember him as warm, open, loving, bright, intelligent and a very handsome man. He had a huge laugh and a fabulous smile. He was an outstanding athlete, with many trophies and awards. He played linebacker and this was the brightest shining star in his life. He was also very gifted intellectually being an honor roll student in high school, but left college after his first year. Theo was a fun-loving, free-spirited, beautiful son with a heart of gold and a contagious smile. He had a tattoo on his wrist that read “Just One Life .” He lived his life with wild ambition and no regrets. Theo always had a way to make you smile and laugh as he had a wonderful sense of humor. He was charismatic and always made you feel welcome. He was a gifted storyteller and always an entertainer. Theo loved his little brothers with all his heart. He was a loyal friend to many. He always said, “I love you Mom, I am sorry Mom.” We were very, very close. Even during his years of drug use, he and I never became distant from each other. It was torturous at times, but the one thing that was always, always apparent was that he loved his family and his family loved him – no matter what!
Theo started smoking pot in the last years of high school. His drug use progressed to pills and then cocaine. We believe his addiction started about seven years ago, but it’s hard to say for certain because this disease of the Devil entered our home slowly and quietly. Over the next seven years, he experimented with a variety of drugs, including his final drug of choice, opiates. During those years, Theo tried so, so hard to stop. He felt broken and guilty for the hurt he inflicted on me and his little brothers. He once wrote about his “fairytale life” that he had screwed up so badly and his self-esteem was completely eroded towards the end. But he always took total responsibility for what he did.
Theo was a fun-loving individual who had his own inner struggles. The difference between Theo and most other kids when they were in the process of getting help, was that Theo reached out for help entirely on his own. He loved his friends and family so much, that when his behavior started to hurt the ones he loved the most, he decided it was time to do something about it. He asked for help and entered a rehab. He was clean for about seven months when he relapsed.
September 30,2014 was the first time my son called me crying and asked for help. It was the first time when he admitted he was a drug addict. In my shock and heartbreak, I didn’t criticize him for it because I knew he felt so bad. I knew he felt he had let us down. He didn’t want to be an addict. He told me he hated that life, and he didn’t want to live that life anymore. ” Mom, please help me! I will do anything to get out from this hole.” He shared why he decided to go down such a dark path. He felt alone, although he had so much love from me and so many people growing up. He shared how it all started with just having a little fun at seventeen with his friends with pot and escalated to prescription pills and cocaine.
The hardest part to be a parent is watching your child go through something really tough and not being able to fix it for them. I reached out to the Jack Koensigdorf Foundation and Kathie Koensigdorf told me about Matty Prawicka from AIR. I called him right away and asked for guidance and how we could best support Theo during rehab. Matty told me “Theo was the most motivated person I have ever worked with. His desire to improve his life and his appreciation for the littlest things stood out the most. I remember after I dropped him off at rehab, I was thinking that if every person I tried to help had 10% of his motivation, a lot of families would sleep better at night.”
Although his motivation and passion were magnetic, the system set in place failed him. His lack of insurance prevented him from any dual diagnostic programs, especially ones out of state and away from his surroundings and limited options. The best available programs were not able to scratch the surface of his lack of confidence and ongoing feelings of letting people down. He needed more intensive treatment and needed to be properly evaluated and medicated for any mental health issues. He was limited to one thirty day inpatient program and then bounced around to several sober living homes.
Thirty days to detox from something that he had been doing for eight years? It’s designed to fail. There really needs to be a program that keeps them longer for four to six months at least, so they can treat them properly. My son was in a detox program for thirty days, after which we sent him to a ” treatment center ” and after four months he was kicked out from using Facebook. We sent him right away to a halfway house thinking he was ready. After three months there, he relapsed. They kicked him out in the middle of the night with nowhere to go. Throwing people out of rehab or sober living for displaying the very symptom of their disease (for their own good) is nonsense. It’s dangerous as well, by putting people on the street with no money, resources, often with only a heavy bag of their life’s possessions. It was the perfect storm.
The fateful day arrived on May 17, 2015. There will never come a day, hour, minute or second that I stop loving or thinking about my son. Child loss is a loss like no other. Theo was an incredibly loved young man. Friends flew across the country to be at his funeral, and the incredible sadness about how his death could have been prevented just permeated the air. Because of the embarrassment he felt, he never asked his friends for help.
All I have of Theo are memories, and of course his clothes and a few other things. But at the cemetery you cannot hold a grave marker. What I miss most about my son is his affectionate nature, his great sense of humor, and even the small things like hearing his feet bouncing up and down the stairs, the smell of his cologne—just everything about him. It hurts so deeply to think about him never again being here on Earth to say, “I love you Mom!” or for me to hug his sweet little neck and kiss his warm cheek. For parents, this is their greatest fear come true, because the grieving never stops when it is your child that has been lost too soon. Children are supposed to bury their parents. Parents are NOT supposed to bury their children.
When you lose a child, nothing is ever the same again. Every facet of your life has a memory of your child: every room in the house, every trip in the car, a song, a picture, a book, a walk in the park. There is a hole in your heart that will never be filled. You search and search for answers that just aren’t there. Special occasions are never the same.
If my son’s story saves even one life, then his life and death were not in vain.
My advice to parents is to read and get more informed as much as they possibly can about addictive illness and drug use from responsible sources early on. Talk honestly about the risk factors of becoming addicted by experimenting and about family history of alcohol or substance abuse. I believe that to resolve the overdose crisis, people whose lives have been touched by this issue need to speak up. We must get loud about overdose; the stigma and shame must end. With overdose, we must address both these elements. We must research addiction and find better treatments and a cure. It can be done. We just have to care enough to do it.
Death is not a time for blame. It is a time for reflection. And then, it is a time to speak. It’s time to stop pretending that substance use disorder is mostly a choice, and it’s time to stop shaming people who struggle with it. Addiction is a thinking problem, and this is a thinking epidemic. If the mind can’t wrap it’s head around something, then it will consider it impossible. If a new life of feeling pain without anesthesia doesn’t seem survivable then it’s inconceivable.
Addicts don’t doubt they are powerless over the drug necessarily.
Addiction is a disease that starts in the brain, just as everyone has some type of addiction like food, sweets, cigarettes and so on. And because it is a disease it has to be “fixed” or “healed” from the inside out. These 30, 60 or 90 day rehab’s do not work. What does work is that once the person is ready to get clean, they need a rehab that is long term in order to heal one step at a time. They need a lot more than “detox” and abstinence to get well. If you do not treat the mental state (whole person) and get to the “Whys” and then work on fixing those “Whys” their success decreases dramatically. We all know that these places can be expensive but there is help out there with the financial aspect as well. Recovery exists and is possible. You just have to believe it and help them as much as you can . They need your support and love. Show them you love them no matter what. It’s a long, hard and exhausting road, but it’s possible.
My son’s life was cut irreversibly short, but his love lives on forever. There will never come a time where I won’t think about who my son would be, what he would look like, a wedding that will never be; grandchildren that should have been but will never be born. The bleeding never stops. There will always be an empty chair, empty room, empty space in every family picture. Empty. Vacant. Empty spaces that should be full, everywhere we go, will be forever gone for this lifetime. There is, and will always be, a missing space in our lives, our families, a forever-hole-in-our-hearts. Time does not make the space less empty. No matter how you look at it, empty is still empty. Missing is still missing. Gone is still gone. The problem is nothing can fill it. Minute after minute, hour after hour, day after day, month after month, year after heart-breaking year – the empty space remains.
The empty space of my missing son lasts a lifetime. And I will miss him forever. There is no glue for my broken heart, no elixir for my pain and no going back in time. For as long as I breathe, I will grieve and ache and love my son with all my heart and soul. Being his mom is the best gift I’ve ever been given. Even death can’t take that away. Violeta Astilean lives in East Hampton, New York with her husband and 2 sons, Alex and Max. She plans to start the Theo Marinescu Foundation – Just One Life – for education, awareness and rehabilitation scholarships to help people suffering from drug addiction. It will be working closely with schools to develop training & education, inspiring knowledge and informed change while educating and advocating to prevent and reduce deaths and tragedies.
She can be reached via email at: email@example.com Theo Marinescu 10/7/1989 – 5/17/2015