When Drugs End a ‘Fairytale Life,’ Parents Find Solace in Helping Others
Story about Tackling the Addiction Stigma and Changes for the Better when you loose a loved one to drugs.
Denise Cullen made a deal with her son, Jeff, when he was young. If he waited until he was 25 to get a tattoo, she’d pay for it, whatever he wanted. It was a way of keeping him from getting something he’d later regret.
Jeff took her up on the offer and, when he turned 25, excitedly began the multistep process of getting an elaborate angel tattooed on his side. Midway through the work he revealed to his mother that he was doing it to honor her, and he planned to add the words “Mom” to the design or perhaps the image of a child kneeling at the angel’s feet.
“Of course, I was beyond touched, but I talked him out of it. I said, ‘Girls are going to think you’re weird! You don’t need to have Mom on it,’ ” she said, laughing at the memory. “If that’s what that means, you know it, I know it and that’s all that matters. So what he started telling people was that he had an angel on his side.”
Today, seven years after her son’s death from a drug overdose at age 27, Denise remains the angel steadfastly at his side through her work as executive director of a nonprofit that includes two sections: the support group Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing (GRASP) and Broken No More, an education, information and advocacy group that champions more enlightened drug policies and better public awareness of what addiction means. In these roles she not only keeps her only child’s memory alive while helping others who have experienced similar loss, she works to prevent more tragedy.