Every issue of the newspaper is meant to fill the reader with useful, and at times hard to hear, information. Over the past few years as the death toll continued to rise, stories about overdose and fentanyl have flooded newspapers across the province and the country. While it was built upon the same theme as many of these stories, Sylvia Abolis Mennear’s story of loss is different. After the death of her 30-year-old son Aaron James Mennear, Sylvia picked up the pen and wrote Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts: Fentanyl The Killer as one last gift to her son. It’s the story of heartache told through a different and highly intimate lens. It’s a story that illuminates the people rather than the problem. That is why Mennear’s story has my vote for the most meaningful article of 2018.
The worst thing a parent can do is ignore the signs and believe it can’t happen to their own child.
That’s the message woven through the pages of Sylvia Abolis Mennear’s self-published book Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts: Fentanyl The Killer.
Mennear, who resides in Cherryville, began writing the book four months after the untimely overdose death of her then 30-year-old son, Aaron James Mennear April 19, 2017. She wrote it not only to remember but to help.
“It’s the worst thing that could happen to anyone is to lose a child,” Mennear said. “Someone who hasn’t been through it, you can’t fathom it. I have to give him one last gift.”
Aaron’s battle with opioid addiction began after a snowboarding accident Jan. 11, 2014. After a day of carving fresh powder, Aaron hit one last jump, which resulted in breaking his tibia in six places, a dislocated knee and an injured ACL, MCL, IT band and meniscus. Aaron was rushed to the hospital in Jasper where he underwent the first of four surgeries before he was flown to Edmonton.
“The following morning, I woke up in complete confusion and anxiety realizing that everything that had happened was not a nightmare,” Aaron wrote following the accident — a piece of writing Mennear found and included in Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts. “The painkillers were not helping my mental state, as I seemed to fade and forget about all my problems surrounding me.”
At the time of the accident, Aaron was training for the Alberta Bodybuilding Association’s (ABBA) Northern Body Building Contest. Aaron persevered through his recovery, and on May 17, 2015, he took to the bodybuilding stage.
But, throughout his recovery, Aaron was unable to stop using prescribed opioids.
“They kept giving, giving, giving, then they cut him off with no support,” Mennear said. “It was horrible. The pain was endless.”
Reeling from withdrawals and still suffering pain in his leg from the accident, Aaron’s friend offered him heroin.
That decision to take the help offered sparked a cycle of addiction and detox, which Aaron’s girlfriend recounts in a chapter she wrote for the book.
However, with the help of his girlfriend and family, Aaron eventually became clean.
Aaron was clean for eight weeks before he overdosed.
“He was clean for eight weeks. It was the strangest thing. everything was going good,” Mennear said. “Whatever he picked up wasn’t what he thought.”
Mennear said Aaron was working towards creating an organization to help those who are using fentanyl, a drug to which Aaron had lost four of his friends. Aaron’s organization, for which he had started a GoFundMe, was to be named LIFESAVERS and would entail promoting safety and awareness of fentanyl and providing naloxone kits to those in need due to an increase in overdoses. Aaron planned to promote his campaign through social media and at clubs and bars.
Related: How to use naloxone to stop a fentanyl overdose
“He wanted to be outside pubs and parties and hand out Naloxone kits,” Mennear said. “It was so ironic that he passed away from the same thing he was trying to help people for.”
She added that given his knowledge of fentanyl and the work he was doing to help those in need, she knows Aaron wouldn’t have consumed fentanyl willingly. In the book, Mennear said Aaron’s overdose death was the result of the combination of a sleeping pill and fentanyl. Aaron’s cousin also died as a result of a drug overdose on May 24, 2017.
According to the government of British Columbia, fentanyl can be cut into any illegal drug, whether it’s a pill or a powder. The same applies to carfentanil or W-18, which the government said are equally or more dangerous than fentanyl.
The BC Coroners Service Death Review Panel: A Review of Illicit Drug Overdoses from April 2018 stated that 1,854 people died of an illicit drug overdose between Jan. 1, 2016 and July 31, 2017. The majority of overdose deaths occurred within a private residence. The identification of fentanyl in these deaths continues to rise. Most overdose deaths occurred while the person was using drugs alone.
Related: Fentanyl-linked overdose deaths soar in B.C.
“We’re losing a whole generation of kids, Mennear said of her research. “It’s a huge epidemic.”
Friends suggested counselling, but Mennear, who had published two books prior to Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts, decided to pick up the pen.
“It was therapeutic, (but) it was hell writing it,” Mennear said. “If we could at least save one life, we could help Aaron.”
A key component to Mennear’s book is the change family and friends noticed in Aaron, an honour student and avid athlete, as a result of drug use.
“I wanted to share with people what he was like before drugs,” Mennear said. “They just completely rewired his brain. He wasn’t the same person anymore.”
Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts weaves together Mennear’s recollection of her son and the day she found him dead on his brother’s birthday, her hours of research on illicit drug statistics, Aaron’s own writings and words submitted by his girlfriend.
“It’s hard to read, but it also helps parents be detectives for their kids,” Mennear said. “Look everywhere. Don’t think for one moment that this can’t happen to your kids. To have a closed mind is the worst thing you can do.
“If we knew, I think we would have been able to help him. We didn’t know. He was ashamed.”
Mennear hopes that her story will help save one person, help one family avoid her family’s fate.
“I have to get it out there. I have to do this for him,” Mennear said. “I’m not going to let my son die in vain.”
Shattered Dreams and Broken Hearts is available by emailing firstname.lastname@example.org or through Amazon.ca. A portion of the proceeds goes towards Moms Stop The Harm.