New City resident Caren Sommerstein Schwartz never thought she would become part of a club of mothers who have lost their children to addiction.
Her son Reid died of a fentanyl overdose in 2015 at the age of 24. He had been battling addiction to fentanyl and heroin for eight years at that point.
Through every step of the way, Schwartz, 63, fought to bring him to recovery.
“I was beside him the whole time,” she said. “I never turned away from him. I was an advocate for him.”
Today, she has found solace in a community of mothers who have also lost children to addiction. She facilitates a number of support groups throughout the area with grieving loved ones of those who have died of substance use overdoses, including Friends of Recovery in Rockland County.
“We call it the club that no one wants to belong to,” she said. “That being said, being able to understand the pain that someone else is going through, and being able to support one another, because you’ve lived the same experience is really amazing.”
She estimates that roughly 90 percent of group attendees at Friends of Recovery have lost their loved ones to fentanyl. Schwartz has moments where she is taken aback by how she became part of this club.
“It’s so surreal to think, ‘how could this be my life?'” she said. “I mean, I didn’t grow up with any [addiction].”
Schwartz is a retired speech pathologist who left three years ago to devote herself to her advocacy work full-time.
The months of April, May and June are the hardest for her to bear each year. April marks the month of Reid’s birthday, while May marks both International Bereaved Mother’s Day and Mother’s Day, and June was the month he passed away in 2015.
Still, Schwartz has learned to face her triggers during this time of year head on.
“In the beginning, it always made me cry. Sometimes I still cry,” she said. “That’s the thing about grief, you never know what’s going to hit you and what isn’t going to hit you and how you’re going to react to it. I try to embrace it more now, too, and sort of just go with the feelings and not fight them.”