MINNEAPOLIS (WCCO) — Together, a group of Twin Cities mothers left behind in the wake of Minnesota’s crippling opioid crisis is battling grief and guilt while trying to heal.
“I was struggling how to describe you all. We’re not some kind of support group. It’s different, it’s a sisterhood,” Cindy Hess said. “It literally came into my head. I said, ‘Sonshine Girls.'”
They come from Bloomington to Elk River, from Medina to Maple Grove, and they never would have met had life gone their way — six moms who go by a new name when they’re together. As Becky Scheig pointed out, they spell it “Sonshine” because they’ve all lost sons, and all have stories to share about lives lost to opioids.
“Kyle died in September of 2017,” Tori Badger said.
“Ryan passed away the same day my father passed away, within three hours apart,” Laurie Mahoney added.
“Andrew died in 2013 at the age of 19,” Scheig said.
“His last text was, ‘This has gotta be my last shoot up, I’m done, done, ugh goddamn me.’ It was the last thing he ever said, then he died,” Kirsten Milun said.
All young men with envious beginnings before the grip of addiction set in.
“He was your normal happy, precocious, inquisitive, smart, funny little kid,” Scheig said.
It was in middle school when Andrew Scheig battled obsessive-compulsive disorder and depression. Mental illness led to substance abuse in high school.
“He did well when he was in treatment, but it was always difficult when he would come home,” his mom said.
Heroin took his life two weeks before he could get into another program. Andrew Scheig’s death six years ago was the first to force many parents in Maple Grove to face a hidden addiction in the suburbs.
“She said I don’t want to be Becky Schieg. I don’t want to be the Scheigs. I’ll be darned, how many years later she wasn’t downstairs doing the same thing,” Schieg said.
That was just two years ago. When Danny Hess’s mom found her 23-year-old son dead from Carfentanil, a powerful drug 10,000 times more potent than morphine.
“He was 11 months in recovery and he was doing great,” Hess said. “What we learned after the fact is that kids in this addiction. They relapse.”
They found each other after the heartbreaking obituaries, news headlines and court hearings.
“Being loved is wonderful. We are loved by so many people as were our kids, but to be understood is profound,” Colleen Ronnei said.
They are focused together on the painful path forward.
“No guilt, no blame, no shame in this group,” Mahoney said.
Mahoney’s son had struggled with alcohol before he got hooked on pain pills. The day his grandpa died, Ryan bought what he thought was OxyContin from a friend.
“What she gave him was two kinds of synthetic fentanyl and he died instantly sitting in his computer chair,” she said.
The moms are all at different stages of their grief, guiding each other as they try to still be there for their surviving kids and marriages.
“It’s pretty heartbreaking when you realize how many parents just in the Twin Cities who have lost children to this,” Becky Scheig said.
The latest numbers show nearly 400 Minnesotans died from opioid overdoses in 2016. More than 2,000 visited emergency rooms due to an overdose last year. Still, for as long as the crisis has been a part of the conversation, the numbers only continue to climb.
It’s why this group also advocates taking away the stigma, reminding families they are not alone.
“It makes me sad because you do feel all alone, but you are not all alone,” Ronnei said.
Still, finding “sonshine” in the darkest of shadows.
“I mean look at us. Those are those silver linings that come from the most horrible things,” Ronnei said.
For more information on how these moms are fighting to change the outcome of the opioid crisis, click here.