When George P. Gauthier died of an opiate overdose in May at 44, his sister, Cindy Gauthier-Rivera, wrote an obituary that was more like a cry from the heart.
His destructive addictions to heroin, painkillers and alcohol had cost him his marriage, his children, his job and eventually his life, she wrote from her home here in western Massachusetts. An outgoing man who dressed well and loved music and poetry, he had wanted to become a drug counselor, saving others from the abyss. Instead, he plunged further into it; he was found dead at their mother’s house, just a few miles from his sister.
“At least he was not alone or in the streets, or killed in a fight or stabbed or shot, but he is still gone,” Ms. Gauthier-Rivera wrote. “This is so painful and I want to scream and I want him back but not the addiction.”
When celebrities like the actor Philip Seymour Hoffman die of heroin overdoses, the cause of death is a prominent part of the obituary. The less famous tend to die “unexpectedly” or “at home.”
But as the heroin epidemic surges across the country and claims more lives every day, a growing number of families are dropping the euphemisms and writing the gut-wrenching truth, producing obituaries that speak unflinchingly, with surprising candor and urgency, about the realities of addiction.
Many of these obituaries read more like personal eulogies than death notices, even as they appear for all to read in newspapers, on Facebook, and on websites like Legacy.com and ObitsforLife.com, where Ms. Gauthier-Rivera originally posted about her brother. Some have even gone viral, prompting an outpouring of messages in which strangers share their own heartache — a sign of how widespread addiction is, even as it has stayed for so long under wraps.