Jamie Regan sat in a room with hundreds of others, but he was all alone and immersed in his own agonizing thoughts. It was December 2014, and Jamie was attending a holiday gathering for Gosnold, Inc., one of the region’s leading providers of addiction treatment services, as the guest of a friend. Struggling with his own addiction—but not understanding what that even meant—and trying to understand the struggles of his son, James E. (Jake) Regan IV, Jamie listened intently as then-Boston Mayor Marty Walsh offered a heartfelt and honest account of his own struggles and his own journey living with the disease of addiction. That was an epiphany for Jamie. In a public setting, Marty Walsh not only openly shared his pain and his story, but he acknowledged that addiction is not a moral failing or a deficiency of character—it is a disease and, like any other disease—needs treatment. Marty Walsh made it okay for many to confront and treat their own disease, and Jamie Regan is one of those many.
That was a turning point for Jamie. A couple of months later, equipped with that knowledge and with the gift of desperation, his own journey in recovery began, which continues today. “I didn’t get that it was a disease, but now I do,” he explained to me in a conversation this week, now equipped with several years in recovery and a newfound hope that is renewed each day.
Unfortunately, Jake’s story and Jake’s journey took a different path. He and his dad enjoyed some time in recovery together but, after a period of sustained sobriety, Jake relapsed and died of an overdose in May of 2017, four years ago this month. The shock, the loss and the pain of an event like this are almost indescribable, yet Jamie maintained his sobriety and stepped in to provide help and support as a caregiver for Jake’s two daughters.
“When Jake first died, the feelings were so intense. I had no hope,” he explained to me, the pain and rawness still evident in his voice. So, much like he did in his addiction journey, Jamie turned to others with similar circumstances for help and support. He found that help and renewed hope in people like Jeanne Flynn and Kerry Bickford. When Jeanne Flynn lost her son Brian in 2015, no support groups existed on the Upper Cape for families who lost loved ones to addiction. So, she formed the support group Consoling Partners/Addiction Loss in 2017.
Similarly, Kerry Bickford lost her son Nathan in 2018, and, along with her husband, formed Nathan’s Circle in 2019. For parents like Jamie, commiserating with parents like Jeanne and Kerry was an indispensable lifesaver, and provided a kernel of hope during a pretty hopeless time. During the pandemic, Jeanne and Kerry combined their support meetings through Zoom, offering hope and help virtually. With pandemic restrictions being lifted, they will soon return to in-person meetings. Anyone interested in learning more can reach Jeanne at firstname.lastname@example.org and Kerry at email@example.com. Jamie frequently converses with other parents who have lost children and welcomes contact at firstname.lastname@example.org. All three of these courageous souls are part of an unfortunate club to which no one aspires to belong, but they are turning tragedy into hope every day by helping others who join.
One of the many projects that Jeanne, Kerry, and Jamie are supporting is an addiction awareness license plate to further raise awareness of the ongoing addiction epidemic and to provide funding for families like theirs who have suffered the same incalculable loss. Spearheaded by the nonprofit group Team Sharing Inc., which is based in Massachusetts but has chapters all over the country, this effort seeks to provide people with a visible and ongoing way to provide support. The plate will only be produced when enough supporters apply for one. Information and the application are available on Team Sharing’s website at https://www.teamsharinginc.org/ma-overdose-awareness-plate.
I am blessed to share in Jamie’s sober journey and have had the gift of watching him wrap his loving arms around Jake’s children while giving back to others and helping others begin their own journey in recovery. The support and guidance shown to him by people like Jeanne and Kerry have enabled him to be there for Jake’s kids and to share the hope he has found. Of course, the sadness of the crushing loss of a child never goes away. Reflecting back on the last four years, Jamie spoke matter-of-factly but wistfully about his son’s life, his legacy, and his struggles with the disease of addiction. “Jake didn’t want to die. He had two kids that he loved very much,” Jamie explained. Today, though, because of Jamie’s own love for his son—and his love for his son’s own kids—he continues Jake’s legacy by supporting others who have lost loved ones to addiction and by continuing to love, support and guide Jake’s children. Jamie has found the hope he sought and is holding onto it by giving it away to others.