After Matthew Swiderski died at 29 from an overdose Nov. 1, his family had a choice when writing his obituary.

His struggles with addiction could have remained a private family matter, but they chose to help remove the stigma around addiction by being forthcoming.

“We decided we were going to put it in,” said his sister, Jenny Swiderski Yonick. “I was adamant about that because I didn’t want another — ‘died at home or died unexpectedly.’ People need to know.”

“We take comfort in the knowledge that our beloved son, brother, grandson, nephew and friend is at peace. Another gifted and much-beloved person was stolen from this world due to the devastating effects of heroin,” the obituary said, adding Swiderski “was freed from his struggles” Nov. 1.

“We’re of the belief that the stigma needs to go away and now more than ever it is clearly an epidemic. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It’s almost as if every person has somebody that’s going through what we went through as a family,” Yonick said. “I just want people to know there is a living, breathing side to addicts. It’s not just these deadbeat people that are junkies. They are real people who have so many people who love them.”

Yonick, 31, said she isn’t sure exactly how and when her brother became addicted to heroin. She suspects his struggle with depression and anxiety led to his addiction.

“My brother, he was a person who struggled with depression, ever since he was a teenager. He felt that people couldn’t understand him. He just couldn’t get out of his darkness,” Yonick said.

“The thing with this is we don’t even know the half of what went on, just by the nature of how addiction is. We don’t really even know where he got it or how he got it. He talked to another family member and said if he had known the half of what this does, what heroin does, he would have never ever decided to start it and he wished he had the hindsight to not.”

Yonick and her brother grew up in Nanticoke. They both graduated from Bishop Hoban High School in Wilkes-Barre.

“We were both on the swim team together,” she said. “I was a senior when Matthew was a freshman.”

After graduating from Hoban in 2007, he earned a degree in creative writing and literature from Burlington College.

“It was hard for him with his depression and anxiety to go through the interview process and things like that, so at the time of his death he was not working,” Yonick said. “Our whole point of view was he needs to get better. He can’t focus on getting employment when he is struggling with so much. My parents literally did everything they possibly could.”

He was living with his parents — Dee and Ken Swiderski — in Nanticoke.

“My parents went to the end of the earth to help him,” Yonick said. “They did everything they absolutely could to help him. If love were enough, he would still be here because that’s how our family is.”

He enjoyed spending time with his maternal grandmother Dolores Evans and paternal grandparents, Victor “Speedy” and Dorothy Swiderski.
“He would spend a crazy amount of time with his grandparents, provide them company, help them get their food ready,” Yonick said. “My 90-year old Pop Pop would make my brother go to the gym with him and do work outs. He loved his grandparents. He would literally do anything for them.”

Yonick and her husband live in the Harrisburg area. She’s an elementary school teacher for the Cumberland Valley School District.

“We feel like this fall — before he passed away — was like his gift to us because he was not doing anything,” Yonick said. “He was not doing heroin this fall. He went to multiple Penn State games with us. He went camping. He was going camping with us. He was spending all this time with us, which he was not able to in years. It was a blessing because of all the wonderful memories we have this fall.”

Those memories from the fall helped her family deal with his death.

“We’re trying to live in the positive because we’ve been through the worst. … It was a long, long struggle, and it impacts the families as much if not more than the addict. You fear phone calls that come at a wrong time, fearful of the other shoe dropping,” Yonick said.

“It isn’t just the addict that’s going through the darkness. Our entire family was right there with him. The one thing I could say about our family is no matter what we loved him. He knew, the Matthew that is my brother and not the addict, I know deep down inside he knew he was loved by his family.”

Toxicology testing shows he died from an overdose of fentanyl.

“It wasn’t heroin laced with fentanyl. It was pure fentanyl. Our opinions are how could somebody sell somebody this knowing it will kill them?” Yonick asked.

“The crazy thing in is I’ve done so much reading and research since this has happened, and it could be anyone. It could honestly stem from your doctor gave you a pill for your ankle injury. It can just blow out of control. And it’s so important for our younger generation. I’m a teacher, and I look at these kids. These kids need to know, and they need to know now because it could be anyone,” she said. “It’s a crapshoot if you have that addictive personality. What causes somebody to like that feeling of getting high is horrifying to other people. I had gall blader surgery, and they were shooting me up with all crazy stuff. And I was like — I hate how this makes me feel. I feel like I’m going to die. This is terrible. But you don’t know how that would impact somebody else.”

Contact the writer:
570-821-2073, @cvmikebuffer