They are women connected by a fate none of them wanted. Together, they are trying to accept it.
All of them lost a child or a family member to a drug overdose.
They call themselves “Moms of Cherished Angels.” In addition to offering support to one another, they’re helping individuals battling drug addictions.
The women began meeting last autumn at the Butler Twp. home of Judy Provanzo, who lost her son, Michael Provanzo, to an accidental overdose in August.
While there, they share a meal, sometimes a dessert. They openly talk about their losses and their feelings.
“We understand one another,” Provanzo said. “There are times we’ll say, ‘Did you get out of bed today?’”
Losing a loved one is one thing. Losing a child another. But losing a child to addiction, Provanzo said, is a nightmare.
Provanzo and her husband, Joseph Provanzo, decided to write about Michael’s struggle with addiction in his obituary.
“We do not want his death to be in vain,” they wrote about the 22 year-old’s passing. “Michael did not want to be an addict. His demons were more than he could handle. Addiction is a disease and does not discriminate.”
They also wrote in the obituary, “Many loved ones did everything they could to get him to stop but the drugs won their battle.”
Provanzo began receiving supportive calls and cards soon thereafter. Some were from mothers who had also lost a child to addiction – and that’s how the group started to meet.
“We’re kind of like a sisterhood,” said Patti Goralewski, Freeland, who lost her daughter, Jayne Baran in 2016.
A few weeks into their meetings, the women decided to fill backpacks with toiletries and donate them to those entering rehabilitation centers.
“We decided we wanted to do something to keep our children’s memories alive and help others suffering with this horrible disease,” Provanzo said.
With the packages of toothpaste, shampoo, notebooks and more, they include notes about their own children’s struggles with drugs.
In the note she encloses, Provanzo writes, “The day Mikey died a part of me and his father died with him. I’m sharing this with you in hopes it helps you along your journey. Mikey always thought he had his addiction under control and this wouldn’t happen to him,” she writes. “If you’re feeling like you want to give up, please think of Mikey and how my heart is breaking not having him. Remember you are loved and you can do this one day at a time.”
Lisa Bertolette, another member of the Moms of Cherished Angels, lost her daughter, Nikki, in June 2017.
Nikki, she wrote, was in and out of rehabilitation centers for four years. She had been doing well until she relapsed.
“I miss her every day. I’ve cried every single day since June 2017,” Bertolette wrote.
Kim Janeczek, Kline Twp., included a note about her son, Matthew, who was 21 when he died in July 2017.
“He had a heart of gold. He helped so many people in the short time he was here,” she wrote.
“If we can save just one person, it’s worth it,” she said of the note and the backpack donations, which have been distributed to recovery centers across the state.
Compiling the backpacks and the weekly meetings are things the women look forward to.
“Everybody is different and everybody grieves differently. We get to different places in the process at different times. But if we didn’t have this every Tuesday, I’d be in a loony bin,” Provanzo said.
By Jill Whalen, Staff Writer
This story is part of an Associated Press project. America is in the midst of the deadliest drug epidemic in its history and Pennsylvania is at the epicenter. In 2016, more than 2,200 Pennsylvanians died of opioid overdoses, the fourth highest rate in the US, according to U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention data. Opioid deaths made up about half of all drug overdoses in the state that year. The death toll from opioids abuse has climbed so high that the governor’s office this year issued an emergency declaration. That designation calls for increased coordination and tracking of the work of health and safety agencies dealing with the public health emergency. Newsrooms have been documenting the epidemic’s soaring numbers for close to two decades. Now, a special project marshalling their combined strength is focusing on what Pennsylvanians around the state are doing to try to reverse this most deadly trend. These are stories of community support, outreach, care and prevention. All are about hope.