TUSCOLA, Ill. (WCIA) – “It’s a day that I can openly say I lost my daughter to an overdose and not feel ashamed and not feel the stigma from society,” Stacy Welch said.
Welch says addiction is a family disease. That’s why she’s reaching out to others who are grieving lost loved ones for International Overdose Awareness Day. She gathered a group of them in Tuscola too share memories in an effort to destigmatize addiction.
Welch said it’s a tough day, but it comes with hope. She doesn’t feel like she has to grieve her daughter in silence anymore.
“It’s a day that I can be proud to say her name and remember her for the person that she was and not what society looked at her as,” Welch said.
Welch’s daughter, Shalynn Brooke Conner, died of an overdose at 22 years old.
“My daughter was a very outgoing girl. She was raised in a good family,” Welch said.
Conner spent four years battling addiction before her death in 2017. Welch said she used to feel ashamed, and guilty. But not anymore.
“We are going to say their names openly. We’re going to remember them – their stories, their names, their faces,” she said.
It’s the beginning of a new tradition for Welch. She asked other families to join her on International Overdose Awareness Day. Together, they all honored loved ones who lost their battles against substance use disorder. And she’s ready to do it every year.
“I think she works through me because she wanted to go out and help others after her addiction. Unfortunately she did relapse and she did pass so I’m carrying on in her name.”
To Welch, it was just as important to use the occasion to educate her community as it was to process her own grief.
“Never say never, because it can happen to your family,” she said.
She read a list full of names of people who died from overdoses. She wants families who are watching their loved ones struggle with addiction to know they’re not alone, and to prevent the list of names from growing longer.
“I don’t want her death to be in vain. This is one way that I found to go out and help others.”
She started a non-profit called Shalynn’s Hope in 2018. Welch now shares her story at schools and health fairs – offering hope to anyone in her community who needs it.
“We just don’t want anybody else going through what we’ve been through,” she said.
Welch said if you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, to reach out to her or an organization in your community like the Recovery-Oriented System of Care Council.