WILBRAHAM — A recently created family foundation is seeking to raise $25,000 to help individuals struggling with substance use and to honor a 51-year-old family member who lost his life during a relapse after significant time in recovery from the disease of addiction.
The foundation, named after East Longmeadow resident Sean Murphy, is holding a fundraiser on Sunday, Feb. 5 from noon to 4 p.m. at the Country Club of Wilbraham, 859 Stony Hill Road. Admission costs $20, and the benefit features refreshments and more than 60 raffles, including a grand prize of a week’s stay on the west coast of Ireland.
“I know Sean would be so touched and honored to have all this being done in his memory,” said Mary Bortolussi of her brother, who died last year after overdosing on a drug laced with fentanyl. “A lot of what he did in his own recovery was to help others. He made those struggling with addiction say, ‘I can find hope and light when somebody like me is doing something so good for people like me.’”
She added that “our family is a large one, and we want Sean to live on in our hearts and for the good that he did to be carried on by the foundation.”
Bortolussi said the money raised from the benefit and more than $8,000 from a GoFundMe page will be used to help individuals with necessities in residential recovery programs, help families with funeral expenses for loved ones who die from a drug overdose, and revamp the waiting room at MiraVista Behavioral Health Center in Holyoke into a welcome room in her brother’s honor. MiraVista offers a range of inpatient and outpatient services for substance-use recovery.
According to Kim Lee, chief of Creative Strategy and Development, MiraVista’s designation by the foundation as an organization to receive funding is humbling.
“We are so incredibly honored to have been selected to receive a portion of proceeds,” Lee said, “and very, very excited to transform our waiting room to a welcome room — a space that is warm, comfortable, and communicates: ‘welcome, we are glad you are here. You are ready, and we are, too.’”
Bortolussi added that “our family wants to support people in recovery. Even if we can help one person go through detox, I can lay my head down at night a little better and say this is what Sean would have wanted.”
Opioid-related overdose deaths continue to rise in Massachusetts largely because of the presence of fentanyl, a synthetic opioid cheap to manufacture and 50 times more potent than heroin, that is mixed into illicit drugs and sold to unsuspecting users.
“There needs to be more resources for those who are struggling with substance use and more understanding that addiction knows every zip code and every part of this world,” Bortolussi said. “It is often hidden in families and not talked about out of the belief of protecting the individual. Or families try to help, but in ways that enable and ultimately become rock bottom for everybody.”
Compulsive use of drugs can result in a certain percentage of individuals who use substances over time. Recovery requires treatment and is often interrupted by relapse as addiction impacts both the body and behavior.
Bortolussi called addiction “a very undignified illness” because of stereotypes and stigma that surround it, and the “highs and lows of getting sober much deeper than most of us can fathom.”
She added that “people coming out of treatment can be shunned. Sean would tell me that. It is a very demoralizing aspect of recovery. It takes a very strong person to recover from this disease and hold their head high. It can bring humility and embarrassment in what someone remembers and doesn’t remember when not in recovery.”
Bortolussi said the response to the upcoming benefit has made her family feel supported in Murphy’s legacy of helping others in recovery, and validated their hard work to make the event happen.
“I remember my brother best as someone who could make anyone laugh, had a generous spirit and loved his family, especially his children, and who never gave up on recovery,” Bortolussi said. “We were all so proud of Sean when he was clean. When he wasn’t and he died, we knew he tried and tried.”