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Meet MaryBeth Moore Zocco

Today we’d like to introduce you to MaryBeth Moore Zocco

Hi MaryBeth, it’s an honor to have you on the platform. Thanks for taking the time to share your story with us – to start maybe you can share some of your backstory with our readers?
My story begins at 4:00 pm on December 17, 2018, but I would like to take you back a little farther for a moment. Let me introduce you to my son Ryan Moore. As a 25-year-old in 2018, Ryan loved life and all it had to offer. Ryan loved music, playing drums, and going to live concerts. His favorite band was ‘A Day to Remember’. Ryan was caring, empathetic, an animal lover, and had the biggest heart. He had a great new job cooking and loved it. He worked many hours but said that was good because it kept him busy and gave him a chance to save some money. Ryan had just got his first apartment that fall in 2018. He was so very excited and told me that he wanted to set up a weight bench in the basement so that he could start working out again. Working out made him feel good and gave him focus. Ryan liked hanging out with his brother Dylan who is a year older by 15 months. They went to concerts together, worked out together, and played in sports and even bands together over the years. They were best friends. Ryan had a smile that lit up a room when he entered and always made you feel welcome. He was so warm and giving to everyone. Ryan marched to the beat of his own drum in life. Ryan and Dylan played many of the same sports growing up. Many years they were even on the same team since they were so close in age.

They played soccer, baseball, ice hockey, and tennis together throughout the years. My sons suffered numerous injuries playing sports, especially playing ice hockey. They were prescribed opioids many times in their youth. Being a good mom, I made sure they took the prescribed pills. No one wants their child to feel pain. When Ryan was 18, he got a great job at the first Sonic Restaurant in CT. He excelled quickly and became one of the youngest trainers. He worked hard and was proud of himself. We were all so proud of him. But, being 18 and working with people that were older turned out to be a bad thing. His behavior started changing. He was verbally abusive to us, aggressive, threatening and more. This is when I found out that he had been snorting bath salts. He hallucinated and became paranoid when he was using. At that time, hospitals and police did not know how to help someone using bath salts. When the drugs were out of his system, he would be fine. At that time, I was getting divorced and moving out of state. I blamed Ryan’s drug use on that situation.

For many years after, Ryan struggled on and off with alcohol and drugs. All he would tell me is that when he started drinking, he could not stop. I thought Ryan’s addiction was largely related to alcohol. I asked him once if he had a drug of choice and he said that it didn’t matter. He said that he would take anything offered to him. I believe that the use of bath salts affected his brain chemistry. That was the start. Ryan was told by professionals that it would take over a year for his brain to be rewired. However, as Ryan felt better while on medication for depression and anxiety he would make the decision and stop taking them. This became a vicious cycle for years. I would not hear from Ryan for months at a time during 2012 – 2018. I think when he was using drugs or alcohol is when he didn’t contact me. When he was clean or in recovery, then I would hear from him. Ryan would then call me with excitement about his hopes and future plans. Ryan was working hard on being a responsible adult and being independent.

As his mom, I was so proud of him, but I was also scared. Having a child that suffers from a substance use disorder and been to rehab more than once leaves you very cautious. I didn’t ask the hard questions of my son because I was scared of the answers. I was scared that he wouldn’t talk to me anymore if I set him off. Now I live with the guilt of those unasked and unanswered questions. I never sent Ryan money. I was too afraid that he’d buy drugs or alcohol. Instead, I sent care packages. In early December 2018, I sent Ryan a care package. Ryan lived in CT while I live in FL. Knowing that winter is cold in CT, I sent Ryan things to keep him comfy on a cold winter’s day. A new fuzzy blanket, box of tissues, hot chocolate, marshmallows, a stocking for his 1st Christmas in his new place with a new ornament, and a few other things. Ryan texted me on Sunday, December 16th, 2018, that he received the package and loved the blanket. He said that it was just what he needed. My heart was full. I texted that I loved him. He texted that he loved me back. I thought it was going to be a great Christmas. At 4:00 pm on Monday, December 17, 2018, my life forever changed. That is the day I got “the call”. “Ryan is dead.” My youngest son was gone.

My 25-year-old son, who had just texted me the day before was dead. Ryan died alone in his apartment. It was ruled accidental overdose (heroin with fentanyl) but I call it drug–induced homicide. I had no idea that Ryan had ever tried heroin. No one was ever charged with his death. The toxicology report later showed only fentanyl in his system, which is lethal and fatal. That call changed my life forever. I now live my life in the before and after. All I have left are my memories and I treasure them dearly because there are no more new memories. Ryan will never have children or be married or be the amazing person that I know he could have been. What I do now is to make sure that my son did not die in vain. He was too extraordinary in this world. My job was to teach my son about the world. Now it is my job to teach the world about my son. I created The FRoM Project (Forever Ryan’s Mom) that sends personalized handmade cards to parents that lost a child to a substance use disorder or overdose/poisoning. The cards are my way of letting parents know that they are NOT alone in their grief journey and that I am thinking of them. I create every card myself. Personalizing every card is important to me because every child matters. We did not raise our children thinking they would do drugs or become an addict.

I started this project only four months after Ryan passed. I find that making the cards for others helps with my own healing. I have mailed out approximately 2000 cards in two years. We grieving mamas need to support each other. Together we can help stop the stigma associated with our children’s death. I also created a public Facebook page for The FRoM Project. I found that my friends didn’t know what to say to me in my grief, so they stayed silent. Silence to a grieving mom is awful. Why won’t you say my child’s name? My child existed! My child matters – yesterday, today, tomorrow, always. I also found out that there is a fear and stigma associated for a grieving parent of a child lost to a SUD. I felt the need to help others understand our grief and emotions. On the Facebook page, I offer grief tips and grief truths as well as positive thoughts. I offer graphics for the moms as a way for a new memory with their angel. I look at the page as a soft place to land for a grieving parent. Most grief support groups on Facebook are private and can get very heavy on your heart. I wanted something different. I wanted something for everyone. I wanted to share some joy because Ryan was a joy in my life.

With Ryan’s death, I became a member of a club I NEVER wanted to join – a grieving moms club. I have been personally affected by the Opioid Crisis because of my son Ryan’s death. His death has left me devastated and broken. I have a huge hole in my heart that can never be repaired. Ryan did not choose to die. If I was asked – what would I tell a parent who lost a child to drugs – I would say “Find other mamas who lost a child to substance use. We need to support each other. No one else understands like we do.” If I was asked – what would I tell a parent whose child is currently using – I would say “Don’t give up. Do whatever you need to do for your child and yourself. And I know that is hard.” If I was asked – what would you tell a parent with young children about drugs – I would say “Educate yourself and talk to your children. Do NOT think that it could never happen to you. It can happen to anyone. Addiction doesn’t discriminate. It happened to me.” With help, we can stop the stigma associated with addiction and substance use disorders. If you didn’t know anyone affected by this crisis, you do now. You know me. I am forever changed because I am forever heartbroken. Ryan mattered. I hope that I am making my son proud. I am Forever Ryan’s Mom. Remember his name, Ryan Moore.

We all face challenges, but looking back would you describe it as a relatively smooth road?
My grief journey has been ever-evolving in the 27 months since my son’s passing. I learned that you do not follow any stages of grief. That is a myth that someone published without firsthand knowledge of losing a child. I have faced many challenges and obstacles along the way – many of which are people’s perceptions about grief. I will never be over my grief. I just get through it on a daily basis. I do not burden myself with other’s expectations about my grief. Hell no! That is their problem. Where there is great love, there is great grief. One thing I am is very open and honest about my grief and about Ryan’s substance use disorder. I was never ashamed of Ryan in life so why would I be ashamed of him in death. Some have questioned how I get someone’s information to mail them a card. That’s an easy answer. I just let others know in support groups what I do and ask if they would like a card. They are always free. Sometimes friends or family members message me to request a card for someone. By having The FRoM Project a public page has been a great resource for others to find me.

Thanks – so what else should our readers know about your work and what you’re currently focused on?
I currently work as an administrative assistant for a dean at a local college here in Florida. I have worked there for seven years. In this position, I assist college students in various aspects with their concerns. I always greet them with a smile even if they walk into my office in tears. I believe that everyone just needs to be heard, offered compassion and understanding. Sometimes a student just needs to know that someone is listening to them. Plus I always picture the students as my own children and want to offer them compassion and understanding. The students may not get the answer they came for but they leave knowing they were heard before that. I worked in early childhood for over 15 years while I lived in CT. I worked with families with children from birth – five years. I loved- loved -loved that job! I loved the connections that were made with the families. I believe that prior experience helped with my current position at the college. Once you work with young children, then working with young adults is a piece of cake.

Where do you see things going in the next 5-10 years?
The biggest shift I see happening is that more parents will lose a child to a substance use disorder or fentanyl poisoning. Right now, over 200 of our sons and daughters are dying each and every day from a SUD. It has only gotten worse during the pandemic and will continue to get worse as the rise in fentanyl overdose deaths becomes more apparent. Fentanyl is being cut in every street drug. There is NO safe drug and that message needs to get out there. Fentanyl is in every street drug. It is killing an entire generation. As more deaths occur, more cards will be requested. But I will continue to follow my mission and make sure that every request for a FRoM Project card gets filled.

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