A Mother’s Mission To Change The Conversation About Drug Addiction
Four years later, and Theresa Clower still finds it difficult to discuss. Her son, dead at 32 from fentanyl poisoning. He’s far from the only one. Fentanyl overdoses are the number one cause of death in young adults. More than car accidents, suicides, and even cancer. Drugs like heroin, meth, and marijuana can be laced with it, and even in the smallest amounts, fentanyl is deadly. Users like Devin never know it’s there, leaving families shattered and lost.
Clower’s son had suffered from addiction for 10 years. Yet, he had been living in a sober house for four months and had a full-time job. She held out hope he was going to make it.
From her grief, “Into Light Project” was born, a national non- profit organization dedicated to changing the conversation about drug addiction; a tribute to others, like Devin, who lost their lives to opioid addiction. Clower seeks to honor who they were outside of their disease, by memorializing their faces in original graphite portraits. It all began with her portrait of her son.
“Drawing him and signing my name at the end of that was my release. That was my goodbye to Devin. Very, very powerful. And I could not stop drawing people’s faces. I just had to keep drawing people’s faces,” said Clower. “This chose me. I didn’t choose this. I had never done a portrait before I drew Devin’s.”
“I love graphite, but it’s a metaphor in that we’re all made up of black and white, all of us, and every shade in between. And no one should be defined by their darkest moment,” Clower said.
She began to seek others who had also died like Devin. So she could draw their portraits, share their stories and put real faces to this overlooked epidemic, and combat the stigma and shame that accompanies their families’ grief.
“These are all loved ones. These are all people like Devin, who’ve had a family, who have mothers, who have fathers and children, and brothers and sisters, and they’re loved — every one of them is loved,” Clower added.
The first “Into Light” exhibit was held in Maryland, where Devin died. Clower thought it would end there; but then came a request to have one in New Jersey, followed by other states. An exhibit in California this month marks the seventh state.
Clower solicits submissions from family and friends of those who have died in each particular state and then creates the portraits from photos. “Into Light Project” partners with local communities to host an art exhibition and provide education about substance use disorders. Family and friends of those in the portraits are invited to attend the exhibition, and they receive the original portraits to keep in a closing ceremony when the exhibit ends.
Now 72, Clower had no intention of starting a nonprofit in this stage of her life; but doing so has helped her find a way to take her pain and give it purpose, creating a way for her to move forward. A way to recover and to truly live again.
“As hard as it’s been, this project has been a meaningful purpose in my life at this point, and I can only say ‘Thank you, Devin.’ I can only say, ‘thank you,’” said Clower. “If we can open up conversation about this disease. If we can sit and talk about it in whatever form, then I’m able to contribute in a way to helping. And that’s what I want to do”.
“Human beings are very resilient. That I’ve learned. I’ve learned a lot about compassion and openness. So many stories, so many lives. I’ve learned that grief is stagnating, and mourning is invigorating,” she continued. “You’ll never forget. I will never, my heart will never, be the same. There’s always a little heaviness in my heart because of losing Dev.”
“But that phase of moving from the grief to moving forward, it’s like…. looking forward. That mourning phase is energizing. It’s almost like a light starts very slowly coming back into your life. And when you get there, to that point where that light starts to shine slightly, then you start thinking about what’s next. And in my case, what was next evolved into, ‘Into Light Project,’ but it could be anything. You begin to kind of move out of that deepest, darkest crevice of grief into the world again.”
Clower hopes that by bringing awareness to the epidemic of opioid addiction and starting a conversation, the perception of the disease and those consumed by it will change. To bring an “Into Light Project” exhibit to your area or just learn more, visit IntoLightProject.org.
This article is featured in the September 2022 issue of The Growing Bolder Digital Digest.