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On August 6, 2018 at 5:30 pm, my wife and I lost our beloved son Jiri Parma Fletcher to the opioid epidemic. Jiri had been happy and thriving in the Cherry Hill, New Jersey, recovery community for the last year and was just two days short of being two years sober before he overdosed and died.
Here follows the sermon our wonderful minister delivered at his Celebration of Life:
A Celebration of Resurrection – Jiri Parma Fletcher – September 1, 2018
Isaiah 61.1-3 – Mark 4.37-41 – The Rev. Sarah D. Odderstol
"Why? Why did this happen, Lord? Why did a brilliant, beautiful, empathetic, loving, young man die from addiction and overdose? Why?
Because you are here, because you knew and loved and cared for Jiri, no doubt, you have been asking the same kinds of questions. If you are hoping that I can answer your why questions, I am about to disappoint you. Jesus, himself, asked the same kind of question from the cross, “My God, my God, why have you forsaken me?” And God…God was silent.
This silence, a silence that leaves us with no answer to our why questions, can lead people to say some pretty unhelpful things. Among them are: “This must have been a part of God’s plan.” and “God needed Jiri more than we did.” Or my personal favorite…“Everything happens for a reason.” My friends, everything doesn’t happen for a reason. Saying everything happens for a reason is like saying that addiction has some sort of divine purpose. That is ludicrous. While it is comforting to think that God needed Jiri in heaven that would imply that God wills us to suffer.
Jiri’s death is not God’s will. Causing Jiri’s family, Gabriel, and all Jiri’s friends, pain and grief is not a part of God’s plan. God wills for each and every one of us to have long, happy, healthy lives. Sometimes life gets in the way. Today, God’s heart is broken. Today, God grieves with us.
So, I have a question for you, “Has God ever answered your why questions?” Why is there poverty? Why do you allow children to die? Why is life so unfair? I have never received an answer to my why prayers. I don’t know anyone who has.
This is a question that intrigues me, “Why doesn’t God answer the question why?” The word why is used some 488 times in the English translation of the Bible. Of course, not all of these whys are questions posed to God. Of the “whys” asked of God, I have yet to find an instance where God actually answered the question why. That does not mean however that God did not respond. God seems to prefer to redirect. Let me give you an example.
In the book of Numbers, Moses had been leading the people of Israel in circles in the wilderness for decades when finally Moses had enough. The people complained about the food and the accommodations. This was not the scenic tour they thought they signed up for… Moses said to God, “Why have you treated your servant so badly? Why have I not found favor in your sight?” God did not give Moses an answer to his whys, but God did, however, offer Moses a ‘what now’. God told Moses to gather seventy elders to help in the task of leadership. God will respond with a “what now” if we are willing and able to listen.
So, what now? All of you now KNOW someone who has died from an opioid overdose. The opioid crisis is real! Talk to your family and friends about addiction and the dangers of opioid use. Lobby for increased access to quality addiction treatment; demand funding so that the cost of treatment doesn’t bankrupt families. Learn from Jiri’s death.
But also learn from Jiri’s life! Jiri had healing hands; he saved multiple lives with the skills he learned as a lifeguard. What’s to stop you from getting your CPR certification? Learn about Narcan, insist that your state sell this lifesaving overdose treatment over the counter.
Be curious, welcome strangers, love your grandma, explore the outdoors, dance in the rain…embrace your colorful, kind, unfiltered, and goofy self. People will thank you for it!
Sascha Daniels and Jiri were each other’s first friends. They spent hours exploring the woods around their neighborhood and Grandma Phyllis’ house. Where other children may have been fearful of things they didn’t understand, Jiri got curious and learned. Even as a little girl, Sascha cherished the time she spent with Jiri; with Jiri she had no inhibitions: she picked up bugs, got dirty, and learned about the outdoors. From Jiri and his family, Sascha learned to try new foods; she learned about other cultures. Sascha told me, “By being around Jiri, I learned to expose myself to new things, and I believe this really laid a foundation for who I became as an adult with such a strong interest in other countries and cultures.”
Learn from Jiri’s life. Be generous with yourself. You will change lives. Jiri changed lives.
Jiri weathered storm after storm in his lifetime. Jiri was born with a birth defect. When he was old enough to ask, he wanted to know why. Why did this happen to me? There is no answer to that question that can satisfy a child. Jiri was bullied in middle school. Then the surgery to correct his birth defect left him addicted to opioid painkillers and led to his heroin addiction. Is it any wonder that Jiri questioned God’s existence and was disdainful of organized religion? Life gave Jiri too few reasons to be able to believe in a good and loving God. Does this mean Jiri is lost?
In our story from Mark’s Gospel, did Jesus abandon his disciples when they panicked for their lack of faith as the chaos of their storm overwhelmed them? Jesus could have just walked away, you know. He did have a gift for walking on water. No! Jesus had compassion for them and he saved them despite their fears and lack of faith.
God’s mercy and love and compassion are beyond human comprehension. It is human hubris to think that we can set limits on our creator’s mercy. God’s love knows no limit. Jiri has returned to the God who created him…to the God who loves him.
One final what now…when you talk about Jiri and tell your friends about the man you loved and cared for, please do not say, he lost his battle with addiction. This implies that Jiri’s death was ultimately his own fault. He lost – had he just tried a little harder he could have beaten his addiction. No… Addiction is a disease that becomes terminal when someone overdoses or when overuse causes the body to fail.
Until addiction is talked about in the same way we talk about ALS or dementia or leukemia, addiction will carry with it a shadow of shame…as if having addiction or dying from addiction is the result of a personal failure. We – all of us – can change the way we talk about addiction. I wonder…maybe when people hear us talk about addiction differently, they will come to think about addiction differently. And when people think about addiction differently, addiction becomes a disease whose prevention and treatment are worth funding. Could happen!
Jiri Parma Fletcher lived a life worth learning from…with our help; Jiri’s death will make a difference."
Words cannot express the myriad of feelings we have experienced since this happened and we are soooo thankful to our friends and family for standing with us through this unbelievably difficult time. While nothing can change what has happened, we wish to keep the Love and Memories alive and continue to share Jiri with you as best we can. This is why we have chosen to devote our lives to telling our story in hopes we can help others find the path to their "True Journey to Recovery".
Words cannot express how important it is to help those suffering from addiction find a path to recovery! So if you know someone who needs help PLEASE do not turn your back! Instead, reach out for them to let them know there is hope, and try and help them find their own path to saving their life. Recovery is a "Celebration of Life" in itself and it begins with Forgiveness be it the 1st, 2nd, or even the 10th time. If we can help save just one life along the way we will have made the lives already lost of even more value.
So Please ... join us if you can in Celebrating Recovery!!
Love to All,
Carl and Dasha Fletcher
Every dollar you raise directly supports Shatterproof.