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My brother Max tragically left us at 27 years old after a life of personal struggles with mental illness and over a decade battling substance use disorder and a heartbreaking heroin addiction. Everyday of Max's life was a fight for happiness, but he always made it clear to me that he never wanted to leave me, our family, or his beloved friends in this world without him until we were old and grey. No matter what demons he was fighting on any given day, he always made it his mission to help others facing their own struggles.
Max's battle with addiction started far too young. He suffered from undiagnosed mental illnesses since childhood. He was so quiet and could never bring himself to talk about it or ask for help. By the age of 12, Max was using alcohol to cope with his pain, and by 15 he was using drugs and pills. By 17, Max was already consumed by a heroin addiction. After six years of heroin use, he finally asked for help and requested to go into rehab. When he came home, it was so evident how badly he wanted to overcome his addiction. He focused on his health and kept himself busy by working with our uncle who taught him the craft of carpentry and woodworking. Max finally found his passion and quickly became a talented and skillful woodworker. He took so much pride in the craft he learned and has made so many beautiful items for so many people in his life. Once he tapped into this talent, he began expressing so much hope for his future. After over three years of sobriety, he decided it was time for him to move from home and start his own life. It was scary for us all but we wanted Max to experience the life he deserved. In October 2018, he caught himself starting to slip and admitted himself into rehab before he could start using opioids again. As a family, we were worried but we were proud that he was doing everything he could to take care of himself. Once he was out of rehab, he asked me to help him with his resume. I was happy to, and we spent hours on the phone talking about all of his strengths and passions, his goals and plans for his future; something that was very rarely discussed but I am forever grateful to have been able to hear hope in his voice.
Max got himself an amazing job and quickly consumed his time with work. Around Easter time, we started hearing from him less and less. When we did talk to him, he sounded upbeat and talked about how great things were going and that he was staying really busy working almost every day of the week. Little did anyone know he was starting to slip. The rehab he went to gave him Narcan, and a false sense of safety if he relapsed. Max was found unresponsive in his room with Narcan in his hand; he didn't want his life to end, and he tragically was unable to save himself. Max's addiction destroyed me. At 13 years old, I took on the fear and guilt of his struggles; his demons became my demons, his battles became my battles. No sister, mother, father, brother, or friend should live in fear that they could lose their loved one at any moment. This epidemic is heartbreaking and leaves not a single person untouched. This drug is everywhere in almost every high school, even middle schools. There have been so many lives destroyed, and there doesn't seem to be an end in sight. Max's death does not mean the end of his life or his purpose. His life will always be celebrated and cherished. Max's life will help others to avoid this fate and make a change in this world, that I promise.
As Max's annoying little sister, I spent most of my life just a few steps behind him. I wanted to go where he was, do what he did, be just like him; I looked up to him for anything and everything. He was so insanely smart and had such rare and powerful friendships that made me so jealous, I couldn't help but do what I could to be a part of them. He would always tell me to go away but he never made me leave. As we got older, I continued to try to follow in his footsteps but eventually, the thought of that terrified him. We had the same group of friends in high school, and any one of them could tell you how much the two of us constantly fought. He always told me that I stole his life: his friends, his career path, his goals. He did anything he could to make me so angry at him that I would leave whatever situation we were in. I always thought he did this out of spite, but I know now that he pushed me away to save me. He did everything he could to ensure that I would have the life he knew he would never have. We had many heart to hearts over the years. He taught me how to protect myself, how to be strong; he gave me the tools to conquer my own demons and taught me that it is okay to be happy. He prepared me for a time that I would have to live without him in my life, though neither of us thought it would be so soon. Max did everything in his power to protect me, and he always told me that I have to be the strong one for Mom and Dad. I was so incredibly close to falling victim to addiction myself, but Max made sure that never happened - even if he had to break my heart to do so. If that is not love, I don't know what is. I wouldn't be a tenth of the person I am today without my big brother. I will forever miss being greeted with "Hey, Stupid" and a bop on the head. I will forever miss his hugs, which I had to do a lot of chasing and convincing to get, but they were the best hugs. I will forever miss his constant teasing, and his dark but hilarious sense of humor. I will forever miss the fun we had, the fights we fought, the laughs we shared, and the love we had for each other. I was always so terrified of Max leaving me in this world without a brother to grow old with, but I find so much comfort that he left me with three incredible brothers and a sister who are forever family.
"Max and I may not have been brothers by blood, but we were brothers by bond. We’ve been through a lot together and no matter how much our paths separated, we always ended up back with one another. We were never truly apart. Over the past year and a half I’ve lived with him we learned even more about one another and, ultimately, our bond grew even stronger. I watched him grow as a person, living on his own and battling his demons in search of finding his niche in the world. Everyone who became close enough to him saw how big his heart really was and I know he will be remembered for that. I also hope his parting from this physical world will open the eyes of all those who are battling addiction. Substance use is not a game and rolling the dice affects not only its victims, but those around them more than they realize. Especially loved ones. I will always miss my brother and all the adventures we shared together. Rest in paradise, Max. I love you. - Matt Ianniello
"The world lost a rare gem on the day Max passed away. Once you broke through the layers of steel, stone, and iron, you found the most genuine and generous person that had nothing but love to give. He would drop anything he was doing to please, and never would you hear a complaint. Max never had to say much, but his wit and sarcasm could make a whole room burst into laughter. He was a gifted carpenter and found time to help any of his friends with a project no matter how busy his schedule. Max was a spark of light in all the lives he touched, and it is sad to see that light go out. Max had so much left to give, and did not even realize how valued and essential he was to our lives. Even though he is no longer with us, there are countless memories that Max gave to us that are priceless and his story does not have to end here." - Evan and Mary Bishop
"I met Max in the fall of 2008. It was the start of my senior year of high school and his junior year. We had some mutual friends but had never spent time with each other until our mutual friends came together into one big group. That year was the start of a nearly 11-year friendship. Throughout high school and part of our higher-education careers, we were great friends that hung out almost every day. After a few personal circumstances involving the coming and going of friends from our group, Max and I ended becoming absolute best friends. We had cut many of the toxic ties out of our lives and ended up confiding in each other more than we did with our very own families. We spent years upon years visiting each other’s houses, hanging out with each other’s families, playing music and going to concerts, designing and building projects, and working the majority of the odd-jobs we held together. Max spent an incredibly long time fighting his demons and addiction, but he looked to me as one of his main supporters. I can remember getting phone calls in the middle of the night when he needed help and doing all that I could to encourage him to keep fighting. I was there for him as he went in and out of treatment centers and he was there for me during hard times involving personal relationships, battles with depression, and times of loneliness. Some of the most memorable and important moments of our friendship consisted of us literally sitting on each other’s couches and just spending time with each other. Max was never a socialite, and I was far from one myself. I always felt like that’s why him and I got along so well together. Out of everyone else in the world, we actually understood each other. And one thing I understood about Max more than anything is that he always wanted to do good by the ones he loved. We are all torn apart by the loss of Max, but it is a fact that he wanted to live life. He wanted to reciprocate all of the love and support he received from his close-knit inner circle. Max left this world far, far too soon, but I take solace in the fact that he is now watching over me, his parents, his sister, and the other friends that stuck by his side through both the good and bad times. I feel like Max will be my guardian angel; watching over me, protecting me, and reminding me of how precious and short life is. It’s said that after a person passes, their brain stays active for roughly seven minutes. During that seven minutes, the person’s life replays in sort of a dream. I like to think Max dreamed about the good days spent at his home in North Haven, playing our guitars at his father’s house, the amazing shows we attended together, playing with Buddy Love, walking to the gas station, driving aimlessly while jamming out to August Burns Red, and spending hours side-by-side working our hands to the bone at the many restaurants that employed us as teens. Max was a once in a lifetime friend for me. He was going to be the future best man at my wedding and the future godfather to my children. But now, Max will forever reside in my heart and in my memory. I love you Max. Just because you’ve left me during this lifetime doesn’t mean we aren’t still brothers. Once we are reunited, I look forward to sitting on a cloud and talking about the ridiculous, inane things we did while you were here." - Sean Mumford
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