Billerica parents who lost son to overdose plan peace garden

BILLERICA, Mass. -- The parents of a Billerica man who died of an overdose last year are working on creating a peace garden in honor of their son and others battling addiction.

Jesse Rowland, an Amherst College graduate and a talented musician and artist, died from a fentanyl overdose in September, three days before his 28th birthday. His parents believe he had used heroin, unaware it had been cut with the far deadlier opioid, fentanyl.

Jesse’s drug use started in 2011, when he was prescribed painkillers for a broken foot. For Jesse, Oxycodone soon turned into the cheaper opioid, heroin, and other drugs that were available. By the time he died, Jesse had been in and out of more than a dozen facilities, struggling to get clean.

“He tried desperately,” Jesse’s mother, Debbie Rowland said. “I mean, he was 24/7, 365 days a year, trying everything – anything and everything available – to get this out of his life.”

On the day he died, Jesse had seemed upbeat, talking to his father on the phone when leaving the hospital. They had plans to meet and go grocery shopping. But when Jesse went missing, they suspected the worst.

“It’s just such a horrible, horrible thing to go through,” Debbie said, in tears Tuesday.

“As parents, I know he was older – he was in his 20s – but you think you can help a child solve a problem and help them get through it, and we put everything we had into it for six years,” Jesse’s father, Ben Rowland, added. “You can’t fix everything. That is the feeling we’re left with.”

The Rowlands quickly realized how widespread their battle was. The opioid epidemic had rocked their hardworking, middle-class family. Their son, a highly educated, outgoing kid, wasn’t immune to the disease of addiction, nor is any family.

“I think a lot of people have come around and understand it, but I think there’s still a stigma attached to addiction,” Ben said. “And I think, particularly with opiates, it doesn’t matter whether you’re rich, poor, black, white, educated, uneducated. It just crosses all barriers.”

A couple days after Jesse died, Debbie knew she had to do something in his name. She became planning a peace garden to honor him and provide a tranquil space for others battling their own addiction or a loved one’s.

>>DONATE HEREJesse Rowland Memorial Peace Garden

"He was so badly looking for peace in his life, and he wanted it," Debbie said. "I wanted to create it for him, and not just for him either, because there are so many people going through this."

The Rowlands have spoken to the town about their options for the garden in Billerica, as they also raise money to buy a parcel of land. Donations on their fundraising site will fund the purchase of the land as well as benches, a water fountain and maintenance, Debbie said.


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