Joanne Connelly and her son Adam James Shyshka. Submitted photos.

Interlakes mom mourns son after fentanyl overdose

'He really was a normal person'

An Interlakes mom is mourning her son after he died to a fentanyl overdose.

“He was very charismatic, very handsome, extremely talented musician, so funny. He led this normal life,” says Joanne Connelly of her son, Adam James Shyshka. “He was just a big kid.”

James was 39 years old and passed away unexpectedly at the end of March.

“I know my son very well. He was not only my son but also my best friend. He wasn’t big time into drugs so this was a really odd thing for it to happen.”

James died on March 24 to a fentanyl overdose in Burnaby and his death was accidental, according to the coroner’s report which was released last week. A piece of burnt foil, pipe, lighter and a small amount of marijuana were found near or on him.

Connelly says there was no heroin, no cocaine, no crack, nothing like that on him, but that it was a deadly amount of fentanyl.

About two years ago, things suddenly went downhill for James, who lost his job and his apartment, says Connelly.

According to the coroner’s report, “Family believe that his illicit substance use began in 2016 and quickly impacted his life. In the period immediately prior to his death, Mr. Shyshka experienced barriers to obtaining secure housing and was street entrenched.”

James came and lived with Connelly for a bit in the Interlakes area but ultimately ended up on the street in the Lower Mainland, she says.

“He loved it up here. He was supposed to be up here for the May long weekend but he didn’t make it. He didn’t make it.”

Connelly says she and her family are devastated.

“He really was a normal person.”

James had a real love for the outdoors, as seen in the videos and pictures Connelly has of him, but James also had some mental health issues and got in some fights, she says.

She went with him to mental health, to the doctor and Workplace BC and says that while they open doors, what they offer isn’t enough to help people get off the street. She also says that the court system isn’t doing enough about the opioid crisis. Those making the drugs are murdering people but are getting off with a slap on the wrist, she says.

For Connelly, it’s far from the first time having to deal with loss. Her brother was beaten to death 29 years ago in a case of mistaken identity, her sister died of a heart attack and she’s lost two daughters to terminal illness, she says.

“When you lose one suddenly, it’s an absolute shock.

“It is different,” she says. “When my first daughter died, she was 14 months old, Hailey, yeah I was devastated but I had 39 years with this son. So yeah, it’s different. You have 39 years of memories and that’s the hard thing.”

For the most part, Connelly is able to speak quite frank about what happened, but she gets emotional when talking about James’ relationship with her other son, Cole Connelly, who’s 18, and their cousin Tom Korop, who was like a brother to James.

“They were the best of brothers,” she says. “When you watch your 18-year-old son fall over his brother’s urn and it took three men to lift him off the floor…

“They were extremely close and when you have to break that news to someone that young, that their brother has passed, it’s their first big loss and it’s devastating.”

Connolly says she’s blessed to have videos of her son, saying that many people don’t have that, adding that pictures are kind of like hollow memories.

“I have something to watch him when he’s moving, he’s speaking. I can hear his voice. I can hear him singing. Pictures are a distant memory. They’re shadows of the past and once something like this happens, history is written. There’s no going back. There’s nothing you can do about it.”

Even though it’s devastating, Connelly says that she’s not going to let drug dealers take her down, adding that she’s hoping to go to schools and talk to students, whether that’s here in the South Cariboo or in the Lower Mainland.

“I have to make a difference now. I have to somehow make a difference. I don’t know what that difference will be, but I have to do something. I have to do something. Somebody’s got to do something because this is horrific what’s happening to our children, to families, to friends.”


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