By Bonnie Adams, Managing Editor
For many families, Christmas Eve has beloved family traditions, such as getting together for a special dinner, attending church services or last minute holiday preparations. For the Gaynor family of Nahant, the tradition is family-centered but instead of gathering at a member’s home, they instead head to a different type of home – Ryan House, a halfway house for men and women in recovery from drug addiction. There, the family delivers gift bags for each client that are filled with items such as socks, hats, gloves and snacks, but they also bring something much more important – love, hope and compassion. In doing so, the family honors their beloved son, brother and father – Colin Gaynor – who was a client there before he died of an opioid overdose in 2002 at age 30.
Colin, according to his sister Robyn Nasuti, was “not perfect” as a teen and young man but had grown into his role as a loving husband to his wife, Tara, and father to a little girl, Hayley, as well as a successful salesman at an overhead door company. But then he was diagnosed with a painful case of Bell’s Palsy.
“He was written a very liberal prescription for OxyContin and quickly became addicted,” Nasuti said. “And then after his prescription dried up, he turned to street drugs.”
Colin’s addiction cost him his marriage and his house, she added, but then a stint in rehab, and a stay at Ryan House, seemed to turn things around.
Sadly, Gaynor relapsed after six months of sobriety and died on Dec. 20, 2002, after an overdosing.
“We buried him on Christmas Eve,” Nasuti said.
The first year after Colin’s passing, the family knew they wanted to find a meaningful way to honor his life. They decided to prepare and deliver a gift bag for each of the clients at Ryan House.
Sadly Colin’s wife Tara herself became addicted to drugs and also lost her battle. After her passing, the family then decided to prepare gift bags for Project Cope, a women’s transitional home in Lynn, as well.
“The first year was 27 bags,” Nasuti. “Last year was 120 [total between the two facilities.]”
At age 22, Colin and Tara’s daughter Hayley is strong and resilient, in spite of tragedies of losing both parents. She is an important part of the Christmas Eve visits, Nasuti said.
“She shares her story and tells of her loss,” she noted. “She tells them to keep fighting, that it’s important, that they are important.”
“She reminds them that their families want them to come home, they are loved, and that they will be forgiven,” she added.
Last year, Nasuti’s mother, Brenda, faced her own health battles, suffering four heart attacks and a stroke.
“She was in the hospital for months but was determined to be out in time to do the Christmas Eve gift bags,” Nasuti said. “We told her she didn’t have to but she insisted…and she did.”
Nasuti’s father Bob is a recovering alcoholic who has been sober for 33 years. At one time, he had attended AA meetings at Ryan House when his son was staying there. Today, he continues to host AA meetings across MA and NH for youth programs.
“My brother had told my dad that he was always hungry there,” Nasuti said. “So my mom has also brought food there as well as extra clothes.”
“She’s just incredible,” she added. “She has gotten so many notes from people who told her that her gifts have meant so much to them. In many cases, these are the only gifts they will get, a reminder that someone cares.
“So many people have destroyed everything in their lives, but we hope, with these gifts, and by sharing our stories, we can remind them that they do still matter and the fight against addiction is worth it.”
For anyone who would like to donate to keep the family’s efforts going and growing contact Nasuti at [email protected] or checks can be mailed to Coastal Heritage Bank 28 Nahant Road Nahant MA 01908. Each gift bag cost approx. $25 and checks can be made payable to The Colin Gaynor Addiction Recovery Project.