Remembering Ryan Sidun: hockey player, pilot, 'fun loving and caring'
One family's story from among the many memorial crosses in Sudbury that mark those lost in the opioid crisis
Before he died by an accidental overdose, Ryan Sidun had hopes and dreams ahead of him. The 28-year-old Sudburian aspired to someday become a pilot for a major commercial airline.
In his short life, Sidun had many accomplishments, from completing a degree in aviation, to racking up countless hockey championship wins. For his mother, her lasting memory of her son will always be of his contagious smile.
"I had him for 28 years and I guess I never really realized how beautiful and how contagious his smile was until he ended up passing away," Brenda Sidun said.
"Looking back in video and looking back on pictures, I just realized he was so fun-loving and caring for other people."
Ryan Sidun died on Feb. 22, 2020, in Florida, after using cocaine laced with fentanyl. He's one of more than 150 people being remembered by rows of crosses in downtown Sudbury — all victims of the ongoing opioid crisis.
As the one-year anniversary of his death approaches, his family hopes that, by sharing his story, they may be able to help others.
Love of hockey, aviation
Born in Pennsylvania, Ryan Sidun moved to Sudbury with his family when he was six years old. It didn't take long for him to develop a passion for hockey.
"When Ryan told someone that he was moving to Canada, he was told 'well if you're going to live in Canada, you have to play hockey.' And so he took that very seriously, and from the moment we moved up there he did start playing hockey," said Brenda Sidun.
She said her son had a "normal childhood," spending time with his parents and older sister, Ashley, at their camp — fishing, hunting, teaching himself to play guitar, and spending time with friends.
"He liked to stay busy all the time, doing something," Sidun said.
One summer he kept busy by volunteering each week at the Elgin Street Mission.
After receiving a few flying lessons as a highschool graduation gift from his grandfather, Ryan went on to study aviation at Liberty University in Virginia, where he continued to play hockey as well.
"He would call home when he was at Liberty and tell us of the different things he had to do while flying," she said.
"He told me about doing figure eights, and he just had a real passing for flying, he really loved it."
Drug use began in Sudbury
It was after graduation when he was back home in Sudbury in 2018 that Ryan started "dabbling with some cocaine use," his mother said — something the family learned of only after his death.
We just decided that if it saved or helped one person, that it would be worth coming out with the truth. — Brenda Sidun
He stopped using drugs when he went to Florida to take a Certified Flight Instructor program — his next step toward his dream of becoming an airline pilot.
But Sidun said Ryan became homesick, taking a break from his schooling to decide if it was the right path for him. That's when he started using cocaine again.
He died after using some that contained fentanyl.
The overwhelming pain of losing a child is something Sidun said she never dreamed she might have to deal with.
"Ryan, he loved life too much. And he really had big dreams and big hopes. He just got a little bit confused with which way to achieve those at that time."
Sharing his story
After his death, the Sidun family decided to speak openly about how how Ryan died, in the hopes of raising awareness around the dangers of opioids — even for those using recreation drugs that may seem less harmful.
"At first we were unsure, because of the stigma that comes with drug use, and it had to be agreed upon with our whole family … we just decided that if it saved or helped one person, that it would be worth coming out with the truth. And so we've been open and honest from the beginning," said Brenda Sidun.
It's a sentiment echoed by Ryan's sister, Ashley Sidun, during her eulogy at his virtual memorial.
"No one, not a 25-plus-year drug addict living on the street, not a once-a-year during-the-holidays user, not a fun-loving party animal deserves to die like this."