This is the story of Ryan, a man of immeasurable talent; a man who was loved by all those he came into contact with. This is the story of a man who will be dearly missed. We’ll tell you about 25 and a half years of life we got to share with Ryan, the growth we saw, and his untimely passing. This is a story about ups and downs, love and heartache, and recovery from addiction. This was the life of a handsome blonde-haired, blue-eyed and freckled fallen son.
James Ryan McCafferty was born June 12th, 1993 to a 15-year-old mother in British Columbia; a situation that you would expect to come with significant hurdles. Ryan’s birth-mother selflessly chose a path to allow him to avoid those struggles by his early adoption to loving parents, Tim and Alanna. The challenges Ryan ultimately faced were not those of poverty, hunger, shelter and safety. Ryan instead dealt with insecurity, identity and finally, addiction.
Ryan was raised as an only child, the star of his parent’s eyes. Biologically, he had 2 younger brothers. Tim and Alanna, Ryan’s parents, raised their small family in a close-knit loving home in West Vancouver. He was afforded every advantage imaginable; economic security, love, attention, opportunity, and anything else he needed. Ryan was a loving boy with an ear-to-ear grin.
With a father who was a lawyer and a mother who was successful restauranteur, Ryan had ready-made role models and security. They took their first trip together when Ryan was 6 weeks old, and many happy family-holidays would follow. Ryan loved exploring the world and got to see much of it. He was a happy-go-lucky little boy whose fun-loving disposition lit up a room.
The difficulties started to surface in grade 3 when he was diagnosed with ADHD and dyslexia. Ryan went to a private school set against the North Shore mountains, Collingwood, where he was enrolled in their KEY program for skilled kids who needed a specialized learning environment. There he got the guidance and attention required to navigate what can be a difficult education system for people with learning difficulties. While he was never welcomed by the “cool” kids, Ryan made friends and thrived, although it wasn’t always easy. He would be a lifelong student at Collingwood and graduated with his cohorts.
Ryan put away his feelings, never wanting to impose himself or what he was going through on others. He was always “OK”, and made sure you knew it with his smile. Tim and Alanna were always supportive; like many parents, they just wanted their son to be happy. Whatever it took, they were there to help him along. Unconditional love.
Ryan loved playing a variety of sports, and his parents encouraged him to pursue the ones he enjoyed. He tried hockey but didn’t like it, so he settled on baseball and was a natural player. Ryan and his family loved taking their yearly trips to Sun Peaks, where he would fly down the mountain on his twin-tip skis. Ruby and Sakinaw Lake on the Sunshine Coast saw many a summer of Ryan and his friends enjoying the freedom and each other’s company: in the water, kayaking, rope swings, cliff-jumping and being pulled behind a boat for hours on end learning to wakeboard and wake surf.
His love of fitness was matched only by his love of music. Ryan enjoyed an eclectic range of musical tastes; he could often be seen wearing headphones and was always up-to-date on the latest releases.
Ryan had a number of very close best friends growing up, often someone who also shared a common learning disability, or who was also on the outside of the popular kids. They connected and understood what the other had to deal with on a daily basis. They would be inseparable. During the summer, they would become soul-mates, spending entire days by the lake. Life was always really good until they each began to grow up and move apart, and then it wasn’t.
Things progressively got harder for Ryan as he went through high school. He and his best friends mostly drifted apart, not on bad terms, they were each just going different ways. He experimented with weed and alcohol. Certainly nothing out of the ordinary for many British Columbian teenagers. Ryan wasn’t part of the “popular” crowd, but he started to run in riskier circles, who became part of his tribe.
Ryan was likeable, friendly, and always quick to tell a joke. He was attractive, athletic and incredibly compassionate. Ryan was always the first person to notice when someone was down and would do everything in his power to pick them up. Ryan had the gift of the gab, and listened as well as he spoke.
By the end of high school, Ryan tried to emulate and fit in with some of the “tough” guys. He had friends from a variety of North Shore schools and liked to party.
With his parent’s and private school guidance, he graduated and everyone decided it would be best for him to get a trade. He visited several schools and settled on enrolling at Thompson Rivers University in Kamloops; initially, he loved it.
Then the curriculum aspect of school started to mount. He fell behind and could not turn it around. Once again, the ever-resilient Ryan got down on himself. He dropped out of TRU but stayed in Kamloops for a couple of years. He became gainfully employed in the retail industry and did well. Ryan was always on-time and a hard worker, something everyone he crossed paths with along the way would recognize. The store he worked at closed, and Ryan decided it was time to come home.
Tim and Alanna welcomed having their beloved son return to the nest. Little did they know, Ryan would soon find a new passion. Opiates. Without a circle of good friends, he reconnected with shady people from his past and met others. Alanna remembers her son telling her during this time that he felt like he was “such a fuck-up” for wasting their money on college and now living back at home. He was the only one who felt that way. Ryan was undergoing the trials and tribulations that many people his age endure, particularly in Vancouver, but it was gnawing at him.
He picked up a new job at a large home supply retailer, and by all outside appearances was thriving.
Ryan was a craft-beer connoisseur and loved touring the many brew-pubs sprouting up in the city. Ryan was personable, incredibly fit, and charming; he had no trouble meeting women. At the time, no one realized that whenever he was coming home with a 6 pack of the latest beer, he usually had something else in his pocket as well.
One night when Ryan was at work, his parents concerned about his pot-smoking habits, new smoking paraphernalia and a new trait of dosing off, looked through his room. They had noticed he was isolating and it seemed like he had less and less time for the people in his life. Ryan wasn’t taking care of himself like he always had, and seemed to sleep endlessly. They made a distressing discovery: a flap with what looked like a hard pebble inside of it. Shock. Dismay. They wondered what in the world it could possibly be.
Tim decided to get to the bottom of what the substance really was, as Ryan had dismissed any notion of it being something serious. They wanted to believe him, but couldn’t just look the other way. Ryan had said it was “shatter”, a refined form of THC, the mind-and-mood-altering chemical in marijuana. They went for several sessions with a drug and alcohol counsellor paid for through their extended medical plans. She too was at a loss for what the substance could be but didn’t sound the alarm bells. They took it to a few of the pot dispensary shops, who told them it didn’t look like shatter or anything else they knew. Tim was undaunted and needed to know. He soon discovered that drug-testing kits were not legally available for over-the-counter sale in Canada, so he ordered some from abroad. The results came in and they finally got the answer everyone dreaded; the test kits indicated opioids, likely heroin.
The insidious insanity of substance abuse knows no bounds. Their darling boy who had every opportunity imaginable had somehow got himself into smoking or vaping hard drugs.
They confronted him. They were serious; he would need to stop, get help, or they wouldn’t go on allowing him to live at home. He initially cooperated, or so it seemed. But in reality, the drugs had taken hold and he had only become far more deceptive and secretive. Ultimately, the show-down ensued, and Ryan was faced with the ultimatum of getting formal treatment or being escorted out of the house. Ryan left for a couple of days and tried to make it on his own. Eventually, after a few long nights, he relented. He would enter long-term inpatient treatment at a well-regarded facility. His parents went and collected him immediately. September 2017, Ryan entered treatment for the first time. Tim and Alanna breathed a collective sigh of relief.
Ryan didn’t accept that his addiction was as bad as it had become, so the first week and a half of his stay were hell. He was physically dependent. Cold-turkey detox. Vomiting. Sweating. Shaking. Violent illness. He showed his strength, put on a brave face and got through the eye of the storm.
Once enrolled, he found his crowd; he engaged himself, and very quickly Ryan was back on his feet. Sober, he was someone everybody wanted to be around, and this time was no different. The drug-addicted young man quickly started to blossom in his new found sobriety. Three and a half months later, he was ready to move to 2nd stage housing.
One night after getting back from the gym rather late, the nightshift program counsellor thought Ryan was behaving oddly and asked him for a urine sample, a common routine. Ryan refused to provide it, and things went from bad to worse. He left, yet another nightmare.
After a few days, Ryan would surface. He managed to find his way to West Vancouver but knew he could not stay. Through the network of counsellors, Ryan and his parents got connected with a man named Rod, someone who would ultimately mentor and sponsor him. After 3 or 4 days on the streets, having to fend for himself, he called and asked for help. Rod let Ryan stay the night on his couch until he could see about the possibility of getting him into Together We Can, the treatment centre Rod was working at. It all unfolded quickly; Tim and Alanna would meet with Rod and were impressed with how he carried himself and understood what was happening and what needed to be done. This was a man who cared for Ryan, and Ryan would come to care dearly for Rod too. He re-entered treatment.
Ryan did well at TWC, initially at least. Another relapse would follow when he moved out to his first 2nd stage house. One night after finishing work, he and a co-worker picked up some of their drug-of-no-choice, “down”, which was by now laced with fentanyl. Fentanyl is ubiquitous in the Vancouver street-drug scene. It was quickly explained to Ryan just how serious the situation he had gotten himself into was. It was time to put up or shut up. He was read the riot act by Jordan Davies and Steve Bull, two cornerstones of the TWC intake department. Ryan seemed to sense the gravity of his set of circumstances and that only he had the power to overcome it.
Ryan decided he did want life. He wanted recovery, friendship, and most of all his family. Ryan entered TWC for the second time and got serious. He did everything that was asked of him. He actually wanted to be here this time; it wasn’t just to make everyone else happy or put in the time. This time it was to get his life back, and get his life back he did.
Ryan graduated from the residential treatment program at TWC in June 2018 and again moved to 2nd stage housing. Instead of disconnecting as he had done previously, he decided that he would stick around and volunteer with new clients or whatever else needed to be done. His genuine empathy and good-nature made him an instant friend to all those he spent time with. The impact he had on the organization was significant.
He would rise through the ranks, eventually finding his fit in the kitchen. Ryan loved to cook and he loved to make others happy. Cooking for clients gave him a perfect outlet for his empathy. Most of all he loved the connection the common love of the culinary arts allowed him to form with his mother. She was an avid chef and the founder of a chain of acclaimed local desert restaurants. Ryan was destined to be a great chef and host.
Ryan obtained a salary position at TWC and was a stalwart at the Main Centre. He had found meaning, purpose and finally felt good about himself. He had plans to enrol in culinary school.
Throughout 2018 and 2019 Tim and Alanna enjoyed a relationship with their son that they hadn’t had in years. Ryan told them that he was having the best times of his entire life, something that they relished hearing. He had become the person they always knew he was and could be. They would call or text their son 3 or more times every day. Things were going the way they were supposed to. Ryan moved out of 2nd stage housing with another TWC chef at the end of February 2019.
10 days later, Ryan was gone. Ryan, who from all outward appearances was completely fine, suffered a fatal overdose on March 1st, 2019. After returning from work, his roommate walked in on him. A small piece of tinfoil, with an even smaller piece of what was undoubtedly fentanyl, was discovered. Ryan was blue. He had passed.
Tim and Alanna, who hadn’t been able to reach their son that day, showed up at his house to find the paramedics and police. They quickly realized what had happened. Their son had succumbed to his deadly disease.
News spread rapidly, escorted by the widespread grief that accompanies the loss of a young life taken too soon. The fentanyl crisis claiming victims, one at a time. Holes left in hearts, invisible to the naked eye, but unmistakable for all those who are affected. Profound sadness, utter dread, and most of all, recognition of the senseless waste. This was a man with so much to give.
The loss of Ryan is still being processed, and those he leaves behind will mourn him for years to come. The abundance of natural talent, good looks, laughs and love, all knocked out with one fell swoop. Tim and Alanna, his ever strong parents, will move from one phase of life to the next. From advocacy for their son to advocacy in the name of their fallen son. Ryan’s memory will live on through his family, friends, and legacy. The lives of those he has touched will now touch the lives of others.
Ryan will be remembered as a charismatic, kind and gentle soul; a man who infected everyone he met. He did not deserve to die this way.
Ryan, we miss you. We love you.
A celebration of life will be held for James Ryan McCafferty, born June 12th 1993, at Heritage Hall, 3102 Main Street, Vancouver, on Sunday, March 24th from 1PM to 4PM. All those who knew Ryan, were touched by him, or are affected by addiction are invited to attend.
If you would like to make a donation to the Together We Can – Fallen Sons Memorial Fund in Ryan’s name you can do so at https://twcrecoverylife.org/donate/fallen-sons/.
Read Ryan’s obituary by clicking here.