If you came to Jason Broomfield having a bad day, he’d flash you a goofy smile, compliment your shoes and then listen to you talk about your problems for as long as you needed.
People gravitated to Jason. His huge spirit and love of life was infectious for the many he touched. Over 700 people showed up at his funeral, according to his mom, Lori Dorsey. They packed into the aisles and overflowed from the Sugarman-Sinai Memorial Chapel, onto the front lawn and the rain-slicked sidewalk beyond. The Chapel remembers it as one of the largest funerals it’s ever conducted.
Jason grew up in Cranston with his mother and his older brother, Eric Broomfield. His dad came in and out of their lives until their teenage years, when Jason moved in with him in Warwick where he attended Toll Gate High School. Eric and Jason were star basketball and baseball players, known around Cranston as Boomer and Baby Boomer for their last name and cracking line drives.
Despite his sports success, Jason was surrounded by triggers for addiction. His mother struggled with an addiction to prescription pain killers throughout his childhood, often spending weeks in the hospital while her parents took care of her sons. When she got sober, Jason was 11, and she was just learning about the pervasive history of addiction on both sides of her son’s family. His parents’ divorce when he was only two added another layer of instability. By the age of 12, Jason was drinking alcohol.
Jason was always getting in trouble. Two months before graduating high school, he was caught with marijuana at school and expelled. Lori sent him to a recovery program in Vermont, where he thrived for months, before automatically graduating the program at age 18. When he returned home, the marijuana and alcohol returned, and at some point, Jason started taking prescription opioids, too.
At a time when public health hadn’t yet linked gambling and drug addiction, Jason was kicked out of one of several residential treatment programs he attended over the years for betting for sodas against another resident. Prescription pills and gambling, in the form of rampant sports betting, were intertwined throughout his life.
After earning his GED and studying at New England Tech, Jason went from job to job. Eventually, he settled in Warwick and found a career he loved. Melding sports with his charisma, he worked placing personal trainers in gyms from California to Upstate New York. He went on to start his own business contracting out personal trainers to gyms in his late thirties.
Along the way, Jason fell in love and had a daughter, Gianna, who’s now 17. He proudly posted videos of her singing on Facebook. Their shared traditions were sacred. Every year, he would escort Gianna to her school’s father-daughter dance. He would take her whitewater rafting, sledding and ice skating on New Year’s Eve. They went to Salem, MA every year together to celebrate Halloween. At that time of year, Jason’s humor would be on full display as he hung ghouls in the trees around his house and tramped through hayrides and haunted houses.
In the warmer months, Jason and Gianna enjoyed time together at the beach. His mother and stepfather would go to the Charlestown Town Beach every Sunday. They always sat in the same spot and Jason and Gianna would come down and surprise them. As soon as he got to the beach, he would head straight into the waves, sending Gianna or his two nephews cannonballing off his shoulders.
Jason also loved giving his time to others—family members, friends and even strangers. After snowstorms, he would show up at his mom’s house and shovel for her. And after her knee replacement, he drove her to dozens of physical therapy appointments.
As an adult, he would accompany his mother every week to addiction support group meetings. Both during his life and after his death, person after person would stand up at these self-help meetings and describe how Jason had helped them get sober, how he would talk with them on the phone all night if they were in need.
In his late thirties, Jason got a job working overnight shifts at a men’s residential drug treatment program. He invested so much effort in helping others recover from addiction that neither Lori, who, by that point, had become a licensed addiction specialist, nor his colleagues realized that Jason still needed help himself.
Lori’s not sure how many years he had remained sober, but when he had clearly relapsed at age 39, Jason sought help. He rejoined self-help groups and went to a detox program. After the program ended, in late January of 2017, he needed surgery for a gallbladder attack. Though Lori warned the surgeon not to prescribe him opioids, he was given a full prescription anyway.
Four months after his fortieth birthday, on April 26, 2017, Jason overdosed on heroin in his home in West Warwick. He left behind hundreds of mourners, including those he had mentored in the gym business, those he had helped get sober and a shocked and devastated family. Among the scores of them who couldn’t fit inside the funeral, some honored Jason by holding 12-step meetings on the Chapel lawn.