Flowers and dreams fill Jenny Mercandetti’s days. Her full-time job is Director of Wedding Sales and Coordination at the Cork Factory Hotel, but she has a larger role in the lives of many Lancastrians.
This is no princess meets prince fairy tale. Happily ever after is a concept deferred. The magic of her love story lies in its tragedy.
“I’d been dumped by somebody and that really ended badly. I was heartbroken,” recalls Jenny. Today she is upbeat, a wide and welcoming smile appearing while remembering how she first met the man who would change her life forever. Seeing her heartbreak, her friends encouraged her to try online dating and she listened to their advice, reluctantly. It was a good thing. “I met Shaun in March 2016. We met for coffee after vetting each other out. I knew early on he was somebody I was meant to meet, and we connected on so many levels.”
Jenny and Shaun had the same tastes in music and movies. They shared the same values. Their relationship bloomed quickly, but like autumn which takes away the flowers of summer, life took Shaun from Jenny.
The morning of Sunday, February 5, 2017 was cold and overcast. Jenny found Shaun suffering from cardiac arrest in the bathroom of his Millersville home. Shortly afterwards he was pronounced dead, the result of a multiple drug toxicity overdose—cocaine and fentanyl. His death was one of the first in the area from fentanyl, a synthetic opioid 80 times stronger than morphine. With her heart breaking again, Jenny was stunned. She knew Shaun wrestled with addiction. On one of their first dates, he explained he was an alcoholic active in the recovery community of Lancaster.
“I thought drinking was his only vice, but he alluded to a past he was not proud of. It was not till later on that I realized he was battling drug addiction and that alcohol was the gateway,” says Jenny.
You see, Shaun was clean and sober for two and a half years, but on his 34th birthday, December 27th, 2016, he decided to have a drink to celebrate. She was worried, but their lives seemed stable and he reassured her he was in control.
“As the days went on, he started to drink a little more often,” says Jenny, who had no real experience being around someone with substance issues. “It took about five weeks from his birthday until the day he passed away… if I knew then what I know now…”
What Jenny knows now is what addiction can look like. She knows the pain of self blame. What has helped is not being afraid to share her and Shaun’s story and continue to keep his most positive aspects alive through a foundation created in his memory, the Mighty Mehal Foundation.
“It was only after Shaun passed away when I realized how much of an impact he had on other people in recovery. When Shaun died not only did it shake me to my core, but it shook the Lancaster recovery community to its core,” says Jenny. “In recovery Shaun developed this nickname; they called him ‘Mighty’ Mehal.”
The Mighty Mehal Foundation provides financial assistance to men and women who have successfully completed a detox program and are seeking residency in a recovery or sober-living house. The aid goes towards housing fees and rent. The foundation aids those who really have no other financial means and reach out to the foundation with an application. (To raise money, the foundation holds an alcohol-free, charity casino night every February and other events throughout the year.)
“These are folks who do not qualify for funding, who do not have family or friends who can provide support to them,” explains Jenny, who admits to being stunned by the amount of people struggling with addiction—something she noticed only after Shaun passed away. “Lancaster has a tremendous recovery community. Unfortunately, like many people who are battling addiction he fell off the wagon at one point and he didn’t make it… There are still days when I go through a lot of beating myself up over it. Even though he doesn’t get to be with me till the end of my life, I was able to be with him until the end of his. The foundation makes it possible for him to live forever in a way.”
Through Shaun’s life and tragedy, Jenny has found a way to give others the help they need to avoid the perils of addiction. Happily ever after doesn’t always look like it does in fairy tales.
For more information on the Mighty Mehal Foundation, visit mightymehal.org.