“I struggle when people ask me how my mother died. It’s a question most people have no idea how to respond to. Do I say ‘she was sick?’ That wouldn’t totally be a lie. She was sick — very sick — for a long time. Do I tell them it was accidental? That wouldn’t be a lie, either. But mostly, I want to tell people the truth. I want to erase the stigma so many of us who love an addict constantly face. So, I come right out and say she died of a heroin/fentanyl overdose.
My mother wasn’t always this way. She was the oldest of five girls. Her father died of a very unexpected brain aneurysm on her twelfth birthday, leaving my grandmother single, pregnant with her youngest child, and suddenly having to pick up three jobs. My mother became the fill-in mother to her sisters while my grandmother worked. She was an excellent student and the only one of her sisters to not only graduate high school, but receive an associates degree in business.
My earliest years with my mother were great. It was her and I against the world. We struggled, living with family and then in section eight housing. But we had each other, and she did the absolute best she could. She was the kindergarten volunteer, always a part of my Girl Scout troop, and was at every single parent teacher conference and soccer game. She taught me to love books and taught me to treat everyone with kindness and respect. She opened our home to a myriad of friends who were going through tough situations. She worked as a waitress for years and had a huge array of regulars who would come in and ask for her, because they knew she would always check on them and remember details about their life that most people didn’t pay attention to. She was so special, and so loved.
I’m not sure exactly when the addiction started. I’m sure it started way before I ever got clued in as to what was going on. I’m sure living in public housing surrounded by people using drugs and drinking out in the open was a factor. I’m sure her untreated trauma from past events was a factor. I’m sure she thought she was just relieving stress and blowing off steam in the beginning. What single mother who worked until her feet were sore wouldn’t, right? But I remember things changing. I remember, as a seven-year-old, not being able to wake her up in the mornings. I remember realizing there were two very different sides to her, becoming more apparent by the day. I remember more and more people coming in and out of our house who, even as a little girl, I didn’t trust.
I always felt very protective of my mother. Most children of addicts feel like they are the parent. I know this to be true. I spent a lot of my younger years worrying about her. Never being able to sleep at someone else’s house, because I needed to be there to make sure she was okay in the middle of the night. Getting intense anxiety at school because all I wanted to do was be near her, to know if anything were to go wrong.
Here’s the thing about addiction: it spirals. It starts off with drinking and partying just on weekends. Then, it moves to just when you’re home from work. That turns into not being able to function without a drink, or a pill, or a hit of something for even a few hours. Sometimes, like in my mother’s case, it happens slowly. I was a pre-teen by the time she got into hard stuff along with the drinking. I was thrown into a very adult world at a young age. I knew what pills did, and how to position someone when they were sleeping so they wouldn’t choke on their own vomit and die.
I was desperately trying to hide from everyone what was going on in my house. By then, we had moved to a more upscale town — out of public housing, but into a crappy apartment in a town full of kids who came from very well-off homes. I tried to hide it as best as I could, but eventually, parents got the sense something was off, and kids were no longer allowed at my house. As a pre-teen girl who wanted to fit in more than anything, this was especially hard.
I felt my mom slipping away more intensely once I was in high school. I had just started my junior year, and we had moved into the nicest apartment we had ever lived in, but things inside that home were worse than they had ever been. My mom was unable to function. She didn’t leave the house unless it was to get alcohol or drugs to feed her addiction. She was withering away more and more by the day. I have to admit, I was not perfect in the way I handled things. I was angry at her and wanted to shake her to make her realize the damage this was causing, especially to myself and my brother (who, at this point, was a toddler). We had some nasty, explosive arguments. I said things to her I wish, more than anything at this point, I could take back. I resented her. I had friends who had mothers who were normal and functioning, and I couldn’t have that.
Children of addicts often raise themselves. I know I did those last few years of high school. I was un-parented, and it showed. At this point, we lived in another town, causing me to have to school choice into my original high school. That means you are no longer able to take the bus, so I had to rely on rides. My mother had lost her license early on after our move, and I was often unable to get rides to school, which meant a lot of times I couldn’t get there. I had honor roll grades, but by that year, I had basically given up. I was responsible for keeping peace in the house and taking care of my toddler brother. I had no one to confide in at school, to tell them what was going on. Miraculously, I ended up graduating, even with the horrible attendance, and moved out immediately after.
After I moved out, things got worse. My mother and stepfather’s relationship had been crumbling for years, but there was an incident resulting from substance abuse that made her unable to stay in the home. She attempted treatment for the first time. I remember being there when we dropped her off, thinking this was finally the step she needed to take to better her life, and then she would be cured. Everything would be okay. I was naive, and frustrated when things fell apart, yet again. She moved in with my grandmother, and I was starting my own family at the same time, having become pregnant with my oldest daughter.
My mother’s addictions worsened. I won’t get into specifics, but there were events that transpired which made me realize we were at the point of no return. This was the way things were going to end for her. The treatment centers, jail time, interventions, homelessness… we had done everything we could. It is almost impossible to help someone who is that deep into an addiction. I spoke to countless specialists. I tried pleading to have her sectioned. We had run out of time.
Having my own daughters while dealing with my mothers addiction made me more sympathetic. I know my mother loved my brother and I. I now know her addiction was just too strong, too all-consuming for her to live a productive life. When I look at my little girls, and I think about how she must have felt looking at us while she was in the thick of her despair, it hurts me to my core. She loved us. She wanted better for us. Reading her journal entries after her passing has brought me closer to her than I ever thought possible. I understand her.
I felt an indescribable, intense guilt after losing her. She had tried to see me countless times, and I couldn’t bring myself to do it. I never knew what state she would be in, who she would be with, and a million other factors were at play. I never got the chance to give her a real goodbye. She passed away in an apartment basement of an overdose on July 1st. The last conversation we had was on June 29th, and it was short. I wish I had gotten the chance to tell her how much I loved her, and in my heart of hearts, that I forgave her. Mostly, I wish I just cherished that last conversation more.
It’s easy, when you’re in the throws of dealing with an addict, to forget that every conversation could really be the last goodbye. I knew it was always an end game for things to turn out this way, but I never expected it to be so soon. My mother was only 51 years old when she passed. She left behind not only me, but my 10-year-old brother, and my two daughters who she never got the chance to truly know. I made a promise to her, after viewing her body before cremation, I would always keep her memory alive in my household, and pass along things she has taught me to my brother and my girls. I hope she knows how much I love her, will always love her, and how special she was.
If you have an addict in your life, even if you are angry with them, even if you aren’t speaking to them, please just let them know they are loved. It won’t save them, but it will make a difference. And sometimes, a difference is enough for someone to get themselves lifesaving help.”
This story was submitted to Love What Matters Kyleigh Macri. Submit your own story here, and Be sure to subscribe to our free email newsletter for our best stories, and YouTube for our best videos.
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