When Does Compassion Die?

Cafe

Imagine hypothetically that your son was introduced to drugs at a very young age.  Imagine that despite your very best efforts, they became addicted and started down the road of despair.  And then, quickly, months rather than years later; your son is dead.  And the police tell you it is by the hand of an older person your kid trusted, and this person gave them the drugs.

But you know, you really cannot fool yourself, that your kid has been the one who has been involved in risky behavior and pushing boundaries for years.  They were the first to pick up that still smoldering cigarette end in the park at twelve years old, the first one to act out sexually, the first to smoke weed.   The first to push every boundary you ever tried to enforce.

And this kid, your kid, has been living with these people who are on the edge of society, because that is where they have felt most comfortable.  Your child has found their tribe of struggling people and for the first time ever, they have a group of like minded individual and for a while, they feel normal.  And as a parent, you are holding your breath, crossing your fingers and toes, and hoping that these people on the edge are strong enough and can save your child from going over, because your kid relates to them and not to you.  And for a while, they do; they support and keep your child alive.  But the strong ones get well and move away, rejoining a society that welcomes them back.  The weak are left behind.  We have all watched the wildlife shows and, like the wildebeest on the plains, the young and the weak, will get taken down.

Now think about this; that this child, your child; has endless amounts of love and compassion for every human on earth.  There is not a person out there that is not salvageable and while this causes you great concern as a parent, there is a part of you that respects and admires the humanity of the child you created.

This is uncomfortable, but work with me here.  The person who gave my child the drugs that killed her is an addict.  Not part of a cartel, not getting rich, but an addict.  I have no doubt my child would have compassion for his addiction; I wish I could do so well.  My lovely young daughter at nineteen years old had never become a drug dealer.  Thank goodness.  She never lived long enough to go down the road of theft and dealing.  If she had lived long enough, there were two choices; she would have found recovery, or she would have gone down this path.

This has been written because today, I was asked by the Commonwealth Attorney how I felt about a plea deal for the person who has been charged with murder for my daughter’s death.

So, when does compassion die?

Learning from those who have done this already.

 

Less than a week

 

I am the mother of an addict.  A very young 19-year-old quasi adult who took so much of my time and my energy…  that I gladly gave, and the majority of my waking thoughts, plus a lot of my semi-sleep ones too.  This photo was taken within a week before she died.

The void created in my heart on THAT day, the day she died, will never be filled.  Not ever.  And yet I continue to work every day to do just that.

In the last two days, I have worked on helping a newly clean addict find a place in a sober house, another addict in recovery to find a safe home to live in where nobody is looking for ‘payment in kind’. The father of an addict, whose child has for the first time agreed to get help, found some small relief today, and a lovely young lady who has been so successful in her recovery, had a slight slip and felt bad about herself but is back on track.  These are my friends.  I’ve been talking to one of the hardest working and committed group members we have about the great work she has been doing on Capitol Hill.  I have been working as part of a team who are trying to organize our first large fundraiser, a 5K race.  If we raise any money, it will be applied to great things.  Awareness, education, recovery programs and family support.  And I also have a full time job.

I have been asked how I find the time or energy, but of course, I now have the time and energy that I used to use having a relationship with my daughter.  But, here is the big thing.  For every minute I put into this, another person is putting in ten.  I feel overwhelmed, but others are doing so much more.  I read so many stories of parents who, after losing their children, focus on helping other…. I am certainly not unique, so many others have done this before me and very successfully.  I follow in their path and thank these people for their guidance, leadership and commitment.  I will not ever stop.

The Hierarchy of Addiction

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Weird huh?  But, the more I get involved with this, the more I realize there is a kind of snobbery when it comes to addiction.

Parents think their kids are ‘better addicts’ because they only use pills and have yet to take their drugs intravenously.  Kids, believing the same thing think they are safe and invincible.  So dangerous.  I’ve made every mistake in the book, so you need to listen…..

A serious alcoholic I know who has had every facet of their own life impacted by this disease, destroyed every relationship they were unable to sustain, destroyed their own life, and made those lives of everyone around them diminished, still feels superior to anyone who actually used a needle to administer their drug of choice.  I do kind of get it; your miserable addicted existence will more than likely exist for a much longer time if you don’t take intravenous heroin.  That is a fact, statistically you will live longer.  I have eventually come to the conclusion there are worse things than death, and I would not have wished that sad and depressing future for Kathrine.

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I so get that everyone with an addictive substance abuse disorder will not end up dead with a needle in their arm, and in times gone by, most by far actually wouldn’t have.  Heroin and needles were for those back alley junkies with devastating beginnings and no chances in life.  Middle class kids would have had to work hard to get involved in the heroin culture, it was ‘not for you’ and it had a stigma.  Let our teens experiment with cocaine in the fraternity houses, but at least we knew they were too good for heroin.  Heroin was not ubiquitous in those times, and it was unlikely to be a decision they would ever have to make.

Now, every university in the United States has a heroin problem.  Every.  Single.  One.  Educated kids now have to make that choice, the choice that they really were not ever faced with before, certainly not on a daily basis.  Those kids previously who experimented with drugs in college either were predisposed with an addictive substance abuse disorder and now years later are either like that alcoholic I just described, or they are in recovery, or they are dead.   Or they weren’t, and they are living normal lives, raising children and should be thanking genetics for their good luck.  Remember, it is chemistry not character.

Are you still rating ‘your’ addict on a hierarchy scale, by their drug of choice or method they administer?

From someone who has made that mistake, I would encourage you to reevaluate and throw off the security blanket.  Before it’s too late.

 

The Last Day

At our last support group meeting I finally told the story of how I found out Kathrine was dead and how I was told.   I have run a support group for almost six months now but, while listening and crying to the stories others have shared, have yet been able to tell my own story… of that day.  So now I will share it with you.

 

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On Friday August 7th, 2015 I got the call at work that our 19-year-old daughter was found dead of a heroin overdose.   I was told to get up to the hospital in the town she lived (one hour away) to identify her body.  Well, I had a couple of obstacles to overcome first.  I had to stop screaming hysterically, that was tough.  I was with work colleagues (no, with friends)  and nobody slapped my face (as we’ve all seen in the movies) but the threat of having the first responders come and possibly lock me up did the job.  I had my family to tell.  I still had a younger child to tell, I had a husband to tell,  that was my job.

Therefore, I had to get home.  Those friends somehow got me and my car home. You know who you are and and will never forget what you did for me that day.

In 2008 I called my father and cousin to tell them my younger brother had died of cancer.  I thought I would never have to go through that agony again.  In August last year, I walked into our house, woke what was remaining of my family, and told my husband and our youngest daughter that Kathrine was dead.  First overdose, 12 weeks into ‘trying’ heroin, and no second chances.  And, we needed to get to the hospital to identify her body.

We got there and I was not allowed to see her then, nor allowed to see her for another four days.  Her body had been deemed a ‘crime scene’ the person who gave her the drugs, still in jail for murder and they told me ‘wait’.  After the autopsy, you can see her.  So, she was identified by the cell phone she had on her person, and I waited.

I went home that night without seeing my child’s body.   Knowing she was gone, but without proof and hoping for a miracle.  Someone else had her cell phone, maybe someone else had a child that is dead… not mine.. Maybe?

Four days later I once again walked into the funeral home and they had picked Kathrine up.  They were kind, they were considerate, and they knew I still had in my heart an outside chance that this wasn’t my child  It was a mix up, confusion.  I was warned what to expect.  It is an autopsy, her head will be covered in towels, and her face will show, her body will be covered.  Just look at her face.  And they opened the door and I walked in and saw, without any doubt, my daughter.  And with her head covered in towels and her body wrapped up, and her jewelry out and no make-up on, she looked about twelve years old.  And I begged for forgiveness for not being able to do what could have saved her.

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And as I told this story eventually in the support group I now manage, the father who lost his child eight weeks ago came to me and said “It’s no great shakes if you see them immediately  either”  He just found his own teenage daughter dead in his own house.

I wish we could do better.

 

Moving right along

Almost six months ago I went to a drug symposium in Culpeper because my daughter had died four months earlier… she was nineteen years old.. I was starting a support group at that time and needed information and help,… oh my, so much help. They showed a film called Heroin The Hardest Hit:  and Lauren (our 17 year old), and I sat there with white knuckles knowing we had to just get through it.  I got to the end and ran out the door and Moira Meehan Satre followed me into the bathroom. She had lost her son just a couple of months earlier than we had lost Kathrine. We cried and held hands sharing a grief that not many understand. Today, I sat next to Moira once again as we watched the Chasing the Dragon video.
Again we held hands but this time was with resolve. Make no mistake, we are angry, we are sad, we are devastated, but we are not giving up. We didn’t save our own children, but goddammit, we are still working on saving yours.

I Need So Much Help

I need some help, and I am asking that if you have some of these talents or connections, would you try, or share with someone else who may? Our coalition CAYA has committed to hosting a 5K run on September 24th. The good news is, we already have a great location that does this regularly. This is our first big fundraiser (OK, this is our first ever fundraiser) and we have no experience. We need an experienced race timing company (digital, not stopwatch), we need t-shirts, we need marketing help, we need volunteers, we need runners, we need, quite frankly a person who knows what the hell they are doing! And of course, we need it all for as little money as possible…’cause we don’t have any yet! My support group Families Overcoming Drug Addiction is partnered with CAYA and we are working together to raise money to allow us to continue programs such as the opioid reversal REVIVE! This is the first year of what we hope will be a successful annual event, and at some point, we hope to be able to pay people for their contribution. This year, I promise I will feature any help from a person or company heavily in my popular blog that has five, yes FIVE followers: https://myfodafamily.org/blog/ … don’t judge, only been blogging for twelve days! Thank you for taking the time to read.

I am going to lobby on Capitol Hill in two days time.  What a terribly American thing to do and one to cross off my ‘bucket list’ for sure!  For those of you who don’t know, I am an English person with a strange sort of mid-Atlantic accent.

http://www.naadac.org/CARA
This is a drug reform bill that has been three years in the making.  People better than I have been working on it… for a long time! It will save lives and we all need to support it. We can argue on how many lives, but I know that one of those lives could have possibly been that of my own child.

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I have started to understand that there had to be a perfect storm for Kathrine to die in this way and at the time she did.  In order for our beautiful, imperfect daughter, born of imperfect parents, to be living in a geographical area of the world that was, for so many reasons, involved in an opioid epidemic, at that exact time she became a legal adult, making her own way in the world … WOW!  We couldn’t have planned for all those pieces of the jigsaw to come together even had we tried.

And therefore, I will lobby on Capitol Hill in 48 hours, although I have no idea how to do that.  Luckily, I will be with some of the members of our support group, and we will learn together.  And, at the end of the day and between us all, we just may one day, save a child.