I’m the founder of The Way Through, and I’d like to tell you a little bit about my story.
Like you, I’m a bereaved parent. It’s a role I never thought I’d be in, yet at the time I lost my child, I was enrolled in a graduate program in thanatology–the study of death, dying, and bereavement. After sitting with my mother through her last two weeks of life and having been with my grandmother through her death at home, I felt I had a heart for hospice work and perhaps grief counseling. It was my first semester, and for the term paper, I wrote about parental bereavement. Ironic, eh? The inspiration for that paper was an interview I had done with my mother a few years before, during one of my undergraduate courses. In that interview, I finally got the full story of how she lost her first baby, my brother Eddie, just two days after he was born. I’ll tell you that story another time, but I wanted to know that bereaved parents of stillborn or newborn children now had better treatment and options. That was the point of my paper. Little did I know that before the semester was over, I would face the death of my only daughter.
Stephanie Nicole was my first child, and my only daughter. I’d had a miscarriage the year before she was born. I was very relieved to have carried her to term, having a beautiful, perfect daughter. Three-and-a-half years later, I had her brother, Sean.
Life wasn’t perfect with Stephanie. She began to have problems when she hit those turbulent teenage years. Eventually, she was diagnosed with bipolar disorder with psychotic features and later with borderline personality disorder. She suffered in this life–cutting herself, engaging in “body modification”, and making very poor choices. She eventually became addicted to substances, resulting in severe alcoholism toward the end of her life.
I was the classic codependent, always “helping” her but really enabling her. I didn’t know if she was ever going to be capable of caring for herself, and I couldn’t get to that point where I could ever let her try. I was so afraid of losing her. March 30, 2008, I joined a recovery group and began to learn how to detach with love. When asked, “What’s the worst thing that can happen if you let go and let God?”, I said, “The police will come to my door and tell me that my daughter is dead.”
But I continued with the program because I needed some sanity in my life. I began to care for myself again and have the energy to spend on my son. So many times, he had been the good child, doing his homework or playing a video game in the waiting room while we met with yet another therapist or sat waiting for the family meeting at a psychiatric hospital. He deserved to have some of me, too. Addicts and alcoholics can have such a draining effect on the family. Out of love, we give and give and give, always thinking that if we try this or do that, the addict will get sober. That’s not how it works.
The events that transpired over the holidays that year combined with my recovery from codependency resulted in her finally hitting her “rock bottom”. Thank God, by New Year’s Eve, she was sober. With only one small relapse after that, she stayed sober until the day she died.
On April 3, 2009, the doorbell rang at around noon. Before I knew it, a deputy and a detective were in my dining room, asking me to sit down. My personal worst nightmare had met me halfway. Stephanie had been found dead that morning at the home of a friend. She had died in her sleep while her friends were away and had been dead between 12 and 24 hours. The worst pain of my life started that day, and though it has subsided somewhat with time, I will never stop hurting over the loss of my child.
The autopsy results showed that she had died of Ambien and Percocet intoxication, accidental death. She was prescribed Ambien, and it’s likely that the Percocet was given to her at the hospital when she was mugged and beaten the weekend before. Despite being discharged from the ER around 6 a.m., she was at her AA meeting in time to make the coffee before everyone began to arrive. I was immensely proud of her for that. I was proud of her for her sobriety. And I was proud that during the meeting that day, she told the others, “God was with me in that alley. He’s the reason I’m still here.” Just one bad interaction between those two drugs, however, and she was gone.
The last two-and-a-half years have been difficult. Many days I did not want to get out of bed. My own health has taken a downturn, as did my mental health. Just days after the second anniversary, I checked myself into a psychiatric facility, because the depression and despair had reached a frightening depth. I was ready to end it all.
I promised myself and God that if I survived all of that, I would do something to help other bereaved parents. I would go back to my path toward helping those who are suffering a loss or are dying themselves. Here I am.
My goal is to use my experience and knowledge to bring you stories of hope, stories of parents who have walked this path before us, and who have not only survived but have made a difference in the world.
I hope to be one of those people. I want to make a difference for each and every grieving parent who comes to this site. I want to show you that there is a way through your suffering and that there are those of us who have walked the path you’re now on. We will show you the way through. Please enjoy the following slideshow of my daughter’s life.