St. Francis, Wisconsin
Sometimes, we can’t make sense of events that happen in our lives. Sometimes, it seems like we are walking in a cruel world alone. Sometimes, we have no sense of how or why we got here or what the future will hold, because everything we thought that was, will in fact never be again. Sometimes, I look back at it all and wonder how I am still walking in this world, how I am still standing. Some days it doesn’t feel like I’m standing at all but more like in the fetal position, praying for it to all stop. Screaming from this pit of hell, for the pain in my soul to let up, but it never does. It’s like I remember everything and nothing at the same time. I wonder what this world would be like if everything didn’t happen the way it did. Would I be happy? Would I be the same person I was? I liked that woman. I miss her a lot. She is so far removed from me that I often wonder if she will ever return. Will I cry all the time for the rest of my life? Will I ever find joy or peace within my soul? Will I ever walk through this world and think, yes, this was the way it was all supposed to be? Will I ever feel like I belong here again? The truth is, I don’t know but I hope so.
The opioid drug epidemic does not discriminate. It will take anyone you love. It will take your mom, your brother, your nephew, and it has taken all of the above from me and my family. I have become an expert at giving eulogies and putting together funeral picture boards. This is not something I ever intended on excelling in. I have run this day over and over in my head, what feels like, a million times. I have run the entire year leading up to this day over and over again. If I had only loved and protected him more. I should have had him come live with me instead of the program I had him in. Maybe if I would have paid more attention, I wouldn’t have been so blind. How was I so blind? If I had known what I was dealing with I surely would have been better equipped to save him. If I had just done one thing differently, maybe, just maybe, he would still be here, maybe they would all still be here. I wish that I could come to some kind of resolution to rectify it all in my head. If I could only do that, maybe I wouldn’t walk around each and every day feeling like I have lost the largest parts of my soul. If I could just do that, I would be better. If I could just change the outcome, I would be the person I used to be, before my life was stolen from me by a thief in the night. This thief took it ALL from me. My soul, my forever optimism, my ability to see all the good in the world, my happiness, my baby brother, my family.
The day was January 29, 2016. It was your typical Wisconsin winter day, except there was nothing typical about this day. This day would change my entire life as I knew it. I had been trying to reach my brother, Erick, for 3 days. He had been at my house that Sunday for his son’s birthday and I hadn’t heard from him since. We talked often, so when I had not heard back from him, I became worried. At first I didn't think much about it as he was sick on that Sunday and he would not always return messages promptly, but on the third day, I was panicked inside. I was pleading in messages with him to contact me. I was praying to God. I was threatening him with a wellness check. I sent messages to his cell phone with no response. I then went to his Facebook account and sent messages there, begging him to let me know he was alright. On that day, I woke up much earlier than I usually do. I had told my husband the night before that if Erick didn’t reach me by the morning, I was calling his Case Manager to have a wellness check done. That morning I woke up and there were no messages from him. At 6:58 AM, I sent a message to his Facebook and said “Where are you? I am trying to get a hold of you about Eric (Erick’s son who I had been caring for since summer) and I’m getting really worried.” I sent that message, then went straight to his apartment. I frantically rang the doorbell for about 15 minutes before heading to work. I then called Erick’s Community Case Manager and asked her to do a wellness check on him. She stated she had a meeting, but she would go afterwards and call me when she was on her way. I then called my dad. I told my dad not to freak out but that I was worried and hadn’t heard from Erick in five days, despite my many pleas for him to contact me in the last three days. I remember being in my office, pacing back and forth, waiting for his Case Manager to call me. She called earlier than expected and let me know that she had received a call from the property management company that Erick lived at and my dad was outside demanding someone open the door. She asked if I would meet her there and told me she was also worried. I said I would. I hesitated for another 15 minutes before I left. I told myself to leave my computer at work because if I took it, that would mean he was dead and I would not be coming back to work, and he most certainly was not. I thought that I was just overreacting. I finally told my boss I was leaving and would be back as soon as we found him.
The entire ride to my brothers apartment, I was saying out loud, “he’s not dead, he’s fine, he’s not dead, you are thinking crazy, you are losing your mind, everything is fine”. OVER AND OVER I said those words because if I continued to say those words, he would still be alive. I was bargaining with God, if he would just let Erick be ok, I would make sure I kept a closer eye on him. I was shaking. I felt anxious and my stomach was in knots. I was trying to breathe, but I felt like all the air was being sucked out of my lungs with an industrial size vacuum. I finally arrived at the corner of the street I would need to turn down to make my way to his apartment. It was about 8 blocks down. When I turned the corner, I seen nothing but sirens, they were everywhere. There were multiple police cars, an ambulance, and a fire truck. It couldn’t possibly be his apartment. I began screaming, NO, NO, NO, NO. As I got closer, I saw my dad leaning up against the brick of the apartment, crying. I got out of my car and ran across the street to him. My dad said, “He’s gone Mindy, he’s gone”. I yelled, “What do you mean he’s gone?”. “He’s dead Mindy. It was him. His arm was extended out and he looked like he was reaching for help. His eyes were open, and he looked so scared,” my dad cried. Those words still echo in my head as if I had just heard them for the first time. A scream came out from the depths of my soul that I was unaware existed. I fell to the cold hard ground and continued screaming “NO” at the top of my lungs, over and over again, “WHY GOD WHY”! I couldn’t stop the hysteria. I couldn’t stop this horrible day from happening. I couldn’t stop any of it.
The worst was still to come. We still had the daunting job of telling his son, who just turned 7 on January 23rd, that he would never see his daddy again. His daddy, who loved him so much and he loved with everything inside of him. That was a scream I will never forget as long as I live. It was by far the worst scream my ears had ever heard. “NO, I ONLY HAD 7 YEARS WITH HIM, 7 YEARS!” my sweet nephew exclaimed. I didn’t know how to console him. I didn’t know how to stop this tornado from touching down and destroying everything in its path. I had 34 years with him, and it still wasn’t enough, so I understood his gut-wrenching pain, this I understood well. Little Eric was all I had left of my brother. I had to find a way to keep going but how could I keep going in a world that my brother didn’t belong to anymore?
I remember making funeral arrangements with my family. I remember knowing that my husband and I would now be permanently raising little Eric, going to the courthouse to file the paperwork just three days after we found him so that we could legally raise his son. I remember cleaning out his apartment and smelling his dirty clothes in hopes that it would help me to not forget his scent. I remember not wanting to wash any of them because then they wouldn’t smell like him anymore. I remember knowing that I would never hear his voice, be the recipient of one of his big hugs, hear him say my name or tell me he loved me. I would never see his smile or listen to one of his jokes or be able to tell him how much I adored and loved him. It was all over.
The fact is, I am one of many affected by the opioid crisis. At the beginning of 2016, when Erick died, fentanyl overdoses where just starting to come to light. There were no second chances for him. There was no Narcan around to save him. There was no intervention, simply because there was no knowledge of what he was doing. There are so many who also have lived and are living this nightmare. There are still so many who struggle to understand why it had to be their loved one and their family. Unfortunately, I cannot give that answer, but I can say, as alone as you feel, you are not alone. This is not a club anyone wants to join but it’s a club that many belong to by no fault of their own.
There is nothing to prepare you for a loss of this magnitude. All the what if’s, the why's, and how did this happen, that remain unanswered. The guilt, the fear, the unresolved pain that never seems to dissipate. The inability to move forward and the hurt surrounding the thoughts of a future without the people you love the most. The nightmare that you relive so frequently and the moment you realize that the opportunity to help them is over as there is no going back in time. The only thing left to do is pick up a million pieces that were once your heart and continue to honor them in all things. For me honoring my loved ones means being transparent about this epidemic and how it has impacted my life and family. It is my podcast, my writings, my drive to help others that have lost a loved one, or those in active addiction, or encouraging those in recovery. It’s telling my story so that every single person who has lost a loved one to this monster knows that someone else shares their pain from this unimaginable loss. It’s creating awareness and ending stigmas. It’s keeping their memory alive and making sure that no one forgets how very much they were loved. It’s fighting to prevent others from having to know the pain I live with every single day.
This is my truth about addiction. I will always remember my brother's beautiful smile and soul. His ability to make anyone laugh. His charisma, charm, and sensitivity. Rest peacefully Mom, Erick, and Daniel. You will never be forgotten as long as I live and breathe. Love you all, longer than forever.