This is a story of a beautiful, loving and smart young lady. She is my precious daughter, Kirsten Yamaoka, who was taken from me by heroin and addiction.
Kirsten was my first child and I had the privilege of staying home with her when she was born. I loved her the minute I knew I was pregnant. She was the most adorable baby with thick, dark hair and blue eyes. Kirsten was a mommy’s girl from the start. We were 2 peas in a pod.
When Kirsten was younger and started school, she wanted to be a janitor or a waitress. There may have also been some talk about being a doctor. Before Kirsten’s death she was working at UPS, where she was a model employee. Her supervisors spoke highly of her. It was tough work, but she overcame any obstacles.
Kirsten enjoyed reading, working out, eating healthy, dancing, laughing, singing and playing volleyball. She loved spending time with her family, especially her brother, J.W. They played video games, watched movies, wrestled, texted and loved one another intensely. He called her “Sisi” and she called him Bubba.
She and her Dad had a special relationship. They were best friends.
Kirsten was also close to her Aunt Nicole. They “got” each other. Kirsten’s middle name is Nicole after her Aunt Nicole.
February 29, 1996 is her birthdate and she joined the special few who were ‘Leap Year’ babies. She also had a “Spock” ear which other family members had also.
One of my favorite memories of Kirsten is when her brother brought personalized M&M’s from New York. On some there was a recovery message and the others her name. Kirsten cried and was so grateful for his gift.
I started noticing changes when Kirsten went to middle school. Her “friends” were involved in some questionable activities. Drinking, drugs, smoking, and sex were a few. Kirsten was engulfed in the attention and it was a release from her everyday challenging life. She started skipping school, getting low grades, sleeping a lot, not participating with the family and her attitude was harsh. I spoke to teachers and counselors -- they gave suggestions. I spoke with police and they listened. I got Kirsten a counselor and she was a sounding board for Kirsten. Kirsten had started to sneak out and stay out all night, so I got an alarm system to keep her in the house. Her friends, except for two, were all older than she was. She was introduced to an adult world that she had wanted to partake in for a few years. This is when I reached out to anyone who would or could help us both. Kirsten quit high school in her sophomore year and attempted online schooling. This, unfortunately, did not happen. Eventually Kirsten obtained her GED and we were very proud she completed her schooling.
Kirsten was in treatment or a program at least 5 times during her struggle with addiction. She completed one program, graduated drug court and had six months of sobriety before she overdosed. She also had many on and off periods of sobriety where we could witness the “real” Kirsten.
What I wish that could have been different about this brutal experience is earlier support and knowledge how to handle someone who is active in their addiction. Fortunately, about 2 years before her death, I was introduced to a parents and grandparents Al-Anon group. They knew what it was like to live with addiction and they had wonderful suggestions to keep me sane. I found out I didn’t cause her addiction, I couldn’t cure Kirsten’s addiction and I couldn’t control it. The message that I received was love the child not the disease and that my family can be at some peace whether she was using or not.
All of Kirsten’s relationships were altered due to her addiction. This was hard to watch and difficult to explain to others. Heroin stole her soul and made it impossible to be a productive member of any relationship.
The last days of Kirsten’s life left a lot of unknowns and pain. She was missing for five days and we frantically searched for her. Previously, she had gone missing when she was using but, inevitably, she would send a text or message and we knew she was alive. That’s what was different this time. No word from her, no text, no message of “Mom I’m ok” and that’s how I knew deep in my heart that she was no longer alive. She was found at Idlewild Park in her car dead in the backseat. An apparent overdose of heroin. It was her 21st birthday.
Our lives were forever shattered and those who had any connection with Kirsten were devastated. Losing my girl is the most difficult time I have ever been through. I am forever grateful for the support of my family and friends. Mourning Kirsten has been softened by love, kind words, memories and gestures. However, this will be a lifetime of ache and I am a different person.
Kirsten you will always be loved and never forgotten.