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Mom’s dead. Not sure if anyone told you

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by Rebekah Christofi

“Mom’s dead. Not sure if anyone told you.”

This is the message I woke up to from my brother at 6AM on a work day. For a second, I thought he was joking. For about five seconds, I felt relief. Then, I had to sit down because I felt emotions that I don’t have any names for. Finally, words came out, to my husband:

“My mother is dead.”

“What? How? Are you okay? How does it feel? What do we do?”

“I don’t know. I think I’m okay. I mean, I don’t know. Maybe I’m not okay.”

My 57-year-old mother died from a heroin overdose. My youngest brother said he found her on the bathroom floor: “Usually, when I find her like that, I just shake her really hard and she wakes up.” This time, she didn’t.

I’ve done the whole grief thing before: Someone dies. Usually they’re old. You cry, gather with family and friends, share nice memories, hug people, pause quietly to dwell on your mortality at church, then at the cemetery, store your memories in a cozy corner of your mind, get your closure and move on. This is not like that. How do you mourn for something you’ve never actually had? How is it that something you thought you were already prepared for, something you knew was eventually going to happen, feels this terrible when it finally does? I hesitate to call it “grief.”

“There was already a void in my heart where a mother should have been,” my sister said. “There was always the hope in the back of my mind that she would get better one day and we could have some kind of mother-daughter relationship. Now, that door is closed for good.”

Growing up in a house where every adult was high and strangers lived in every room makes me oddly comfortable in chaos. Violence, hunger, fear and uncertainty were also guests in that “hotel,” as our neighbor used to call it, but I was never permitted to own that reality. Everything had to be a secret. I envy people who seem to carry peace around with them. I am so attracted to things like meditation, yoga and even church. Peace eludes me. The silence is sometimes too intense for me and every noise makes me jump. I have to constantly remind my shoulders to stop creeping up closer to my ears.

My entire life, I was bullied into denying my reality, so as I stood in church, behind my mother’s casket, I was filled with anger and hostility towards many of the people in the pews. I have always been told that I was the problem. Over and over I was reminded that my lack of ability to “forgive” was the issue here, not my parents’ addictions. I couldn’t make eye contact with the people in that church. I didn’t want their pity, but most of all, I didn’t want to be a victim of their judgement and ignorance once again. What I wanted to say to them was this: You did not grow up in that house. You do not get to decide how I handle my childhood trauma. You do not get an opinion on my relationship with my mother. Instead, silently, I looked straight ahead at the bleeding Jesus.
When your mother dies from a drug overdose, society wants you to sweep it under the rug: “Let’s not have a wake;” “Let’s say she died from a ‘brief illness.’” Yes, let’s all conspire together to maintain this endless cycle of denial and lies.

My mother’s overdose is the most unsatisfying “I told you so” I will ever have. I didn’t win anything. When you are imagining your mother’s last moments on a bathroom floor with a needle in her arm, there is no validation. There’s no, “Ha! I knew it! I knew she was still using! I was right all along!” And if you imagine that’s what happened in my mind when I heard the news, you are mistaken. I found myself googling if heroin overdoses were painful. She had once told me that she hated when people wore all black to funerals and she really disliked the smell of traditional funeral flowers. I immediately felt compelled to make sure those wishes were respected. To me, these things are proof that, somewhere inside of me, I love my mother.

There are children out there who still have to live in chaotic homes like the one I grew up in. They don’t know what kind of mother will be there when they get home from school. They are nervous about what the house will smell like as they walk through the door. Will today be good, or will there be strangers in my house? Will mom be doing “bad” things in the basement? Will I have to go to bed hungry tonight? Will everyone start screaming and fighting? Will the police come again?

There are little girls who are too tired for 5th grade because they have to wake up in the middle of the night and make bottles for their screaming, newborn brother. They can’t do their homework because they have to push a stool up to the stove to try and make some kind of dinner for their younger siblings. They have stopped seeing the point in playing with their dolls and pretend dishes. They sleep restlessly on the floor with urine-soaked blankets, scratching at their head lice. There are mushrooms growing in the cracks of the tiles on the bathroom floor. Am I making you uncomfortable? Good. It has never been comfortable for them and it will never be comfortable for me, so you can feel it for a few minutes. Those little kids turn into adults and it doesn’t just go away.

When I tuck my daughter in, shut off the light and close the door, I often pause, astounded by the fact that she feels safe alone, in the dark, because at age 33, I still don’t and I probably never will. If my husband gives her cough medicine in the middle of the night and leaves the spoon in the bathroom, when I wake up and see it, I am back in that house with the blackened spoons of my childhood. Sometimes, I wake up screaming in the middle of the night. I jump out of bed, turn on the lights and franticly try remind myself that I am safe now. My daughter wakes up and tells me she has dreams about playing with kittens.

Once, on the morning of my Middle School graduation, I thought my mother was dead. It was, all those years before, that same feeling of simultaneous relief and dread.

My mother doesn’t have to put makeup on her track marks anymore so that people will treat her like a human being, and I’m not covering up anything anymore either. Words like “closure,” “forgiveness,” and “peace” cannot coexist with lies and denial. As long as there are children who live in houses like that, I am going to have to continue to make people uncomfortable.

I have searched my brain since her death in an attempt to collect any good memories. I have none. My friend tells me that maybe they will come to me someday. She says that maybe I trained myself to forget the good things so that it would hurt less when I saw her high or when she said cruel things to me. Maybe that’s true. But I do know this: At some point, I kicked at the walls of her womb and she placed her hand on her stomach and she carefully chose my name. I like my name. Right now, that is all I have.

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46 comments

  1. Thank you for all you wrote, thank you for your honesty. I am sorry about the current process you are going through loosing your mom but know…. She shaped you who you are today. An amazingly store writer who honestly showed others your life as to say you are not alone. You can do it too.

    • That is horrible i am sad for you. My mom was great at helping families get through hard times. Trauma causes a lot of distress in society. Heroin is a terrible. I am thankful i would never think to do. I am glad you have positive outlets. Your mom loved you even though she had problems. My mom loved me and i loved her. I still do and always will.

    • I am an addict. I’m addicted to pain medication. I’m what they call a prescription addict. A person who went to the Dr with legitimate pain and was put on pain medications. Until I went to jail and was forced to get some help I could never see my problem. I no longer use prescription pills. I’m now taking suboxone. And I’m catching hell for taking that as prescribed. Ok. I’ve tried abstinence for 3 years. I was literally on so many medications to treat pain that weren’t narcotics that I was taking like 30 pills a day. I went to an addiction specialist after fighting on the pills do 9 more months. Subjecting myself to steroid back injects that did nothing and seeking and buying pills off the street. I yet again had reached a bottom. So. I sought help. The suboxone is the help the specialist recommended because of all my medical pain and issues. Now when I see any Dr they can’t see any further than my prescription for suboxone. I’m so tired of it. I’ve done what I’m supposed to do and I’m still crucified for my decisions.

      • I am an addict in recovery. I have been clean since March of 1996. As an “old timer” in recovery, please hear me when I say YOU ARE DOING THE RIGHT THING. The decision to use Suboxone is between you and your doctor. Subutex was first formulated for people in chronic pain. It works. You are taking it for its originally prescribed use. Unfortunately you are limited to the access and regulations imposed by he greed of the big pharma/rehab industries partnership. You’ll be ok.

  2. I know EXACTLY how you feel…

  3. Hope no one you love gets any kind of disease, you’re not strong enough to handle it. The one she died from runs in families, hope you find strength.

    • Unfortunately her mom chose her own disease. A disease with a cure. For you to comment the writer doesn’t have strength is careless. Since when do children have to carry the weight of parental choice?!! Her priorities seem right to me, raising her own child safe and secure. Being a chain breaker takes more strength than repeating a needle in the arm.

      • curious, what’s the “cure” for addiction?

      • My2cents, you are right about ONE thing. Addiction IS a disease. But it’s not a choice, people don’t CHOOSE to have diseases. And the disease of addiction has no cure, not sure what cure you’re talking about. But it can be treated, with respect, humanity, medication for some, treatment facilities, etc. Her mother died from the same awful unwanted disease that took my son at 24. He hated his disease and he certainly didn’t want it or choose it, but he got it anyway. Because he trusted his doctor and took the pain meds legally prescribed to him by his doctor. The only thing he CHOSE was to listen to his Dr and take the meds he was prescribed, like we all do. But 1 in 4 can’t take prescription opiates without becoming addicted to them. I no that now, but I site wish my son’s Dr would of educated us in that risk when he prescribed the drug to my child. I had no idea my son sold his soul to the devil when he filled that script.
        No idea that he was about to fall victim to a deadly disease. Addiction is an absolutely horrible disease, for the addicts and their families. It’s a family disease because it affects the entire family. God bless this lady and all children who have to grow up like she did. And God bless all the addicts still suffering from this horrible disease and fighting for their lives each and every day of their life.

        • Even addicts can choose recovery. It is tough, but they need to do it for their kids. And they need to stop having kids born addicted to drugs and with the irreversible brain damage of Fetal Alcohol Syndrome. I’m the adoptive mom of two kids who have FASD. They will never be fully independent adults.

          My own mom was an alcoholic. Not before my siblings and I were born, thank God. But she slipped into addiction through social drinking and unhappiness in her marriage. She struggled and struggled and her addiction caused me to be the teen mom of my younger siblings. Eventually, she did find lasting recovery. After several years of failures, it took me a year to want to have anything to do with her again. Part of her recovery was understanding that I had that need and right to protect myself. I’m so proud of my mom, who lived the last 30+ years of her life in recovery, active in AA and becoming a beloved sponsor to tens of other recovering alcoholics.

          Recovery isn’t easy. I imagine that it’s about the hardest thing anyone can do. And no one means to become an addict any more than anyone chooses to have cancer. Still, I very much appreciate this writer’s brave story. She hates her mother’s addiction and that seems to be all that she knew of her mom. She carries in her the child who lived in terror and danger and silence. I congratulate her on learning from her mother’s life not to make the same choices and to be a mom whose child is cared for and only knows being safe. Also, on her beautiful, clear writing and honesty. This essay should be taught in high school health classes to help kids see that doing drugs is debilitating and not cool or glamorous. I also recommend the film “Trainspotting” to give older teens a soul-rattling dose of the reality of addiction.

    • Not strong enough to handle it? Really? She was strong enough to rise above it and not continue the cycle. It may run in families but there is help out there and if they stop lying and being in denial they won’t ruin their own families and do this to their children.

    • JP, it seems that you’ve missed the point entirely. First off, if the essay is true, & I have no reason to believe it’s not, then saying she’s not strong enough is a ridiculous statement. If this woman has been dealing with this situation since childhood & is still able to be a fully functional & productive adult, I would argue that she’s stronger than the majority of us.

      While addiction I see a very serious condition, the bottom line is that the people who suffer from it do so, in part, by choice. It can be hereditary, as you said, but you can’t be addicted to something that you never try. No one puts that first cigarette in your mouth, that first line of cocaine up your nose, or that first needle in your arm… those are personal choices that an addict makes.

      The addicts themselves are more concerned about their next fix than the destruction they are causing within their own household.. the trauma they are causing their own flesh & blood.

      To say that she’s not strong enough to handle someone she loves getting a disease is a pretty heartless thing to say. And when most people get a serious disease… let’s say cancer… they seek treatment. They want to get better; they want to get healthy & to be around their family. Addicts often have no desire to take the steps necessary to get better.

      The victim blaming that you have just engaged in is the type of behavior an addict would engage in. Shame the victim & enable the addict. Try taking a look in the mirror instead of throwing jabs at the traumatized. By the sounds of it, she’s been through quite enough already.

      • The sad thing is that I believe the comment is from her father. 🙁

        • The troll comment above is most definitely from her father, JP Fontaine. How “strong” he must be to continue to bully his own daughter after putting her through hell for her entire life. It’s a good thing that his “strength” of character doesn’t run in the family.

        • How “strong” her father must be to continue to bully his own daughter after putting her through hell for her entire childhood. I hope this type of “strength” doesn’t run in the family.

    • Mods: request deletion of above comment for evil trolling.

    • JP, are you an addict? Your post sounds as if you are, making excuses for your behavior and blaming your victims for what you’re doing. I can’t think of anything more grotesque than your post. The person who wrote this is obviously stronger than you will ever be by simply surviving. Take a good, hard look at yourself. You’re coming across as one of the dregs of humanity.

    • You are a tremendously strong woman. For a text like that to be the way you learn your mother died she must have done a lot of damage to you and your siblings. A lot of people want to throw around that word, disease, like it is a crutch. My Father battled cancer for 6.5 years. Cancer is a disease that is progressive and truly doesn’t ever go away. If he could have gotten on his knees everyday and just pray it away he would have. If the doctor said “Sir, all you have to do is not have cancer for 24 hours at a time and you will live a life 2nd to none” He would have. When my Dad was 25 he was told “If you don’t use drugs or drink for just 24 hours at a time you can have a life 2nd to none.” My Father died with 26.5 years of recovery, he died clean and sober. Yes it is a family illness. I am an alcoholic myself, I am in recovery. I can live 24 hours at a time and get well. I am deeply sorry for your loss and am glad you and your siblings are rising above the stigma of this being a “family disease.” It is true that we are more likely to become a drunk or drug addict, but we don’t have to. There is so much support out there for this. Your mother is safe now and while it is hard to imagine your future without the possibility,you no longer have to wait for the time. Be strong and don’t listen to people who are not beneficial to your process. I cried while I wrote this. My Dad passed away October 2013 and I am still trying to figure it out. Prayers to you and your family.

    • This is very well written and I hope it does make people uncomfortable. Obviously it made JP uncomfortable. While we tackle the problem of addiction of this country, we can’t forget that there are others in the orbit of the addict that are affected. Nice work and may your daughter always dream of kittens.

    • You’re an a%6hole. The writer is incredibly strong. To overcome a traumatic childhood and become the partner and parent her family deserves is amazing. Most children who grew up in those conditions follow the same path. Quit running your mouth on a subject you clearly know NOTHING about.

  4. I’m so very sorry for your loss. Whether or not you ever find other, more kind memories, it still sucks. Mourn the life you didn’t get, you have that right. As the child, wife, and then mother, to addicted people, I know how much it can suck. She did love you in the core of her, the disease just buried that to you. I’m so sorry. Thank you for sharing your heart.

  5. Maria M. Corrales

    I admire your strength. ..I hope that someday you can find the peace that you so badly need…your life was a difficult and now you have a child to raise…I’m sure you will do the right thing because you have learned from your past…God bless you and your family. …

  6. Powerful. Honest. Crushing.
    My heart breaks for all who continue to live life this way. Mother is the word for god on the lips and hearts of all children. No one should have to feel or live like this. You are strong, thank you for sharing what an awful legacy addiction carries.
    Disease? I’m not so sure. At some point, you have chosen to poison yourself. Addicition does not choose you. Those that believe it does are delusional and you dear are living proof.

  7. You are more than strong enough. You came out of a childhood nightmare you NEVER should have been exposed to. Not only did you come out, but you made something of yourself. Don’t listen to any haters. You are the embodiment of strong. Yes addiction is a disease but it’s 100% preventable by choice in the first place. Thank you for giving words to those who can’t speak out.

  8. Thank you for sharing you painful, very personal story.

  9. You are truly strong and healthy or you couldn’t have written this honest and heartfelt story. You’ve conquered so many things already including denial and silence. Keep talking and loving and you will find a new normal. Make your life from here on what you want it to be. Make new memories, good memories with your daughter. And others who are healthy. Put the past I. The past. There is nothing you can do about it and never could.

    As Lincoln said,” Most folks are as happy as they make up their minds to be.”

  10. I just recently lost my sons father to A heroin overdose. I found him. He was cold, blue, Stiff, with the needle still in his hand. It was the worst day of my life, for he was the love of my life. I left him a year ago because he wouldn’t get clean and I tried EVERYTHING in my power to help him overcome his horrible affliction. I am broken. Our son turns 3 in October and I am absolutely devastated that there is a very good possibility that he won’t remember him at all. I pray for everyone who is an addict, who LOVES an addict, and all of the innocent children and babies that this horrible epidemic affects for it is most certainly the hardest, shocking, most horrific thing I’ve ever been through…. I cannot begin to imagine how it is for them. Much love to all in recovery and those still suffering💘 xo

  11. Very powerful piece. I have been through similar heartache and frustration with my late husband. His addiction was all consuming and trumped his love for our children and myself. I left him many years before his passing. I did not want my children living with an addict. They still suffer the trauma. I cannot imagine what a child must feel like in such a volatile and chaotic household.

    I admire your brutal honesty and bravery. I hope you are able to find some semblance of peace. I realize that childhood trauma is not something we easily recover from, if ever. Thank you for this.

  12. I am so very proud of you for having the courage to write and share this, Rebekah. I remember watching you and your sibs grow up and knowing that you were carrying a burden far beyond what any kid your age should have to. I’m proud of you for breaking that cycle and becoming the woman, wife and mother that you are. It is a powerful story of courage, hope and determination that MANY need to hear!

  13. Thank you for sharing this, Rebekah.

  14. The truth will set you free. I love and admire you- the strength it took to write this article pales in comparison to what you have survived. We must not hide overdoses, nor the pain addiction causes children- and not adult children of addicts. May you find peace with your husband and daughter- she is blessed to have you as her mother.

  15. Rachael brownell

    Keep writing. Keep making people like me uncomfortable. What you went through was fucked up and unforgivable. No pretty bows or forgiveness will change that

  16. I love this story as i grew up the same way until the state took me and where i was wasnt any better. I remember my mom not being hime gor days and i thought ahe was dead now 34 years old i am a mother of 4 and still wait for the call saying she is gone or my brother is gone. My husband also the love of my life died 10/27/16 he hung himself because the drugs got to him mentally iur kids still talk about him as we found him the morning i came home after work its sad and i wish there was a way to just stop all the drugs. God bless you and your family

  17. I’d feel remiss if i did not comment. I am so proud to know you Bekah. Keep making people uncomfortable. It’s the only way to keep the discussion going. It opens a dialogue and you are speaking to the masses. You are an incredible strength, and I am so very grateful to know you and call you my friend. Keep fighting the good fight.

  18. Bekah, I’m so sorry for what you and your siblings have had to endure. You’re a wonderful woman and thank you for sharing your story.

  19. I am so happy for you, glad that despite what could have become an albatross instead made you determined to give your child(ren) a different life. She will have the joy of developing strength through your example and thoughtful exercise of choice.
    Stay strong and enjoy life, please.

  20. fantastic article – great insight

  21. You display incredible strength and courage for sharing your story. I’m grateful for knowing you and your beautiful heart!

  22. My mother’s drug of choice was alcohol, but my story is very similar to yours. Thank you for speaking our truth.

  23. I want to tell you how beautiful this is. That may seem like an odd word to choose, but it’s what I see: the harsh beauty of truths being told in spite of their ugliness. You’re very gifted, very strong.

  24. I lost my mom to heroin, too. And so many times I’ve felt alone in the spiral of emotions that come from that loss. Than you for writing this, it means more than you know!

  25. Gaynelle Gosselin

    Alcohol was the drug, and my mother died when I was 15. I never knew her sober. Nonetheless, I at least have a few good memories. My sister has none. I don’t understand to the same degree, but I understand. I remember wishing she would just hurry up and die and get it over with. I felt so guilty when she actually did. Keep making people uncomfortable. Peace and quiet is all I ever wanted, and I eventually found my calling in dance and movement education. Still, it took a lot of therapy to finally (mostly) stop the hair trigger nervous responses. My mother died in 1984, and it is only in the last 6 months after a round of neurofeedback therapy sessions that I can finally sleep through the night. I hope you find lasting peace. Thank you for giving voice to the experience of far too many people. Break the silence, and shatter the stigma.

  26. Thank you for sharing this painful, uncomfortable story. I don’t have any great, poetic words or unwanted wisdom to share – but just wanted to thank you for having the courage to shine a light on the impacts of addiction to children and families.

  27. I lost my mom to an alcohol-related death at her house 7 years ago. She was an addict my whole life, but I do have good memories too. I too felt that inevitability of her death, but somehow, it has knocked me flat since it happened. I miss her so much, miss my kids getting to know her (the sober her, of course). There are a tremendous amount of feelings that come along with losing someone to addiction, and I think they are all valid and okay. Much love to you.

  28. As i sit here in the nail salon I have tears in my eyes. Not often do they fall down my cheeks. It took 3 attempts to read this post. My mother died of this disease 1 1/2 years ago. Because of my upbringing I can say out loud that my mother was found in a T station and may or may not have been beaten up. It wasn’t until a week ago did I think about what those words really mean. I claim that I am at peace because she is. Some days and sometimes weeks are harder than others. I will never be the person I was meant to be. With the help of my friends and the family of Alanon I can smile far more easier than I use to. Thank you so much for sharing.

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