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She was just a newborn when I met her, and I was 16. I was dating her uncle and he took me up to the hospital when she was born. We took turns holding and marveling over her, a tiny, precious, perfect newborn. We had no idea that eventually, we would become her parents.

Just over 13 years later, she moved in with us. We got licensed as foster parents, and she lived with us to give her mom the time she needed to get back on her feet. We were young parents with a preschooler and a toddler, so we had no idea what we were doing with a teenager, but we figured it out as we went (isn’t that what most parents do?).

She was supposed to return home to her mom–that was the official goal of her case–so we always walked a thin line between making her feel at home and ensuring she was prepared to return to her original home. Yes, it was as awkward as it sounds. We did that for just over a year, then on her her fifteenth birthday we answered the phone to find out that her mother had died the evening before. Instead of the party we had planned, we spent her birthday holding and consoling a young woman whose world had just shattered. It was heroin that robbed Chelsea of her mother, an opioid overdose years before the current epidemic.

We worked together to pick up the shattered pieces and, always the fighter, Chelsea rallied, focusing on school work and cheerleading–all the while battling the demons that pursued her day and night. We took guardianship of Chelsea after her mother died, and finished raising her as our own. 

I won’t go into her story. It is a complicated one and I’m not sure I could do it justice, not to mention it’s her story. Suffice it to say, the demon pursuit continued. Sometimes it looked like she had the demons beat; she had the heart of a lion and she fought them valiantly. 

Chelsea died of her own overdose just this summer. She was 27.

Life has to win every single day. And death only has to win once. ~Duncan MacMillan

There’s a lot of talk about overdose deaths these days, much more so than when my sister-in-law died in 2005. I see articles about it every week, citing numbers and statistics. On any given day, there are about 100 people who die of overdose, most of whom die from some kind of opioid. It’s called an epidemic, it’s called a crisis, but to us it’s Chelsea and her mom, Michelle. To us, the numbers have faces and names. To us, this crisis meant a knock on our door from a police officer and the funeral of our child, a child we comforted at the funeral of her own mother. This “crisis” has a face and a name. This “epidemic” is our child. Every overdose is somebody’s son or daughter–this one happened to be mine.

I don’t have any answers. I peruse the articles hoping for someone, some sociologist or scientist, to solve this problem so another parent doesn’t get that knock or phone call, and another child doesn’t have to spend her fifteenth birthday–and every day after–grieving her mother.

No, I don’t have the answer, but I suspect that it begins with a face and a name.

Her name was Chelsea and she was loved.

Alethea Mshar

Alethea Mshar is a mother of four children; an adult child who passed away of a drug overdose, one typical daughter and two sons who have Down syndrome, one of whom has autism spectrum disorder and complex medical needs. She has written "What Can I Do To Help", a guide to stepping into the gap when someone you know has a child diagnosed with cancer, which is available on Amazon, and is publishing a memoir titled, "Hope Deferred". She can be found on Twitter as leemshar, and blogs for The Mighty HuffPost as Alethea Mshar, as well as her own blog, Ben's Writing Running Mom on https://benswritingrunningmom.wordpress.com/. She is also on Facebook as Alethea Mshar, The Writing, Running Mom.

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