13 years ago today, around 2 PM, my life changed forever.
I returned from the mall with my husband after a much-needed morning of bonding and alone time. It had been a crazy few weeks. My mother had suddenly passed away 3 weeks prior after 6 days in the hospital from Tylenol poisoning and her liver shutting down. We took in my 17-year-old brother and my dad to live with us. We were newlyweds, only married 3 months and 6 days on this day in 2004. I was also only 18 years old and my husband was 19.
We walked in the door and my brother and dad were sleeping. 17 year olds sleep late but I thought it was a little much for him to be asleep this late, so I woke my brother up. I got on the phone to call a friend and out of the corner of my eye, I saw my husband and brother gasp. My brother saw my dad sleeping on the couch on his arm and it looked purple, so he tried to gently move it for him, thinking his arm was just “asleep,” and my dad was cold. I’ll never forget the words my husband spoke to me and the feeling of being in a reoccurring nightmare,
“Dana, I think your dad is dead.”
There’s no way, I thought. He was just alive last night when I told him goodnight and I loved him. My mom had just died 3 weeks before. There’s no way God would allow my dad, my buddy, the person I did a project about in third grade when told to write about my very best friend, the man I first loved to just die as well.
I ran to him and slowly touched him. I reached my hand back in horror when I felt the stiff, cold touch of what was now my father’s corpse. He was just so warm as I hugged him the day before. I can’t even describe the feeling of that cold touch both physically AND emotionally. The first 2 dead bodies I had ever seen were those of my parents. They once were filled with life, and now, they both were gone.
The police and ambulance came. I watched them carry my father in a body bag, this limp, lifeless silhouette in what looked like a trash bag. The cause of death was from a mix of 2 prescription medications that accidentally killed him. Prescription drugs took the lives of my parents, and later on, my little brother that never could cope with the loss of our parents. It’s a horrible epidemic.
On this day, 13 years ago, I became an orphan. Yes, I was married and legally an adult, but at 18 years old, it felt like I was a little girl again who just needed her mommy and daddy. I was thrown into taking care of everyone when my mom had passed, and my dad’s passing was no different. I had to go into survivor mode which caused me to push grief aside. I had a drug-addicted, grieving 17-year-old to watch after and a husband, who in that time, would also become addicted to drugs just months later. I was the only sober one and there simply was just no time for me to be “weak” and grieve. This would come back to bite me for years until I came to a breaking point. I NEEDED to grieve, and that’s not weak at all.
As I reflect on the last 13 years, I believe I wouldn’t be who I am today if it weren’t for the trials I’ve had to walk through. I am not saying I’m happy it happened. I’d give anything to have my family back. But I believe what the enemy meant to completely destroy me, God is now turning into my ministry to not only bless others, but also myself. My parents and brother died so young, at the ages of 53, 44, and 24 years old. I will not let their lives be lived in vain. I will help others simply by telling their stories. They were such beautiful people, and although they didn’t live in victory at times, they loved Jesus. I’ve had people say, “it must be hard not knowing if they are in hell right now.” This is where I believe legalistic Christianity can deceive others into believing certain addictions are worse than others, and how can someone be saved and an addict? We ALL have strongholds, but my family had Jesus in their hearts, and I can be confident in knowing that they are all with Him as we speak.
I hope this testimony will help others in encouraging them to never give up, even during life-shattering trials. God has carried me through this and has turned my mess into a message, as He will with you. Also, please give yourself time to grieve hardships! IT’S OK! I know we love to tell hurting people to “trust God,” and although they should, that can sound insensitive to the person who just needs a shoulder to cry, scream, and vent on. I’ve realized true strength comes from being weak and allowing God to carry your burdens. And it’s easy to judge others and their strongholds, but you never know the stories behind them. Before you look at others, examine yourself. We ALL fall short in areas.
Today, I mourn, but I also celebrate. I know my dad would be proud of his baby girl. I will carry him in my heart wherever I go. I look at my middle child who looks exactly like him and smile. He lives on with me. I miss him, but I never am without him.
Love you, Dad.