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Almost three years ago, we lost our 20-year-old nephew Daniel to an accidental drug overdose. This is the first time I’ve been able to write about it.
Daniel was a lean kid with a tender heart, a shy smile and more baggage from his childhood than even his broad shoulders could bear. No matter how tall he grew, I never let him get too big to give his Aunt Terri a kiss and a hug.
We got the call on a Friday night that Daniel had gone home after his shift at Sonic, stopped breathing and was on a ventilator in Intensive Care. They found a combination of Ativan, Valium, Xanax and Methadone in his system. (I’ve since learned that even ONE Methadone can induce respiratory failure in some people). At first we assumed he was going to be okay, that this was going to be the wake-up call that would allow him to get the help he needed. As one person after another came forward, we realized that Daniel had known he was in serious trouble but had been asking the wrong people for help. This was not a suicide attempt. It was an addiction to the prescription drugs used for recreational purposes by so many of our kids.
For three days the family kept a vigil at his bedside, crying and raging, pleading and praying. Since my husband and I are both nurses, we knew what it meant when the ICU nurses told us we no longer had to adhere to the visiting hours but could sit with him whenever we wanted.
After a series of tests, the neurologist finally gathered us together to tell us that Daniel had been gone all along. That there was nothing left to do but say our goodbyes and offer his organs to someone who could keep some small part of him alive in this world. As I held his seventeen-year-old sister in my arms and promised her she would survive this, I’ll never forget her broken wail of, “But I don’t want to!”
Daniel was more like a son than a grandson to my husband’s parents and watching Mike’s dad weep over his coffin was like watching John Wayne cry like a baby.
After he was gone, I used to talk to his picture—I’d remind him of how much we loved him and yell at him for doing something so terribly foolish. Now I smile when I pass it and touch my fingertips to my lips, then briefly to the cool glass covering his face, knowing he is at peace and finally in the arms of the Father he always deserved.
If you know a kid that you suspect is in trouble, act. Open a dialogue. Confront. Get the rest of the family involved if you have to. Don’t just assume they’ll grow out of it.
Because they might not get the chance.
You looked as handsome as a sleeping prince in that hospital bed but my kiss could not wake you
As I touched your cheek for the last time, you were everything to me that you would never be to any other woman—nephew, son, friend, brother, lover, father
All I could do was lay my head upon your breast and weep my goodbye
In memory of Daniel Lee Medeiros
October 1985 - August 2006