Today was my birthday. It was my first birthday since Henry died at the beginning of the summer. It was the first birthday I’ve celebrated without Henry in 19 years.
I’d been dreading the day, and I planned to stay in bed or hide out as much as possible. I’d already told Jon and my sister that I didn’t want any kind of party or even mention made of the day. But things evolved and as it happened, there was a party at our house tonight for my birthday. It wasn’t huge and it wasn’t tiny. Only family and very close friends. It was the first party we’ve hosted since Henry died, and since we generally have people over all the time, that marked a major milestone for our family, and for me.
Henry loved parties and music. He would not have wanted me to stay in bed all day on my birthday. He would want me to have a birthday party. So we did. And it was wonderful seeing some of the people I love the most – my children, husband, mother and sister, nieces and dear friends. The party size was a good social re-emergence for me. I now feel like I could handle having a real party at our house, with more people. I still don’t know that I am ready to attend anyone else’s party, but tonight I made the first step by having people over last night.
My friends and family were SO generous in gifting me! My mother surprised me with a ring my paternal grandmother gave me to celebrate Henry’s birth. I wore it until I was pregnant with J, at which time my fingers swelled so much that one day, my fatrher had to cut the ring off my hand. The mangled ring has been in my mother’s jewelry box for the past 15 years. To be honest, I’d totally forgotten it existed. But my mother had it repaired and cleaned and she gave it to me as my surprise birthday gift tonight. Looking down at it on my finger, I remember slipping it on for the first time only a few days after Henry came home from the hospital, thinking how special it was to have a beautiful piece of jewelry to commemorate his birth. I am so glad to have it on my finger once again.
I also received a gorgeous scarf, a beautiful glass ornament for hanging, some terrific books, and from my friend Elaine, a bacon pie. Yes, a pie made entirely of delicious Benton’s bacon. I love it and can’t wait to consume it. Elaine rocks. My friend Julianne gave me a gorgeous new bag from her very own JulieApple line. Now I guess I have to give J’s JulieApple bag back to her
The most special gift I got was from c & M, my three oldest kids’ father and stepmother. They gave me a BEAUTIFULLY framed copy of a charcoal drawing of Henry that a family friend had given them on the day of Henry’s memorial service. It’s absolutely gorgeous, and I am so happy to have it to hang in our house, like the one that already hangs in the kids’ other house.
Here is the charcoal of Henry
Earlier in the day, I spent several very emotional hours with the mother of another Knox County teenager – a beautiful 19 year old girl – who died of an apparent overdose on the same day Henry suffered the overdose that killed him – April 27, 2010. Like Henry, she was found in a strange house in another area of town with people her family didn’t know. The story told by those who were in the house where she was found doesn’t add up and is very short on details. The mother has been unable to get the one other young person she knows for certain was with her daughter that night to return her calls.
On the day the police chaplain knocked on her mother’s door to tell her that her daughter was dead, she was promised a thorough and professional criminal investigation into the circumstances of her child’s death. Five months later, she’s yet to receive so much as a phone call from any investigator. She’s left numerous phone messages begging for someone in law enforcement to tell her what is going on, but no one has even returned her calls.
Worst of all, she still hasn’t seen her daughter’s autopsy or toxicology report. That’s why I say “apparent” overdose; all evidence the mother has points to an OD as the cause of death, but until she gets the autopsy report, she can’t know for sure. The mom calls the Medical Examiner’s office every week or two, asking for news on when she will have an autopsy and toxicology report, and she has been put off again and again. In the last call, the representative of the ME with whom she spoke told her that the toxicology report was still at a lab somewhere being processed, and the ME hadn’t yet found the time to transcribe her dictation from the autopsy performed on this teenage girl 5 months ago. She was curtly informed that it could be many more months before they have any information to share with her. Needless to say, this agonizing wait this mother for ANY information or support and help from authorities in finding out what killed her previously healthy college freshman daughter.
As we two moms met yesterday and cried and shared memories of our two children – both of them our firstborn – we both agreed that it says so much about the way overdoses are treated in our community that TWO Knox County teenagers were found dead/near death within two hours of one another on the same day, and yet no one has really noticed. If two teenagers had been found in two separate residences in the same city with fatal gunshot wounds, it would be a huge story and there would be a community outcry for an aggressive investigation. If two teenagers in Knox County had been fatally injured by drunk drivers on the same day – within hours of each other, the media would pay attention. If the weapon involved had been a gun or a drunk driver behind the wheel, people would want the killer(s) caught and prosecuted before any other teenager became the next victim. But because the weapon in the case of my son and this woman’s daughter was a drug, the two dead teenagers in one day in one small city hasn’t even been noticed. And sadly, what that means is that some other teenager WILL likely die at the hands of the people who provided the lethal, illegal drugs to these my son and this other mother’s daughter.
The only reason Henry’s case has gotten the media attention it has (which I really appreciate because it keeps people aware of the need for an investigation) is because I have been writing about it here. Otherwise, I really don’t think anyone in authority would have paid it any attention. In fact, I’m sure of that, since the prosecutor with whom we met in August (the only face to face conversation we’ve EVER HAD with anyone in law enforcement or the DA’s office since APril 27th) told Henry’s father and me straight up, “You should know that we don’t even usually investigate overdose deaths at all.”
This girl’s mother doesn’t have any public voice. She’s also new to our community and doesn’t have any resources to try to get help in seeing that her child’s death is investigated properly. Hell, she can’t even get a call back from law enforcement and she has been denied access to her child’s autopsy for five agonizing months. This girl’s family was unable to provide a newspaper obituary for her, so her death has gone completely un-noted in our community. It’s like she never existed.
But she DID exist. She was beautiful, young, bright and deeply loved by her mother and two younger brothers. Her life meant something, even if she died from an overdose instead of a gunshot or a drunk driver.
I plan to do all I can to help her mother get the information and thorough investigation that she deserves.
Some of you may be wondering how I found this other OD death and tracked down the girl’s mother when there wasn’t any media coverage of her death or even any obituary. Well, in my numerous conversations with friends and acquaintances of Henry’s since his death, I kept hearing rumors of another teenager dying of an OD the same day that Henry did. But the name I heard was wrong; for months I was searching for an OD death in Knox County on April 27 using the wrong name. Eventually, however, I put together some pieces of the puzzle and some new info I got, and I learned the correct name for the girl who died that day. Then I turned to Facebook to contact her family. Her mom called me the same day and we made plans to get together and talk.
I suspect we’ll be talking a lot more in the months ahead
FACTS TO PONDER IN CONSIDERING WHETHER OVERDOSE DEATHS ARE INVESTIGATED AS POTENTIAL HOMICIDES
- It’s an epidemic: overdose is now the second leading cause of death among teenagers in the United States. For middle-aged Americans, it’s now the leading cause of death.
- Tennessee’s Rx drug overdose rate is 26% above the national average.
- Federal law enforcement experts recommend that local law enforcement authorities treat ALL fatal overdose injuries as potential crimes against the deceased person
- Specific state and federal criminal penalties already exist for the purpose of prosecuting dealers who illegally provide drugs to someone who dies as a result. Local prosecutors and law enforcement personnel need to be urged by their community stakeholders to familiarize themselves with these criminal statutes so that they can play their critical roles in combatting the overdose epidemic
- These prosecutions are frequently successful, and are being pursued by progressive and engaged prosecutors all over the country. Many state legislators recognize the need for specific penalties related to death resulting from illegal drug dealing:
“Just as the Michigan Vehicle Code includes criminal penalties for causing a death due to drunk driving, someone who causes another person’s death by supplying him or her with a Schedule 1 or 2 controlled substance should be subject to severe criminal penalties. An offender should not be punished lightly with drug delivery charges; cases should not have to be tried in Federal court; and prosecutors should not have to prove intent in order to secure a murder verdict. The bills will ensure that those who commit such an act are punished appropriately, and they may deter some people from providing major controlled substances to others.”
- Local media should take a very close look at the opiate (methadone, hydrocodone, vicodin, oxycontin, roxycontin, percocet, lortab, fentanyl, morphine, heroin, etc) overdose death rate in their own communities and then ask some tough questions as to why overdoses are being treated by authorities as individual, discrete and merely unfortunate accidents rather than as potential homicides. Many overdoses in particular communities are related by the same network of dealers; aggressive criminal investigation into these deaths leading to homicide prosecutions of at least some of the dealers involved could be a very effective tool in fighting drug crimes and deaths in our cities and towns.