Monday is January 15, 2018.
–January 15, 2009 will mark the day my life permanently changed forever, in an instant. I have played that tape over in my mind many times and wish I could erase it but I can’t. January 15th is the day that the dreaded knock came at my front door in the early hours of the morning and a Pinellas County Deputy was standing at my door. He asked me if I was Jennifer Reynolds mother. That instant, my heart sank. I was trying to concentrate on his next words, but my mind was in denial this was really happening. I was hoping I was dreaming this, since I was awoken from my sleep. Sadly it was reality. I asked the Sheriff’s Deputy if Jennifer was okay. He said “no”. I asked him if it was “bad”. He said “yes”. I asked if was “very bad”. He said, “yes”. I asked if Jennifer was dead. He said, “yes”. I asked, “are you sure you have the right person” and “where is she”. He said yes, it is her and she is at Largo Medical Hospital. She was brought there by ambulance after a friend called 911 that she was not breathing. She was pronounced dead at the hospital. They worked on her for about 35 minutes, but she was non- responsive.
She would be taken to the Pinellas County Coroner’s Office, a few miles from the hospital. I had to wait until the Pinellas County Coroner’s office opened, to ask if I could see my daughter. They told me, “no” and that they do not show bodies to families at their facility. I told them I was Jennifer’s mother and that I NEEDED to see her to make sure they had the right person. I was still holding out hope that they had the wrong person. I told them I was not leaving until I saw Jennifer.
I called Mr. William Janes in Tallahassee. I told him that I was at the Pinellas County Coroner’s office and that I was told Jennifer had died and was taken there but they would not let me see her body. I asked him to make some calls to the Sheriff, because I was not leaving until I could see if it was Jennifer. I had phone numbers of the Florida Office of Drug Control Czar- William Janes & James McDonough. They were both quite aware of my daughter’s chronic addiction and my pleas for help from our Governor Jeb Bush. Gov. Bush put me in touch with his Office of Drug Control and we continued a dialog about Jennifer’s journey through the maze of her addiction, relapses, my 5 attempts of filing Involuntary Commitment petitions) (Marchman Act) and all that it entailed. I shared with Mr. Janes & Mr. McDonough my fear that Jennifer was going to die without long term, court ordered, residential treatment and that she could not stop the addiction on her own, without professional help and it would take an intervention process to save her life. They told me the process of filing Marchman Act petitions which I did. Finally, Sheriff Rice was contacted and he gave orders for me to see Jennifer.
They asked me to come up to a window and they would have her on the other side of the window. They pulled back the curtain and there was my beautiful Jennifer. Lying on that cold steel table with a white sheet pulled up to her neck. She was not breathing or moving, but I waited and watched intently for her to move. I fell down to my knees and sobbed uncontrollably in front of that glass window. It was my beloved Jennifer. She was dead. I could not comprehend it in my mind. Her suffering all those years from addiction was over. She finally had the freedom and peace she was desperately longing for those 13 years.
January 15, 2009, Trey lost his mother, I lost a daughter and my other kids lost their sister.
January 15th is not a good day for me.
I have taken my experiences, my pain and my grief and funneled it into public change for other families who are suffering from chronic addiction. When people ask me why I am a public health advocate, this is why… The stigma and shame that surrounds addiction makes it worse. I decided to end the silence and end the disgrace that is heaped upon the parents, the one suffering and the ones who love a person who has a mental health disorder/addiction. They deserve a humane approach, compassion and not more shame or blame. That changes nothing and often times makes it worse.
I fully understand the dynamics of a family member addicted and know it is a “family disease”. It is a brain disorder that changes the function of the brain. I know it is an illness that requires treatment. I know death camps close to those who are suffering in silence from addiction.
We now call addiction- SUD (Substance Use Disorder). We now know a lot more about this disorder and other mental disorders than we did nine years ago. President Trump has called the opioid epidemic a “national public health emergency”. We lost 62,800 people to overdoses in 2016. I have watched this plague, this monster (addiction) grow and gain strength the past nine years since I lost Jennifer. Yes I advocate for state bills and federal bills to address this epidemic and work on solutions and saving lives.
Although I prayed many, many heartfelt prayers to God to help Jennifer and heal her- he allowed it and has a purpose for the pain. Our ways are not always His ways, so I accept the tragedy and dedicate my time on mission work in memory of Jennifer.
I love you, Jennifer…. forever and always, my baby, you will be…. -Mom-
By: Sharon Blair
Founder of The Jennifer Act