The opioid and heroin abuse epidemic in our country has grown to national crisis status. The countless lives these drugs adversely affects goes well beyond the addicted. We are losing mothers, fathers, sons and daughters by the handful to their ensnaring ways daily; by the hour, minute and second. Not enough is being done fast enough by our government regarding control and intervention.
This post is a very personal interview with a woman, wife, friend, professional and mother that I highly respect and admire. She was my mentor at the time of this tragedy. The news of her loss was completely devastating and the greatest nightmare of most parents. I was 8 months pregnant with my first child and she was forever changed as she prepared to lay her one and only to rest.
It’s been over 5 years now and the pain still so unthinkable. Jennifer’s courage to share her RealBoldTruth is one story of the gross reality of how lethal this matter truly is.
Reflection on the life of Michelle Lee Hrischuk
By Jennifer Hrischuk
RBT: When you found out you were going to be a mom, how did you feel?
JH – Excited! This was going to be our first baby together. Mike had been previously married and I was already a stepmom to Christie. My pregnancy was great – no morning sickness or physical problems. We did not find out the sex of the baby until she arrived! I’ll never forget how it felt to hold her for the first time.
RBT: What was one of your fondest memories of Michelle?
JH – The year she practically stole the show at our church’s Easter Cantata (at least I thought so!) She was nine or ten and ended up playing the role of a young boy singing his version of the miracle of the loaves and the fishes. She was as cute as could be, in her fisher-boy costume, singing her heart out in perfect pitch.
RBT: What was she like as a little girl? (Her personality, things she enjoyed, was she a spoiled little princess?)
JH – As a little girl, she was fun and adorable. She was a very smart and high-energy kid, talkative, inquisitive, talented. She was reading at a high level by age 5. She enjoyed all sorts of activities, whether it was a school club or visiting the cousins. As she got older, she developed quite a sense of humor and liked pulling practical jokes. She was clever and witty, and due to her intelligence, sometimes you could almost forget she was a child.
RBT: What aspirations did she share with you that she had of herself when she grew up?
JH – As a young child, there wasn’t one particular thing she said she always wanted to do. When she got older she did express some interest in work related to helping others. She never developed a specific career path before she was already headed in the wrong direction.
RBT: What fun mom/daughter things did you two do together?
JH – We did a lot together! We both sang and played the piano and sometimes performed in various church venues. Hiking and outdoor activities were other favorites. We liked playing board games – and when she beat me, it wasn’t because I let her. She was a worthy opponent. Once we wrote and performed a play all in one weekend, “The Magic Pocketbook”. When she was older, we took a vacation to Ocean City, Maryland – just the two of us. On the way home, coming through Salisbury, we unexpectedly visited the zoo. We laughed so much that day and it was all the more fun because it was unplanned.
RBT: Would you say you had a healthy parental connection?
JH – Yes. Michelle and I did not experience too much mother/daughter friction. Throughout the years, we actually could talk pretty honestly about most topics. Even when her addiction troubles started, we maintained a reasonable good relationship.
RBT: When did you first notice Michelle was in trouble?
JH – One evening when she was 15, she was clearly under the influence of something. I had already caught her smoking marijuana, but this was entirely different. Turns out, she was abusing Xanax and other prescription pills. Then it all snowballed from there – suspensions from school, bad grades, not coming home on time and at night……
RBT: What things did you and your husband do to respond for her and yourselves?
JH – The school recommended that she see a therapist or drug addictions counselor. We found someone great who Michelle was comfortable talking with. I think he extended her life by a few years. One morning she came home after spending a night with a friend – she was in such bad shape that I called him immediately. With his help and advice, Michelle went to the Caron Foundation for a 30-day inpatient stay. She learned a lot during that time and ended up staying clean for at least one year. She continued to go to NA meetings and some outpatient rehab. Somehow she managed to finish high school without any more incidents, although her grades and attendance were barely passable.
RBT: How long did Michelle’s battle last?
JH – 5 years – between the ages of 15-20
RBT: You were the one that found her unresponsive, can you describe that moment?
JH – It was utterly awful. At first I couldn’t figure out what happened. She was lying on the floor next to her bed, the needle right nearby. Of all of the drugs we were aware of, this was one she managed to hide from us! Then I wondered if it was suicide, but we figured out later that it was an accident; an unintentional overdose. This will be hard for some to understand, but because of everything that had already happened with her, I never could relax about the future. There was a part of me that was always waiting for the next crisis, the next emergency, the next phone call. Some part of me was prepared for this, unfortunately.
RBT: How have you been coping?
JH – I’m not sure exactly. I don’t really see an alternative. Maybe that’s God’s grace, just helping me to be strong and have a good attitude. My friends and family have been a wonderful support system. I also was seeing a counselor about six months before she died and continued with therapy for another few years. I’m not always a happy camper, but I’ve moved on to the point where I can genuinely celebrate with others about their joys – their children’s successes, weddings, grandchildren.
RBT: Has time helped to ease some of the pain?
JH – Definitely. It helps put things in perspective. Have you ever noticed that sometimes when a person dies, their survivors start to forget about all the deceased’s bad qualities and only choose to remember the happier moments? It’s been that way with Michelle too. Her addiction took up 25% of her life (in years), but we had 75% of her years that were full of very good memories. Although her addiction years were very stressful, there were still some bright moments in there. It wasn’t always a nightmare.
RBT: Do you have a relationship with God and if so how has this affected it?
JH – Michelle’s death changed me a lot and because I am a different person now, I have a different relationship with God. In the earlier years of her addiction, I had so much anger. Much of it was directed at God. Things weren’t going as planned. Why wouldn’t God answer my prayers? I finally traded in my anger for peaceful acceptance. I am thankful for all that we have.
RBT: How has Michelle’s passing affected your marriage?
JH – To be honest, her addiction almost destroyed our marriage. It was a very complicated family situation. It was just the three of us living together. I can’t even put it into words – but any family member of an addict understands the continual strain that the addiction causes all the members of the family. After she died, somehow we just made it through and have continued to move on since then. I know she’d be happy seeing that we are still together 5 years later.
RBT: What do you want readers to know about Michelle?
JH – She was funny and smart. In some ways she was wise beyond her years, but in other ways she was still naïve. She could sometimes try to give the impression of not caring or being uninterested, but deep down, she did care. I think sometimes it was an act – trying to cover up whatever was hurting her so deeply inside.
RBT: What advice would you provide other parents with children suffering from heroin addiction?
JH- Don’t try to handle this on your own! It’s a tough road. Seek help and support for your child’s addiction and also for yourself. Most likely you will not have much influence over your child’s addiction, so it’s important that you learn not to hold yourself responsible for your child’s actions. Nar-Anon meetings were helpful to me. Be prepared for a lot of crazy emotions and thoughts. You may start doubting yourself as a parent and your ability to make the right decisions. Your marriage and relationships with other children and family members can really suffer so it’s important to get educated about tough love and not being an enabler. Find someone to whom you can totally trust, preferably an experienced therapist, and tell them everything that is going on in your heart and mind. It’s too much to keep inside so don’t try to be a silent hero.
RBT: How is Michelle’s memory being preserved and honored?
JH – Mainly, I just keep talking about her. She was part of my life for 20 years and that doesn’t go away just because she’s gone. Many people are afraid to bring up her name, worried that it might upset me, but it doesn’t. Death is an awkward and uncomfortable topic for many people. I try to educate everyone that it’s okay to discuss. It would be much worse to never mention her name and act like nothing ever happened.
We’ve kept her Facebook page going and that has been a great outlet for her family and friends to continue to remember her. There is a brick in her memory at the Caron Foundation and we continue to support Caron in the hopes that other lives can be saved. Her gravestone at the cemetery is a certainly a tribute, and the epitaph says, “Your smile and laughter will be with us forever.” That has turned out to be true – she still lives in my heart and I am so thankful that the memories haven’t faded.
Sleep well Michelle, for despite it all you are a sweet precious Angel whose life was meant to be. Memories of you are everlasting and your life far from in vain. I feel certain you are with the Savior due to your measure of faith and all those who also believe will be reunited with you again someday. -Chanel Walker-Bailey