Endeavor Health Services Blog
In Memory of My Mother Stella
By Nathan Way, Endeavor Board of Directors Member
Losing a loved one is never easy.
Losing a daughter, mother, and grandmother at the early age of 55 makes you search for answers and question your faith and purpose in life. Yet, it is that search for answers that you find where your strength can or has come from; the idea that in that moment of your own vulnerability others can be helped or even saved and that's what I hope my mother's death and story can do for others. My hope is that by sharing our family's story, others will seek help.
My mother Stella was 16 in 1977 when I was conceived. I won't go into the facts around that night, but let's just say it wasn't planned. It was the first sign of her showing the strength she had inside her and the heart she had for every living creature on this earth. It wasn't common for a 16-year-old girl to be pregnant in 1977 and it was certainly not easy to be giving birth as an unwed girl at that. However, against most people's advice she had the strength to bring a son into this world alone. (She did have the support of her family, as with any baby born healthy, our family considered it a blessing.)
She looked to give me a father (although not my biological father) figure quickly and marry before the age of 18. This also wasn't a popular decision and unfortunately not a good one in hindsight. She endured a few years of physical abuse and tried to show strength by trying to make it work. It didn't. She remarried a year or so later but as fate would have it she picked a similar man who treated her even worse subjecting her to physical and mental abuse for over a decade. She stuck with it as many abused wives do, until she was literally broken and now with two children to take care of. She stayed strong and never complained and used her infectious laugh to overcome most situations. She eventually left him, but life continued to test her strength. She had become disabled as a nurse's aid and after numerous attempts at recovery was prescribed pain killers which over the years increased in dosage and strength as the pain was beyond her strength.
I am not sure when it turned into an addiction. I can tell you it never started that way. I think often before the family realizes it, it is already way beyond the help you as a family can provide alone. Once someone is an addict, there is literally nothing one can do to get them help against their will. At the time, there was no outpatient options, only inpatient that had to be court/police ordered or she had to agree to treatment. I offered to pay for rehab, I offered to help financially and even looked at getting her arrested. Nothing worked but her laugh never faded and she would still give everything she had to a stranger - yet she had nothing. The pain pill addiction had taken her home, money, possessions and the company of many of her friends and family. Although she never lost their love, many of them couldn't sit and watch a woman of strength deteriorate into an addict.
I don't know when the strength overcame the addiction but I do know it was her move to Tennessee (although forced) to be surrounded and monitored by two other strong women - her mother and her stepmother, and brothers. It was there that she got "clean" and went into a treatment program of methadone that undoubtedly, we all thought would save her life. Who would think that a woman strong enough to endure decades of physical and mental abuse at the hands of men she loved, and 5-10 years of addiction without overdosing, couldn't survive once she was in recovery?
When she got clean, it was so amazing to see her smile again, to hear her laugh and begin to repair the relationships that her addiction had broken. I think that's one of the lessons learned, we only hear of the people who die at the hands of the abuse (when it's too late to help), we also hear of the overdose deaths and statistics, but my mother survived all those things because of her strength and infectious laugh and sense of humor.
I don't think we medically fully understand the damage these drugs (prescribed or otherwise) have on our heart. We study the brain, and perhaps the liver, but what about the heart?e end, the years of drug and physical abuse took an irreversible toll on her body, especially her heart. My mom died of heart failure because she didn't have the facilities or professionals around to help her. She was embarrassed to seek comfort or help. She had a heart of gold but eventually even gold can melt.
Very few people in my life have heard even half of my mom's story and what essentially was me and my sisters' childhood, as I never want or wanted anyone to show me mercy, pity, or treat me different. I see now I was blessed with her strength to do what I was set out to do for my family and the people I choose to serve as a financial advisor in hopes to change lives.
I hope that in my need for closure and desire that she be remembered for her laughter and caring heart, that her story will compel you to share this post I truly appreciate everyone who has reached out to me and my family during this very difficult time - it means the world to my family.
A Note From the Author:
It's fascinating to think that my strength to persevere, my determination to succeed, and my ability to use tough times to motivate me to excel when others would quit comes from my mother. Something I never gave her credit for and not until after her death could I see what an amazing gift she shared with me. It was her disability that motivated me to get into the insurance and investment business in 2003, so other families wouldn't lose almost everything like we did when she became disabled, or they could plan for their kids to have a better life through education or gifting. And, it was her drug addiction that led me to take a seat on the board of the organization, Endeavor Health Services; although no one there even knew this story until now. (Endeavor is a non-profit organization in Western New York that helps the community and its people with chemical dependency among other services.) For more information, you may see the original story here.