Grieving an Overdose Death, a Mother Finds Comfort with EveryStep

Daniel was a typical kid — he loved paintball and hockey, loved his family and had a big heart. He defended the underdog and stood up for anyone he felt had been wronged. “He loved big!” says Daniel’s mom, Ann.

But Daniel was bullied. Throughout his childhood, he was taunted about his weight. “That was a nightmare, and I took many steps to fix it, but nothing worked,” says Ann. “He became angry and defiant. In junior high he met a friend that was new to the area. He accepted Daniel just as he was. I do believe that is when he was exposed to drinking and smoking weed.”

Daniel and his friend ended up in legal trouble, and Ann says that’s when things went downhill fast. His defiance landed him in juvenile placement and he was released when he turned 18.

“He hit the streets, eventually turned to train hopping and drugs to find freedom and escape from the pain and hurt of this world,” says Ann. “It was a living hell on earth for me.” For nearly 12 years, Daniel’s life was controlled by drugs. When he returned to Des Moines, he was arrested on a drug charge and court-ordered into treatment.

“He told me he was giving 100% because he wanted to change,” says Ann. And he did well. Over six months into recovery, he had a job and a car and moved from home into his own apartment on October 5, 2020.

On the morning of Sunday, Nov. 1, 2020, Ann had just finished an online church session when the sheriff pulled into her drive. Her son had been found deceased from an apparent overdose in a hotel room. He was 29.

Daniel left behind a mother and a young daughter. Overwhelmed with grief, they turned to EveryStep. Ann enrolled her granddaughter in EveryStep Grief & Loss Services’ Amanda the Panda support groups. “It has given her a place to feel comfortable and safe to talk about her dad. It opened a dialogue for us to talk about our loss and how it has affected us,” says Ann. “It is huge that she had a safe place to talk openly…in the beginning I know she would hesitate to talk openly because she would see me crying all the time. She now understands that it is okay to cry and have joy at the same time. All the emotions are okay and they are part of the healing.”

Just weeks after Daniel’s death, an EveryStep Cheer Box was delivered to Ann’s home. “The items that were included meant more than words can express,” says Ann. “To be honest, I had no clue what [a Cheer Box] was and had never heard of it. I had no clue the impact it would have. Every single item brought tears. As the days went by, the anticipation of what the next gift would be and what it would represent was something we all started looking forward to. That ‘looking forward’ was a miracle in itself.”

Ann is now using her grief to raise awareness of addiction and overdose. She created an Overdose Awareness Walk and in its second year, 370 people participated. She led the effort culminating in a governor’s proclamation designating August 31 as Overdose Awareness Day and organized an Overdose Memorial held at Des Moines Area Community College.

Ann is thankful for the support she and her granddaughter received from EveryStep and its staff, volunteers and donors. “Every person, no matter what their role is, has an impact in our journey. I can't thank each individual enough. We had never experienced this degree of grief and loss. We had no clue what to do or how to do it. My life stopped and I honestly did not know how to survive. The love, support and kindness we received is priceless. So, if you answered the phones, volunteered to put a Cheer Box together, had any role in a group setting or maybe you made a monetary donation — THANK YOU! Together you all make a difference!”

Nominations for 2022 Cheer Box recipients are now open. Each Cheer Box contains special, individually wrapped gifts meant to provide comfort during the holidays, which can be especially challenging for those grieving the loss of a loved one. To nominate someone to receive a Cheer Box, click here.

If you or someone you know is struggling to find the support they need, please contact EveryStep at 515-558-9946 or complete the commitment-free, confidential “Find Care” form on EveryStep’s website at EveryStep staff will follow up with a phone call to answer your questions and provide assistance.