“I raised my boys right and prayed over them every night, but things still happen. My oldest son, Trey, was 16 when he was given a large prescription of Oxycodone after a football injury at his school in Memphis. Taking the pain pills felt great, and he found ways to keep taking them. It wasn’t a noticeable problem until a couple of years later.
Trey also had several traumatic experiences. He was sitting on the couch with a friend, and they were talking with me on the phone about job applications. His friend was playing with a gun he thought was unloaded. He accidentally shot himself and died. This was the beginning of changes in Trey. We urged him to talk with someone, but he said he was okay. At 18, he was the happy-go-lucky, life of the party who cheered up others. He wouldn’t admit something was bothering him.
In December 2015, one of Trey’s best friends, Brennan, was dropped off outside a local hospital, unconscious from an apparent overdose after a night with friends. Brennan was put on life support, but after days of praying for a miracle, Brennan’s mama made the difficult decision to tell him goodbye. At the time, no one was talking about heroin and fentanyl.
A year later, Trey told me he was having racing thoughts and needed help. I found a recommended treatment center and took him there a few days before Valentine’s Day. He was supposed to be in a blackout period, but on Valentine’s morning he posted on Facebook. He had checked himself out. He told me he was fine and would be home the next day.
Two days later, I drove to Walmart when panic swept across me. Trey’s dad and I kept calling Trey, but no answer. A girl finally answered his phone, saying he was unconscious and an ambulance was on the way. I heard sirens in the background. A paramedic got on the phone and asked what he might have taken. I don’t know why I said fentanyl. They narcanned him three times, bringing him back to life. In the hospital, Trey said he wished he had died. That death wish was our saving grace because the hospital was required to keep him temporarily. That gave me time to make a plan for treatment. Trey was furious but finally consented. He went straight from the hospital to a treatment facility in Tampa.
After several weeks in treatment, Trey’s head cleared, and he thanked me for giving him the chance to live. He started a life of recovery and got a job in the Boca Raton area. Both of us studied to get our real estate licenses. I had just found Fairhope and we planned to move there from Memphis and sell real estate.
That year in recovery was Trey’s time of figuring himself out. We talked and texted all of the time, and we were all excited about our family Christmas trip to Disney World. I thought he was going to be okay.
Trey was 22 when he passed away on November 14, 2018. That morning I sent him a text: ‘Did you forget your old mama? I haven’t heard from you.’ No reply. He was living at an Airbnb, so I asked his landlord to do a welfare check. The landlord said words I never wanted to hear: Trey was dead. Someone must have been with him who took his keys, locked the door from the outside, and left him to die.
Over a month later, the toxicology report said it was a small amount of heroin laced with synthetic ‘designer’ fentanyl. The coroner said there were so many overdoses that month that they didn’t have room for all of the bodies at the morgues. Trey’s case was closed with no investigation, despite my begging.
I don’t know how Trey got the fentanyl, and no one knows what happened that night. He was selling insurance, and everyone in his office said he was happy that day. He was having a great month, and he had just told me he was going to give me his paycheck to start paying me back for rehab. I got that paycheck because he didn’t live to get it. I still pay his cell phone bill with hopes that one day someone can open it so we can see what happened.
I grieve Trey’s death in spurts because it’s hard to go all of the way there. I want to pretend he is still in Florida. I wanted to die when he died, but that wasn’t an option, so I chose to pray and go to therapy. It takes a long time to even begin to heal when the other half of my heart is gone, but I know God is there, and He is listening.
After Trey passed away, I started following Jesse Grieb’s ‘East Coast Opioid Awareness Walk’. Jessie lost her brother and boyfriend to drug overdoses and was in recovery herself. She walked from Maine to Florida with her dog raising awareness about the dangers of opioids and to honor lives lost along the way. I watched her posts and updates and wished Trey was alive to walk with her.
Jessie’s journey was healing for me. I wanted to join her on the last mile and made banners with photos of the beautiful faces we have lost to overdose. I called the banners ‘Can You See Me Now’. Maybe these young people weren’t seen while they were on earth, but we can see them now and remember them. Several families other families met to walk and carry the banners. It was sad, but beautiful.
I opened the group to others so they could find healing and hope in their pain and started the “Can You See Me Now” Facebook group. There are parents who have lost multiple children, or their only child or their grandchild to poisoning or overdose. The group has grown to almost 7,500 members, and I’m currently working on Banner 31. Each banner has 150 photos of those lost to poisoning or substance use, and two banners represent the number of lives lost to drugs in just one day in the United States. These faces were young kids with families and siblings. They were loved, and their lives mattered. The banners are now used across the country for advocacy. We held them last year at the Fentanyl Awareness Rally in Washington D.C. to open the eyes of political leaders to save our children.
‘Can You See Me Now’ is a memorial wall. I know the story behind many faces in the photos and their families who loved them. When the banners are seen, I believe our loved ones are still helping to educate others and helping to bring about change in so many ways.
So many teenagers and young adults are dying from fentanyl poisoning unaware that fentanyl was laced into something they were using. Trey may have knowingly taken something, but he didn’t choose to die. Our kids are being murdered, and until something changes, we have to keep talking about this.
My family kept our plan of moving to Fairhope in 2021. We didn’t know many people here, but it was the fresh start we all needed. I am fulfilling the real estate dream Trey and I talked about. When I look across the water, I feel closer to God and closer to Trey. That gives me peace.
When I mention Trey’s name or how he passed, many people look down. It’s uncomfortable, and they don’t want to talk about it. But sometimes it opens a conversation. The same things are happening in Baldwin County, but this area seems much further behind in addiction stigma, awareness, and resources. I want to get involved in educating our youth, and helping families with children who are struggling.
It feels good to talk about Trey. When fentanyl killed my son, I wanted the world to know so that maybe it wouldn’t happen to someone else. My mama’s heart can’t let him or all of the others be forgotten.”