Monday, January 22, 2007

6079 154

Those two numbers are the number of days I had with Kaitlyn and the number of days she has been gone --

154 is so much smaller that 6079 BUT it seems so much longer that I have been without her. How many more days will it take for it to seem real -- for me not to think she is going to walk in the door with her famous "HEY GIRLFRIEND" ? When will I be able to see her friends (who I love dearly) without feeling like I have been kicked in the stomach?

Did she enjoy all of 6079 days here -- was she happy -- did she know how much she meant to me ???? Did she realize how many people called her friend and REALLY miss her -- I hope that somehow she can see just how many people she touched in the 6079 days that she was here and just how many people's live's are forever changed because of something that happened 154 days ago.

I love you Kaitlyn

Saturday, January 20, 2007

Eyes Wide Open

I have been asked to be on a panel at the kids HS to talk about teen addiction -- I have my "speech" ready -- Here it is --

My name is Cheri Vallery and my daughter Kaitlyn was a drug addict. I am here because she died from this horrible disease on August 27, 2006 . In my wildest dreams, I never thought something like this would happen to our family. We talked to our kids about the dangers of drugs, we asked questions about where they were going, we knew their friends. We did all of the “right” things - but it still got us. I so wish I could be up here telling you that Kaitlyn was the only person to use – that she used drugs all by herself – but sadly that is not true. Kaitlyn did not WANT to be an addict. This was not something she got up one day and thought, “Cool, today I think I will become a drug addict.” Drug addiction is an equal opportunity killer. It does not care who your friends are, where you live, how much money you have or what school you attend. This could easily be one of you up here instead of me. I am here tonight to put a face to addiction.

Someone told me recently that we have to teach teens to make the right choices – like my husband and I somehow didn’t do that. I wish it was that easy to make right choices – even adults often struggle over making the “right” choice. But I do hope that sharing Kaitlyn’s story will give teen’s additional information to help them make the right choice. By pretending drug use does not happen here would make Kaitlyn’s death seem meaningless and like she did not matter because she died from drug use. We need to raise awareness in our area and bring the issue out in the open – there are drugs in The Woodlands and until we face that reality more kids will die!!!!!!!!!

“Anyone who is sitting here tonight feeling guilty over your child or a friend’s drug use, I want you to give it only one more minute, and then I want you to let it go. The drug use is not our fault. You must understand that this is a billion dollar industry and dealers are targeting our children. Many parents simply aren’t equipped to deal with this. Even if you think your child won’t use drugs, they will be exposed to the dangers. They are growing up in this drug culture.”
What hurts the most (besides my beautiful baby girl not being here any longer) is that as her mom I was not able to fix the hurt that made her turn to drugs. One of my main purposes in life now is to not let what happen to our family happen to anyone else if at all possible. Kaitlyn was a GREAT kid. So many people called her a friend. She did not like to see people picked on and stood up for them. I am going to read a letter from a girl in one of Kaitlyn’s classes. This is just one example of her kindness:

My name is Mary and Kaitlyn was in my geometry class last year. I would sit next to her every day and we would talk about everything, especially of how proud she was of herself for being sober for 8 months straight. I was so proud of her too. I regret not getting to know her better. She was a great friend to me. In that class I would get made fun of by a huge group of guys. It was Kaitlyn who stood up for me and told them to stop. She was a great friend to me even though I didn’t know her that well. Kaitlyn was always jokin around about how stupid I was. She always made me laugh. She was just a very easy person to talk to and to have fun with. She was a great girl. Kaitlyn was so smart too. Her only problem was that she didn’t try hard enough in school. I bet that if she tried she would have been really good at anything she wanted to be good at. Kaitlyn was an easy person to get to know. She was an easy person to get along with and become great friends with. She knew how to treat people the right way. I miss her so much. Seeing her at the viewing made me cry my eyes out because she looked like an angel. She was so beautiful that i couldn’t take it anymore. I cried to people that i never got along with because a death brings everyone closer together. She showed me that life is short and you need to live life to its fullest. You need to love your family and always tell them that you do. You need to let them understand that you love them because one day you might be gone forever and you would never get to tell the people that you love how much you love them. So I want to thank you Kaitlyn. You showed me what love really is. You showed me that things can happen. You never know what could happen and you never could believe that bad things could happen to you until they do. I miss you terribly Kaitlyn. I love you dearly. You will always be in my heart. I will always remember you. I will always remember you smile and the happy times we shared together. Rest In Peace girl. I know that you are in a better place. Just know that I love you girl and that I will never forget you. You are in my prayers. Love, Mary Goldknopf goodbye Kaitlyn)

Kaitlyn organized a carwash for her friend, Wesley, that was in MD Anderson dying of cancer. She CARED about people. It saddens me that when some people think about her now they may forget about the true Kaitlyn. The real Kaitlyn was the one that made everyone around her smile, the one who always entered a room with a bright smile on her face. That is the Kaitlyn I will always remember – that is the Kaitlyn her friends remember – that is the Kaitlyn I want all of you to remember.

From what we have learned since she died, Kaitlyn began using in 8th grade after she had been date raped at a party. The kids had been drinking at this party. The pain and embarrassment was too much for her to handle, so she turned to drugs. They were easy to get – her friends stole them from their parents and gave them to her. That is where it began. There are no excuses to start using drugs, BUT it gives me a reason to better understand why she did what she did. The next step for Kaitlyn was pot - also easily obtained from kids at school. As soon as we became aware of her using pot, we put Kaitlyn in rehab in Nov 2004 for three weeks. Kaitlyn came home for Christmas and did great - while she was home. When Kaitlyn went back to school and into the environment where she was using, she relapsed and was arrested for drug possession. I thank GOD everyday that she was arrested – it gave us 19 more months with Kaitlyn – 16 of which she was clean. Kaitlyn attended AA meetings and she hung around with “clean” kids. During this time, we saw the “real” Kaitlyn. This was the Kaitlyn that attended CP. Kaitlyn’s proudest day was when she reached her one year sober anniversary last January 2006. I think just about everyone she was close to knew that Jan 27 was her sober date

I am not sure what triggered her to start using again. Was it the fact that she started hanging out with her old crowd? Did something else traumatic happen to her or did the addiction just win out again? That is something we will never know – it went to her grave with her.

Many people ask me about “warning signs.” I wish I could give you an easy formula to see if your child is using. The first time Kaitlyn used drugs, we had no clue. The only reason we became aware of a problem is because one of her friends came to us and let us know how bad the situation was – THANK YOU Justin. Many of the warning signs have been talked about by other members of the panel. While looking back I see some of them – the excuses, the bloodshot eyes, the change in grades, the anger and aggression

When Kaitlyn got of rehab the first time, I had a serious conversation with all of her friends. I BEGGED them to come to me and let me know if she was using again. My very words to them were “it will take one of you dieing to realize how serious a problem this is.” They assured me they would come talk to me. And I believed a bunch of drug-using teenagers. Those who were more worried about having a “good time” using drugs themselves and not getting their friend mad at them - instead saving her life.

Looking back, the second time down this crazy road of drug use there were some warning signs. The biggest red flag I see was the fact that she was hanging out with her old friends from the time she first began using drugs. I think Jon and I placed too much confidence in Kaitlyn to be able to handle herself. We believed that she had beat the drug addiction and “all was good” – she was strong enough. We were so wrong.

They say hindsight is 20/20. If I could re-live the 3 months before Kaitlyn died, I ask myself what we might have done differently.

The one and only thing WE could have done is to continue the random drug testing. You cannot force the kids to go to support groups and AA meetings. That is a choice they have to make. Ultimately, it was her CHOICE to use – in Al Anon they teach us that we did not cause this disease, we cannot control it nor can we cure it.

In our community, we have must encourage our kids to look out for each other. We need to help them realize that it is OK to talk to an adult if their friends are doing something harmful to themselves. As parents we need to TALK to one another and keep each other informed of what our kids are doing. It is not OK to hide this under the rug and pretend drug use doesn’t happen in our neighborhoods. Silence and secrets are the addict’s best friends. I would be doing Kaitlyn’s memory a disservice if I just stayed home and acted like her death only affected out family – it didn’t. It affected kids in all of the HS in the area, not to mention her friends and family in LA. I hear everyday from someone how her death made them think twice about what they are doing. So to the person that told me that we need to teach teens to make good choices – I think Kaitlyn is now doing that everyday. That is who Kaitlyn was – someone who helped other people at all times. This is Kaitlyn’s Legacy.

This is why Kaitlyn’s Promise was created. The night Kaitlyn died, at the hospital I asked one if her friends if she had been using. “YES, Miss Cheri. She had started using Cocaine and was “dusting” keyboard cleaner.” My heart broke. THEY KNEW she was using drugs. I had BEGGED them to come to me and THEY didn’t and now my daughter is dead. The rage I felt at these kids was intense. I made a promise to Kaitlyn that night – NONE of her friends were going to end up like her if I can help it. We must have courage to speak up about this problem. It does not tarnish the reputation of the schools or the community; it can only help make the situation better. To me, speaking up and saving lives helps more than doing nothing - by pretending drug use is not going on and that we live in a perfect world.

Kailtyn’s Promise is a website that we have set up that kids can go to and let someone know that their friend is doing something harmful. We forward all emails with drug use information or cries for help to school counselors for them to look into further. We also have other adults that have come forward and volunteered to be contacts on the web site. Many times, a familiar name is all that is needed for the kids to reach out for help. Our ultimate goal is to offer a free drug test to any parent who cannot afford to pay for one. We are also trying to set up amemorial scholarship in Kaitlyn’s name for a deserving Senior who has turned their life around and would like to continue to persue the goals.

Drugs tore our family apart – they were the main focus in our family for two years – they won a battle in our house, but not the war. PLEASE don’t let them win in yours. Just say no. If only it could be that simple.

Friday, January 05, 2007

Just some random thoughts.....

I frequent a scrapbooking website EVERYDAY :) Recently there was a post about a Christmas card that someone recieved from a family member with a picture of the sender's daughters at the grave of their brother who had died 3 years ago. It raised the question on if people thought it was "appropriate".

I have to be honest --before Kaitlyn died my answer would have been "YES" very weird -- but now --not so weird. It is my greatest fear that Kaitlyn will be forgotten -- I want her to ALWAYS be remembered. I notice that I go out of my way to include her in conversations. When her friends come over I make sure that they have pictures of her, I gave everyone windchimes for Christmas as a rememberance of her. I totally get where that mom was coming from -- this is her reality -- her son is in a grave BUT he is still her son. So who knows what I will be sending out in three years for Christmas cards -- My only hope that Kaitlyn's memory is still strong in everyone's mind.

The post also had conversation about grieving parents -- We WANT to talk about our children, we appreciate the random phone call asking how we are doing. A card in the mail touches us in a way that you will never understand (hopefully).

Now for an update of sorts -- I went to speak to the prinicipal at Kaitlyn's school today -- I want to preface this by saying that I think he is a wonderful prinicpal -- he showed us tremendous support when Kaitlyn died and he had always been there for Jeremy -- BUT today I felt somewhat sad and disappointed when I left --

We are able to put the tree up in Kaitlyn's memory BUT he does not want a plaque anywhere because "where would they draw the line" he even compared it to the crosses on the side of the road -- at first I said I understood BUT since I have had time to really think about it I have to wonder if Kaitlyn had been a star athelete or an honor student would his stance had been different -- does her life not mean as much because her death was related to drugs --does she not matter ?????? Will other parents "complain" because she used drugs???

My son thinks the reason is not so much the fact that she was not a "star" at school but it is the way she died -- they don't want to draw attention to it because that would be admitting that there is a problem here -- Jeremy's word were -- "until they are ready to deal with the obvious drug problem here more kids are going to die and they will keep pushing it under the rug." Pretty smart kid I have there.

My question to Mr Murrel is -- Is Kaitlyn less of a person because she died of drugs instead of something else -- is her death less tragic -- is her friends grief not real because of the way she died -- do they miss her less ????

I guess I have a decision to make -- let this go and plant the tree or fight for my daughter to be remembered for more than just the way she died................................