Part of my life came to an abrupt end just over three years ago. The grief process is a roller-coaster – so many ups and downs. I try to navigate my way through each day with thoughts of my beautiful Ashlyn bubbling just under the surface. She was only 18 years old when she died from a heroin overdose.
Ashlyn Marie Cannon. She was so excited when she started her senior year at high school. She had such plans for her future – all the things she would do, how she would go on to college.
Then came the day she had her wisdom teeth pulled. There were lots of videos, funny ones like you see on YouTube or Facebook. Of course, she didn’t feel too great afterward and when we got home, I gave her some ice cream and put her to bed. A friend of hers wanted to visit, someone who had quite a history of bad behavior.
Looking back, that was a fatal error
Ashlyn was always concerned about this friend and we’d spoken about her, and how Ashlyn could support her, on many occasions.
I’d always advised her to love from a distance, and only spend time with this girl when she was doing well. As this was one of those times, I thought Ashlyn would be a positive influence. I said it was okay if she came over for a couple hours.
Looking back, that was a fatal error.
Ashlyn was still a strung out from the anesthetic, and this girl cut lines of heroin while they were together. Not in her right mind, my darling girl decided to try it. And so it started.
Her grades dropped at school. She seemed to have a permanent sniffle
Fast-forward a couple months, and my husband and I knew there was something wrong. Ashlyn kept to her 10pm curfew. She still did her chores. She took part in family activities. But something just didn’t feel right.
Her grades dropped at school. She seemed to have a permanent sniffle. Usually, she’d set her morning alarm early so she had plenty of time to do her hair and makeup but sometimes I’d wake up to find she was still asleep. She’d go to school wearing a sweatshirt and with her hair scraped into a bun – not like my princess at all.
We asked so many times what was going on. It was our rule that we always knew where she was and who she was with, so we weren’t ready for what happened at all.
It was March 17, 2016. A friend of Ashlyn’s called me at work – someone she’d known all her life. But they’d had a falling-out over some teenage drama, so the friend wanted to stir up some trouble. She told me Ashlyn had started taking drugs – heroin. Heroin! I had no idea it had become a ‘thing’ for kids these days, as common as marijuana had been in my own high school days.
I sat down with Ashlyn and we had a long talk. She was honest about what happened. Right after the first time, she said, she woke up feeling like she had a hole inside her. One that only heroin could fill. No problem – she knew who she could get it from at school.
Apparently, heroin was sold in class, shared in the parking lot, and taken in the bathrooms. I was shocked.
My husband (her stepfather), her dad and I all agreed to take her out of school and send her to a rehab center in Louisiana, 15 hours away. I remember she was so scared when we left her – the fear in her face haunted me, and we had to pull the car over to the side of the road so I could vomit. That night, I slept in her bed. I believed the worst was behind us, and she’d be okay.
Ashlyn relapsed on a number of occasions that next year
Early in the summer of 2016, Ashlyn came home. She had high hopes for the future and was really positive. She even managed to get a job, helped by her stepmother. We were all looking forward to what life would bring for her, sure it would be full of good things.
Sadly, we were wrong. Ashlyn relapsed on a number of occasions that next year. Each time it happens, you believe it’s the last. That this will be the time they realize they need to get their act together and beat the demon that holds them in its grasp. Each time, you’re wrong.
For a while, I had a tracker on Ashlyn’s phone so I could follow her. Not far from us in South Carolina is a place called Myrtle Beach. It’s a coastal city with hotels – a popular beach vacation resort. I can recall night after night when I walked up and down the boulevard, searching for Ashlyn. If I found her, I’d tell her how much we loved her, how she was better than the addiction that gripped her.
I think I began to grieve the loss of my daughter while she was still alive
She’d listen to me and weep. She’d tell me about songs that reminded her of me. She’d cry about the past and wish her life could go back to how it was before. But she was a different person now. We both knew it. Heroin would always be stronger than the love I had for her.
I think I began to grieve the loss of my daughter while she was still alive. I started a Facebook page to try and stop the heroin epidemic that was sweeping through the young people in our area. I hoped other parents would join with me. We could support each other and fight for our loved ones together.
Eventually, I filed a court order to try and get Ashlyn involuntarily committed to a 90-day rehabilitation program. The court date was the end of July 2017. I drove her to court – she wasn’t even mad at me about it. She said she understood and loved me for it.
But she didn’t want to go into rehab. At the courthouse, she was evaluated and the judge recommended she be treated as an outpatient. She would only be taken into rehab if she didn’t comply. I argued. I told the judge I didn’t want to bury my teenage daughter.
But the decision had been made. Just over two months later, Ashlyn would be dead. If the court had listened, she’d have been in rehab on the night she died.
For the first time in forever, I could see something of the old spark inside her
By this point, we’d been through around 18 months of her on-off recovery. She was no longer living with us when she called me and said she needed help – something she’d never said before.
She wanted to come home, but she wanted home to be somewhere else. A fresh start. New places, different people. We agreed.
She was back with us within two hours, and we began to plan a move to Ohio, the place my husband is from. Ashlyn decided she wanted to go art school and began to put together a portfolio.
For the first time in forever, I could see something of the old spark inside her. She still had plans, dreams, wishes. We began to pack, handed in notice on our jobs, hunted for new employment near where we’d be living. It was exciting.
Then, one night, Ashlyn went out with friends. Eight days later she still hadn’t come home, but we spoke via video call each day and she would message me.
On October 4, she messaged to say I wasn’t to worry, that she wasn’t doing drugs and would be home in the morning. I don’t know how, but I knew something was wrong. I woke several times in the night, crying hysterically. I couldn’t settle. I told my husband something in my world had changed.
They both wore suits with badges. They were there to tell me my baby girl was dead
I finally went back to bed at 3am, only to be woken at 3.44am by the doorbell. The time is imprinted on my brain. I could see a woman outside and for a moment I thought it was Ashlyn. Then I realized there was a man with her. They both wore suits with badges. They were there to tell me my baby girl was dead.
I’ll never know the exact details of what happened, but it seems Ashlyn bought some heroin and overdosed at around 2.30pm – just a couple of hours after our last conversation.
She was with two people in their 30s who panicked and didn’t want to call 911. Instead, they injected her with methamphetamine, which sent her into cardiac arrest. Then they loaded her into a luggage rack and left her propped up by a hotel dumpster. They stole her belongings and called the emergency services before they fled the scene.
My darling girl was taken to hospital as an unknown – a Jane Doe. They managed to get her pulse back, but they couldn’t save her. She took her final breath at 12.08am on October 5, 2017.
I still look for her in crowds of people. I listen out for her voice
The cause of death was officially recorded as drug-induced cardiac arrhythmia. Part of me will forever be stuck on what happened that night. I can’t stop thinking about her last moments – was she in pain, scared, cold? Did she want her mommy?
I still look for her in crowds of people. I listen out for her voice. The thought of living without my Ashlyn tears me apart. She wanted to get married one day. She wanted to have children of her own. She wanted to share her love of art and interior design.
Ashlyn wanted to get better, she really did. She hated herself and who she’d become. I can’t explain just how much that ripped at my heart – as parents, we want our children to value themselves, to know how much they have to offer the world.
Ashlyn was a beautiful person, a talented artist, a skillful writer, a good friend – and a wonderful daughter. She just couldn’t see it.
Ashlyn’s funeral was on her 19th birthday – October 12, 2017. I will grieve and mourn her until the day we are together again. The pain I carry within me is unfathomable and I would never wish it on anyone else.
Ashlyn was loved, she was beautiful, and she was mine. She just couldn’t resist that one last high. One last high that turned into a lifetime of loss.