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Story | March 6, 2020

Randy’s Story: Five Years Later

A Note from Randy: Every year, on January 31st at precisely 9:11 am, I post an annual message to the “Remembering Vanessa” Facebook page we started after our daughter died from a Heroin Overdose. I do this, not to bring attention to our family but rather to bring attention to an issue that could strike any family at any time. I am sharing this year’s post here as well. I truly hope that someone who reads this may find the courage to seek help. For families to know you are not alone. For those struggling – people do recover,  please reach out and get help – You are loved!

“The Grief of Heroin, Five years without you. The Journey and the fight continue: A continuation of the story of love, grief and how Heroin and addiction changed our family forever.”

I start this story every year with the same opening paragraph and with the same closing paragraph because it still holds 100% true. This year on the fifth anniversary of Vanessa’s death that has not changed. But this year I am writing the rest of the story from a different perspective. I am writing this as a message to all who choose to read it. My purpose is, as always, to bring attention to the tragic epidemic that is stealing a generation.

On Jan 31st, 2016, I wrote – “So it’s been a year today since you left, still today, I wait every morning to wake up and find out that it is all a bad dream, to find out that you are here still, laughing and loving life as you did. Fulfilling all of the dreams you had. But again; it isn’t so. Yes, we are going on with life and while we are not in a constant state of depression and sadness, there is still not a day that goes by without a moment of sadness and extreme sorrow”.

Vanessa (m) and her siblings Matthew (l) and Rachel (r)

Still today, on the fifth anniversary of you leaving us no truer words have ever been spoken. Five years, it truly seems impossible. As I have been making mental notes over the past several weeks preparing to write this year’s story a number of things have come to mind. As I have read back over the stories from the past four years, I realized that I could take any one of those stories and fill in the updated events that have taken place and the rest would still be true. It seems as much as things have changed, they have also stayed the same. I realize that the holidays, birthdays, vacations, celebrations will continue to come and with them an empty place that sits in the back of our mind and in the very depths of our hearts. Others have gotten back to their normal life and some think we either have or should. I guess, in a way we have found our new normal, and if I am being honest there is not one thing normal about it.

I remember when people would tell us in the beginning that we had to find our new normal I would always think, “What the hell is that? A new normal?” I remember asking a friend that had lost his wife what the heck that meant. His answer took me a little by surprise and I sort of wished I hadn’t asked the question. He described it as a sort of grey place that is always with you. As much as that depressed the heck out of me at the time, I completely get it now.

It doesn’t mean that you are always depressed or sad. It doesn’t mean that your outlook on life is all doom and gloom. What I understand now is that we will always have a space in our heart that so desperately wishes Vanessa was still here to enjoy life with us. That space is also where we store all the precious memories of our beautiful daughter.

At the beach with her mother Chris.

Every year up until now we have made a trip to the beach to spend a few days in quiet and take time to remember and reflect, as a family, on the memories of the times we spent together, good times and bad. Every year I have gotten up early the morning of the 31st to watch the sunrise over the ocean as waves of emotions flood my mind. I remember how much Vanessa loved the sun and moon and would talk about how she drew power and energy from them. I realize just how powerful and beautiful they truly are and how even on such a dark day there is beauty.

Standing there, In the cold winter ocean breeze, as the waves crash to the shore, waiting for the sun to make its grand entrance I feel small against the backdrop of it all. Then at that moment when the top of the sun peeks its way above the water, I can feel that power and energy and I hear Vanessa in the back of my mind saying, “See what I mean, daddy”. Then with a tear in my eye, I smile. After I have sat for a while and allowed myself to enjoy the beauty of it all while remembering her. I walk back up to the condo and take one more pass through my story for the year checking for any last-minute edits, download the pictures and video I just took of the sunrise to share with the post. Then at exactly 9:11am I post my story.

This year it seemed the universe did not want to work with us, with school schedules, car wrecks, and several other factors, unfortunately we were not able to make the trip. But I realize now that as much as I will miss the energy of that sunrise over the ocean, we will still have our time to reflect. Weather permitting, I will find a place to sit and watch as the dark becomes light and allow myself to feel the absolute power of it all.

This may or may not be the last year I write this story. If it is the last one, it is not because my commitment has changed, it’s not because we have moved on. But rather because we know that we will never forget the things that are important.

We will always carry our daughter with us, in each of our hearts, to the celebrations, holidays, birthdays, and she will be there in the happy times and the sad. I continue my commitment to fight heroin for the rest of my life and that fight has taken me in directions I never dreamed of. Through it all, I have learned so many things.

I have come to understand many of the things my daughter stood for that I truly did not understand. At times, it’s almost like those moments when you hear your parent’s advice echo in the back of your mind. I look at how this has all changed my attitude about so many things and wonder what Vanessa would say. I have also come to understand why she did the things she did to feel better and can only wish I had seen them at the time. So, I continue to tell our story and the story of so many others with a hope that somewhere someone that needs to hear it will and it may change their life.

So now we draw energy from the happy memories. From the butterflies that appear at just the right moment and the birds that sing. From those moments that let us know without a doubt that you, are, still here with us. The moments when the dogs all stop and stare at the back door in anticipation of something unknown to humans. Of those ah-ha moments that can only be explained by your ever-loving presence in our life. We use that energy to let others know that to us, to your family, to everyone that loves you, to everyone that wants to keep you close at heart that you are now and ever will be a part of our life. We use that energy to spread the message that Heroin can get in the way. That Heroin can change families forever. We carry your passionate desire to help others and tell your story hoping that it will save others from “The Grief of Heroin”.

Vanessa Abbott

06/23/90 – 01/31/15

(seems like a good final statement still!)

Randy Abbott


Senior Prom Hug

Randy Abbott is the National Volunteer Coordinator for SAFE Project. He grew up in North Carolina and graduated from Appalachian State. He and his wife Chris  have lived in Greensboro, NC  for 35 years and have raised 3 amazing children. Since losing their daughter Vanessa on January 31st, 2015 to a drug overdose,  Randy has become a strong advocate in his community and throughout the state toward ending stigma and increasing access to treatment for those that suffer from a mental health or substance use disorder. Randy is involved in a number of state and local initiatives including serving as a member of the steering committee for CURE Triad in Greensboro, and facilitating a “Parents of Addicted Loved ones” (PAL) meeting weekly.