This isn't a GoFundMe page to raise money for a funeral or medical expenses. I am blessed beyond a doubt financially, I certainly hope to raise $1,000 - $2,000 to contribute to some minor travel expenses for my less financially comfortable family members to attend the funeral in Tennessee but ALL other monies will be donated in my mother, Stella Wards's memory to Mid-Erie.org a non-profit organization in Western New York that helps the community and its people with chemical dependency amongst other services and is soon to hopefully open one of the only out-patient clinics for adolescents and their families that are battling the prescription drug epidemic sweeping our country.
It's crazy to think that my strength to persevere, my determination to succeed and my ability to use hard times to motivate me to excel when other would quit actually comes from my mother. Something I never gave her credit for and not until after her death could I see what an amazing gift she shared with me. It was her disability that motivated me to get into the insurance and investment business in 2003, so other families wouldn't lose almost everything like we did when she became disabled, or they could plan for their kids to have a better life through education or gifting, it was her drug addiction that led me to take a seat on the board of this great organization, mid-Erie.org, although no one there even knows this story. I hope you will consider donating in her honor.
I am a very private person and hope me sharing her story will help others in need of help.
My mother Stella, was 16 in 1977 when I was conceived. I won't go into the facts around that night but let's just say it wasn't planned but it was the first sign of her showing the strength she had inside her and the heart she had for every living creature on this earth. It wasn't common for a 16 year old girl to be pregnant in 1977 and it was certainly not easy to be giving birth as an unwed girl at that. However, against most people's advice she had the strength to bring a son into this world alone. She did have the support of her family from the day I was born into the world as with any baby born healthy, is always a blessing. She would look to give me a father (although not my father) figure quickly and marry before the age of 18. This also wasn't a popular decision and unfortunately not a good one in hindsight. She endured a few years of physical abuse and tried to show strength to make an effort to make it work for me. It didn't. She remarried a year or so later but as fate would have it she picked a similar man who treated her even worse subjecting her to physical and mental abuse for over a decade. She stuck with it as many abused wives do for her then two children until she was literally broken. She stayed strong and never complained and used her infectious laugh to overcome most situations. After she left him or maybe just before life continued to test her strength. She had become disabled as a nurses aid and after numerous attempts at recovery was prescribed pain killers which over the years increased in dosage and strength as the pain was beyond her strength.
I am not sure when it turned into an addiction. I can tell you it never started that way and I think often before the family realizes it, it is already way beyond the help you as a family can provide. Once someone is an addict there is literally nothing one can do to get them help against their will. There was no out-patient options, only in-patient that had to be court/police ordered or she had to agree to treatment. I offered to pay for rehab, I offered to help financially and even looked at getting her arrested. Nothing worked but her laugh never faded and she would still give everything she had to a stranger yet she had nothing. The addiction had taken her home, money, possessions and the company of many of her friends and family. Although she never lost their love, many of them couldn't watch a women of strength deteriorate into an addict.
I don't know when the strength overcame the addiction but I do know it was her move to Tennessee (although forced) to be surrounded and monitored by my two other strong women, her mother and her step mother and brothers. It was there that she got "clean" and into a treatment program of methadone that undoubtedly we all thought would save her life. Who would think that a women strong enough to endure decades of physical and mental abuse at the hands of men she loved, and 5-10 years of addiction without overdosing, couldn't survive once she was in recovery. It was so amazing to see her smile again, to hear her laugh and begin to repair the relationships that her addiction had broken.I think that's one of the lessons learned, we as a society only hear of the people who die at the hands of the abuse (when it's too late to help), we only hear of the over dose deaths and statistics but my mother survived all of those things because of her strength and infectious laugh and sense of humor. However, it was the toll that it took on her body, the years of physical abuse and drug abuse that literally broke her heart. My mom died of heart failure because she didn't have the facilities or professionals around to help her, she was embarrassed to seek even comfort little yet help, she had the heart of gold but eventually even Gold can melt. I don't think we medically fully understand the damage these drugs (prescribed or otherwise) have on our heart. We study the brain and perhaps the liver but what about the heart.Very few people in my life have heard even 1/2 of my moms story and what essentially was my and my sisters childhood as I never want or wanted anyone to show me mercy, pity, or treat me different. I see now I was blessed with her strength to do what I was set out to do for my family and the people I choose to serve as a financial advisor in hopes to change lives. I hope that in my need for closure and desire that she be remembered for her laugher and caring heart that her story will compel you to share this post and if you are able take a moment to donate in her memory to this great organization even better. It's an organization I joined as a board member years ago because of my experience as her son. I truly appreciate everyone who has reached out to me and my family during this very difficult time, it means the world to us.The Way Family
- Jonah Potash
- Michael & Danielle Catalano
- Michelle Hoffman
- Mark Modzeleski
- Fred & Anita Urda
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