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-- Heart & Soul --

                                                                  - MATTEO -&- ALEYNA -

For 7+ years My husband Eric and I were blessed with the unexpected but welcomed responsibility of raising our true Heart and Soul, our grandchildren. Dedicating our lives to these precious gifts with a deep love and an unshakable devotion came instantly and naturally. They were our everything, our world, and losing them is where this devastating chapter begins. 

My daughter Ashleigh has always been extremely bright and very successful, she fulfilled her lifelong dream of becoming a soldier in the army with tops in her class in at least one field. It was by no means easy, but she fought hard and refused to allow her tiny 4' 11'', 100 lb frame hold her back. She was Army Intelligence and started out head strong and career driven. Her pregnancy with our grandson Matteo brought her home early, and I suspect not so unintentionally.

My daughter entered the service as a beautiful, kind, intelligent, Momma's girl. We were extremely close, as much best friends as we were an unstoppable mother/daughter team. In a devastating, unforseen, and cruel twist of fate(?), my sweet baby girl came out of the Army completely different than how she went in. When Ashleigh came home she was unrecognizable, she was suddenly filled with intense and unreasonable anger, hate, and blame. She had always been polite and respectful, no bad language around elders like her grandparents and me. Her identity was now suddenly saturated in, and dependent on, being the pitied victim. The tight knit, loving relationship I shared with my daughter was gone. She went from an angel filled with kindness, compassion and a fun, silly sweeetness, to someone dark, devious, and vindictive. She had become completely dependent on this newly developed over-the-top narcissism. For reasons still somewhat unclear to us, she had also begun using hateful lies and had inconceivably made ME her main target? I'm at a loss as to how or why any of this nightmare could ever become our reality, we were so incredibly close. WHY?

Ashleigh was my everything, she was my second child, my heart aches for them every minute of every day, I miss my children to a level too devastating to properly describe.

Adjusting to the person Ashleigh had become was devastating, and impossible. Matteo would be here in just a few short months, but I feared this new person wasn't going to be able to mother him properly. Unfortunately, my fear was warranted as she immediately exhibited horrible decision-making skills, and was both resentful and abusive towards Matteo. Home just a day or so after giving birth, she became frustrated with him in the middle of the night and yelled that if he didn't shut the 'F' up she was going to throw him through the wall. Without hesitation, I took responsibility for Matteo with a total lack of any resistance by Ashleigh. It just kind of got to, and stayed that way until the end.  For years my daughter had exhibited a level of abuse, neglect, and irresponsibility that we believe proves some degree of mental illness.
There were at least 2 other occasions where I witnessed her physically abuse Matteo, and although I should have, at that point I didn't go for any type of legal custody. As time went on things got worse and I told everyone that mattered, but it got me nowhere in my attempts at helping them and keeping them all safe.

In the beginning I worked 8-12 hour days, came home to endless homework (I maintained a 4.0 gpa studying for my Associates degree in Information Technology), plus all the typical duties of a single mom/nana. My favorite part of each day was in the peace and quiet of every precious night. I would walk the floors playing and cuddling with my new, perfect grandson. I held it all together for a while, but eventually the load became too overwhelming, and I had to drop out of school.

Eric and Matteo meet

I met Eric when Matteo was 5 mos old, and the bond between them was instant and magical. That awe-inspiring connection would only be matched with the same intensity at the arrival of our precious granddaughter 3 years later.
Eric and Aleyna at her birth

Although Eric never had children of his own, he loved my girls deeply, and was a natural with our grandchildren. Never had I seen a man so perfect in his roles, and the babies reflected that by taking up permanent residence at his hip. We lived every minute of our lives with our Grandchildren squarely at center. They kept us busy, and we kept our home a safe, happy, loving place for them grow. We practiced a strict no hitting policy, never hollered, but always demanded a healthy respect be shown without exception (yes ma'am, no sir).

Matteo and Aleyna never heard a raised voice, or had to endure sadness beyond hearing the occasional 'no' response to a 'want'. We were, they were, blissfully happy, but that all ended in May of 2015 when my daughter suddenly tore them from the loving safety and deep bond they had always had with us.

There is much more to this part of our story, years of struggle to balance what was best for the kids, with my daughter's ever worsening condition. I tried in vain and with an even greater intensity to be the supportive, loving mother Ashleigh needed. I battled cancer during this time but I never wavered in my dedication and devotion to all of them. I wanted so desperately to be there for her as I always had before, to help her when she obviously needed me the most. But balancing that with my physical condition, and the responsibility I had to both care for and protect my grandchildren was excruciating. In the end, these beautiful children were taken from the loving, healthy, and secure environment they had always known, and were moved into an environment filled with routine drinking, arguing, and abuse.

Without so much as a word to any of us, our lives were shattered. With the ease of spreading unbelievable lies, our ill and irresponsible daughter shockingly garnered unexplainable support from family, and enacted her unspeakable revenge(?). Out of the blue I lost my most precious grandchildren, my mother (not too great of a loss), and both of my children. We haven't seen their faces or heard their voices since (2+ yrs), and every day the heartbreak takes yet another piece of my soul.

Nana's Princess
My Heart

Words cannot explain the emotional devastation of a loss so deep that it alters every thought process, every action and reaction, every belief system. I wanted to die, and I still fight that feeling occasionally. If it weren't for my husband I believe I would have given up a long time ago. Living minute to minute, suddenly without all of them, has been torture. The emptiness...the silence...gone was their soul filling laughter, the reassuring, neck jarring hugs, and the tapping of their feet as they chased each other through the house screeching out our names...I am left helpless to the knowledge of the very real potential for harm against the most gentle, well behaved, precious babies I have ever known. The danger, devastation, and pain we can no longer protect them from scares the hell out of me. That torturous fear has never lessened, and I suspect it never will.

We made the decision to move to the west coast when a health problem developed with Eric's Dad. He needed our help and we needed to get away from the endless days forever overloaded with the ceaseless reminders of their soul crushing absence. Every minute, every breath, everything we did was constant proof that our life, as we so happily knew it, was suddenly, painfully...over.

We made the trip to Oregon by car hoping to find some small piece of our smile in the many new sites and experiences we'd see along the way. I think in the end we spent about 2 weeks glimpsing never before seen (Eric is from Calif and had seen some) marvels of nature like the Petrified Forest, manmade wonders like the Hoover Dam, and as has long been my dream, the over-the-top glitz, bright lights, and non-stop buzz that is Las Vegas. I tried so hard to enjoy myself, but that wasn't going to happen. That never-ending sense of utter devastation has lessened some, but in those early days I spent more of every day crying than I did not. My heart shattered.

Fast forward a year, Eric's father improves dramatically, and we decide that getting back on the road to travel is exactly what we need. On the road only hours we stopped in Klamath Falls, OR to let our dogs out at a lake. While we were preoccupied. someone broke out our back window and stole our bill fold containing all of our savings. It wasn't a real lot but it was enough for us and our plans. Shortly thereafter, and in quick succession, the battery, radiator, fuel pump, and more broke on our car and It eventually became too broken to fix.

Unfortunately, this happened in a place where we knew almost no one so we were forced to live out of our broken car in the parking lot of a local church. That was at the end of July/2016. At the beginning of August Eric got the opportunity to work a short-term job in construction. This was the financial boost we needed to get us back on the road. Only four days into the contract, Eric fell 12 ft off a ladder and was seriously injured. He is in a wheelchair now, and probably will be for the rest of his life. He completely shattered his heel. The doctor says this type of injury will often keep a person from ever walking again. His foot has refused to heal. He had an open wound at the surgery site that never closed, and his pain level is off the charts and constant. He was at the emergency room yesterday due to an insane level of pain, and a suspected infection. Several dreaded pokes, and a long tiring wait later, the doctor's diagnosis was Chronic Pain due to..., and he said the blood work done to determine if any infection existed, was negative. He acknowledged Eric's pain but refused to give him any relief beyond the non-existent ease offered by Tylenol. Keep in mind Eric has no history whatsoever of abusing prescription drugs and his foot was swollen to 3x it's original size. It was so bad that the next day he saw his regular doctor/surgeon and was immediately put back into the hospital with a bone infection, actually 2 different infections, and he almost lost his foot. He recently had to have another surgery but thankfully so far has kept his foot.

Eric just before surgery (Aug.2016)

Because of our situation, Eric never rested after his injury. Being homeless is, in a lot of ways, harder than working a full-time job. There are no days off, and most days start early and end late with the majority spent on your feet. Every day is spent hoping to accomplish relief from hunger, exposure, and any solution that might end the hopelessness. Unfortunately, relief and solution are either hard to come by or non-existent here.

We spent 8 months living in a vehicle during this time. Most of it was it was through a brutally cold winter. It hasn't been even a little easy. Begging has been where we get the money to eat and keep the dogs fed. Rarely is there even enough money for that, let alone all the other necessities we so often take for granted.
Taken before the fire

In September (2016) we were blessed by an anonymous donor who gifted us an older used van. Although it didn't run, it did provide us more room and an all-around better shelter.

In March of this year we managed to get the van running and immediately set out to head back towards home and family. Even though I wouldn't know where to start, we feel we have to try to heal our broken relationships. We made it as far Veterans Park (Klamath Falls, OR) where we let our dog's out before the long journey to Texas and Florida. My husband tried to start the van to leave but it wouldn't turn over, so he got out to raise the hood and realized that the van was on fire ( ). Everything we had left in the world was in that van. All living things escaped without injury, but aside from a couple of small things saved, we lost the remaining remnants of our life's collection. We were standing just feet away, watching as what little we had left in life evaporated in mere minutes. I lost it. That finished me off. Had we not been through enough??? What happened to God not giving us more than we could handle? We were mercilessly ripped from our greatest loves, cursed to live every minute longing for one more 'I love you', one more hug, one more chance to hear them call out, "Mom", "Nana" or "Poppy", to hear one more tiny giggle...what I wouldn't give for just one more...anything. While going through the worst pain I've ever known, we have become destitute, homeless, and without, in this random, unknown town. We don't have anyone with which we can turn to for help. In one day, we went from finding some light at the end of the tunnel, to once again feeling dreadfully hopeless. This must be just a bad nightmare. How could it get worse?! We are damaged, broken, homeless, unsheltered, unloved, and now without so much as a jacket for warmth or an umbrella for protection. The Red Cross gave us enough money to get a few small things and 4 nights at a hotel. Since that quickly ran out we were waking up each day with just a few hours to magically come up with $50-60 or be put out onto the street. By walker and wheelchair, and suffering great physical and emotional pain, we managed to be successful at it for about a month and a half. We have worn out what little available resources there are here and are now living minute to minute. We are unable to take advantage of the local shelter due to our dogs, 2 of which are service animals but even they are unwelcomed. We need help fast.

                           -- WE NEED YOUR HELP --

Our greatest need is a vehicle. We need something capable of stowing and transporting our large wheelchair and walker, hopefully an RV.

We are desperate to get back home in hopes of repairing whatever is broken with our loves. A vehicle not only gets us there, it also allows us to no longer be dependent on others. Although not ideal, a vehicle also puts a roof over our heads. There are many more reasons but just to answer to those who may suggest putting us on a bus, train, etc, to Texas or Florida, please remember that at least for now, we have no more there than we have here so that solution serves only to relocate us with the same problems we are experiencing now. Also, public transportation forces us to get rid of at least one of our dogs. In any form of public travel, Eric and I are allowed 1 dog each and we have 3. Our dogs are like our children, and in many ways, have kept us going. Please don't expect us to add to the insurmountable loss we've already suffered by suggesting we 'get rid' of one of them.

PLEASE HELP in any way possible & PLEASE HURRY! For every reason already explained we are in great and very immediate need. Could you post/share our story? Donate a Sunday collection? Speak to your friends and church to see if someone could donate a small used but running RV? Or perhaps donate toward the cost of one? Our goal here is $5000 but we have seen several on Craigslist for even less. Please...everything and anything you and yours can do to help us reach our goal of acquiring an inexpensive, running RV would mean the difference between hope and desperation. You would be giving us purpose, reason, and a path finally bathed in light and hope. With everything we are, we are grateful for your time and efforts. Please contact us if you need further info, or if you may have any potential solution.

Eternally grateful for any and all help,
Eric and Jody Smith
[email redacted]

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Jo M Smith
Klamath Falls, OR

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