Today, I received the phone call that I had been fearing for the last 43 years of my life.

I was on my way into The People Chronicles studio in Reading to record the third episode of my new podcast series, The Journey of my Mother’s Son, with the former Exeter Township Fire Chief Bob Jordan when my cell phone rang at 3:10 PM, and it was my dad.  Today was a Thursday, my dad always calls me on a Thursday evening to confirm that we’re still on for our weekly breakfast on Friday morning, even though he was calling me earlier in the day than normal, there was certainly no need for alarm in my mind.

Then I answered, and in an instant, the plans for the remainder of my day were going to change.

He had informed me that my sister, Donna, had just passed away at the age of 56.  I hadn’t seen her since before Christmas.

I say that I was fearing this phone call for the last 43 years because I can still remember when I was only seven years old when my sister had her first bout with an overdose of valium.  Up until that time, she was a straight-A student and a superb athlete.  From that day forward, she would struggle with addiction for the rest of her life.  She was not a bad person, she was an addict.  Unfortunately, I feared that one day this call would come, I just didn’t expect it to be today.  I guess we never expect it to be today.

My sister and my step-dad, Gene were two of the major reasons why my mother reinvented herself in the later years of her own life when she went back to school to become a drug and alcohol counselor.

I cried as soon as I hung up with my dad and then called my brother to tell him.  He too was shocked, but like me, he knew as well that the likelihood of this conversation happening someday was pretty probable.  I called my wife and then let our kids know as I was walking up Penn Street to do my podcast.  Now I just had to get through my podcast, which, thank God, I did.

After my podcast, I walked another couple of blocks up Penn Street to my dad’s apartment to spend some time with him and see how he was doing.  My sister was definitely her Daddy’s girl, she was his pride and joy.  He truly showed her unconditional love throughout her battle with addiction, sometimes to a fault.  I spoke to my niece on my walk to my dad’s, but could barely understand anything that she was saying to me because she was such a wreck.

I made a few more calls to family members and then got to my dad’s apartment.  He was doing ok, at least on the surface.  I’m not sure that it had really hit him yet, honestly, I’m still not sure that it has hit me yet either.

From the time that I was in my early twenties, I kept my sister at arm’s length because of the fear of the phone call that I received today.  I was trying to protect myself from the pain that I knew was coming.  It didn’t work.  Today was painful, very painful.  I tried to help her over the years, but couldn’t.  I didn’t give up on her, but I couldn’t help her either.  It was a strange feeling because many times I am able to offer other people answers.  Even if I am struggling for my own answers, I seem to still be able to somehow help others.  I couldn’t do that for Donna for some reason, so I prayed for her every day.  I know that this was something that my mom struggled with as well, she was helping so many others with overcoming their addiction, yet she couldn’t help her own daughter.  She turned to prayer as well.

The coroner found Fentanyl in her room where she passed.  It’s too early for the autopsy report to know for sure if it was in her system, but I’m not sure that any of us really need the report to know the answer.

Sadly, I think that my brother and I have known the answer for years, which is why we pushed her away to an extent.  Again, it wasn’t that we stopped loving her, I think that we were both trying to protect ourselves from the inevitable pain.  I can’t speak for my brother, but I can tell you for certain that it didn’t work for me.  Today, not only am I still dealing with the incredible pain, but also some regret.  Life is short, too short for sure.  We always think that maybe tomorrow we can pick up the phone and call the friend or relative that we haven’t see for a while and then we find out that they’re gone.  We think that we can reach them tomorrow, but tomorrow never comes.

Addiction may have ended my sister’s life today, but her memory will live on.  She will always be remembered by my dad, my brother, myself, her children, and the rest of our family.   Her grandchildren, who were her pride and joy and she loved and cared dearly for will never forget their times at the pool or the park with her.


Donna’s grandchildren were her pride and joy.

When someone that we love dies, in addition to the pain that we feel, it also makes us face our own mortality.  It makes us take a look at our own lives and the decisions that we’ve made and causes us to reflect.  It makes us wonder what type of impact we have made on this world since we’ve been here.  Are we making it a better place to live?  Are we recognizing the human in others?  Are we truly trying to understand other people and treat them with empathy?  Are we wondering when our own day will come?  Are we being the best that we can be every day that we still have here on earth?  Are we trusting God and having faith in everything that we do?

As Youkilis taught me the other day, all we have is this moment.  We need to live in this moment and enjoy it to its fullest.  Carpe diem is a Latin phrase meaning “seize the day.” The saying is used to encourage someone to make the most of the present rather than dwelling on the future.  It is truly understanding the importance of living in the moment.  We can’t change yesterday and none of us are guaranteed tomorrow, so we really do need to “seize the day today.”  We need to make sure that we tell those whom we love that we love them today.  We need to hug the people that we care about today.  We need to be vulnerable.  With life comes pain, there is no escaping the pain regardless of how much you try to protect yourself and play it safe, you will get hurt.  Whether self-inflicted or by someone else, pain is part of our life journey.  We need to learn from the pain and not wallow in it.  We need to turn the pain into strength and move forward with a new and better perspective.  We need to understand that a life without the risk of pain is not a life lived at all.

I sat closer to my wife tonight while we watched TV than what I normally do.  I will snuggle tighter with her and Youk tonight when I finally go to bed.

I also know that with what happened today once again proves that Sandy and I are making the right choice with this next journey that we’re about to embark on.  We will be able to travel and see those that we love.  We will be able to live in the moment and appreciate all of the gifts that God has given us.  A beautiful country, glorious mountains, massive oceans, flowing rivers and crisp streams.  Most of all, the people, our family and friends.  The people who are the threads of the quilt that we call life.  They all impact us and God created each of us with the desire to connect with other people, not just on social media and through technology, but with real human connection.  The human connection that allows us to love and to be brave.  Most of all to be vulnerable enough to be brave enough to love unconditionally, even when we know that sometimes that approach will lead us to pain.

I don’t understand why my sister’s life ended today, but I am grateful that she was able to live 56 years.  I know that it’s not long enough, but it could have been shorter.  I am grateful that I had to wait 43 years for that phone call.  I am grateful that she was able to spend time with her grandchildren and my dad in the last few days of her life.  Her last post on Facebook was a video of her and her grandchildren at Stone Cliff Park, a park that we would go to quite a bit as kids.  I’m grateful that she took my dad grocery shopping yesterday.  I pray that my dad finds strength in the Lord to be able to deal with the loss of his baby girl. I am grateful that I will be able to have breakfast with dad again tomorrow morning.

I pray that we all take time to live in the moment today.  If you haven’t told someone that you love that you love them recently, do it today because tomorrow is not guaranteed.

Godspeed Donna, I love you. Carpe diem to the rest of us.