This personal story in loving memorial of a friend lost was written with full approval to use Grace’s realname and photo by her husband in hopes that it would help someone else.
I am a person in long term recovery and I am a member of a 12-step program. Recently, I lost the most beautiful sponsee, Grace, to the disease of addiction. She was 32 years old and had a four week old son.
Two weeks before, my boyfriend, Cesar (whom is also in recovery) lost a sponsee the same way and mine relapsed on alcohol, all in the same weekend. This created a bit of tension in our household, to say the least. You see, Cesar and I are both people who dive into service work and count it as an essential part of our recovery. Most times, it makes our relationship stronger as we share similar passions. June, however, was rough.
Two weeks after Grace’s relapse on alcohol and Cesar’s sponsee passing, I was at my daughter’s preschool graduation, when I received a phone call from Grace’s husband, Tom. I answered, about five minutes before my daughter went on stage to receive her diploma. He had never called me and something just didn’t feel right. Tom was frantic, stating that he had just found his wife dead. My immediate reaction was “Are you sure?!?” Details over the next few hours were traumatic, to say the least. From what we knew, Grace had passed about six hours before and Tom had found her after work. The baby was alone for that long, in his car seat. Police investigations and child welfare questions ensued for the next four hours.
The next few days and weeks were some of the hardest I have endured in my recovery. You see, Grace wasn’t just a sponsee, she had become like family to me. My own daughter adored her. Her husband and son will always be family to us and I would do anything for them. If it weren’t for my own support system, I am not sure how I would have reacted. I had to put on an “about face” and pretend like I wasn’t in shock that night, to be there for my daughter during her graduation (and dinner, afterwards, with family.) I had to take a step back instead of running to the scene and focus on what I could and couldn’t do in the moment. I was in complete shock.
I’ve learned quite a bit since Grace’s passing. One being that I wasn’t responsible. Deep down, I always knew that none of it was my fault, but in the swirling emotions of the next few weeks, every question possible popped in my head. “Why?” “How?” “What if I had done something different?” Followed by sadness, grief and anger. Grace just had a child. How on earth could she do this? She lied to me. She withheld truth from someone that would never judge her and only try to help her, and she LIED. I had to take a step back. How often had I lied during active addiction? This poor girl was so encompassed in trauma, grief and layers of shame and remorse, she couldn’t handle it. How I wished I could have known. How I wished she would have allowed me to be there for her.
The second thing I learned was that this was going to happen again and there was nothing I could do about it. In recovery it seems that we see more deaths than successes. I wanted to retreat into my own little world and never get close to anyone with an addiction ever again. I was afraid. It seems people all around me were relapsing and I couldn’t help but ask God why I was spared. Why me? Why not Grace, with this fresh new adorable family who seemed to have the entire world at her fingertips?
At Cesar’s prompting, I left the house to be around my support. I took meetings into local treatment centers and shared Grace’s story, which ultimately became a part of my story. This lead to several girls approaching me and asking me to sponsor them. Immediately, I was afraid. What if this happened again? What if I lost another? Again, I had to take a step back. Even though it seemed that death was all around me, I recalled the people in my life who HAD found long term recovery. I had seen families reunited and healed. I h ad seen people go from living on the streets to getting their children and careers back-complete life turnarounds. I couldn’t say no. I had to help the next suffering person and I knew it.
What I learned is that’s where I found healing.
Seeing the sparks come back into people’s eyes when they understood that they would never have to use again was where I found solace. I never wanted Grace to be a part of my fire and passion for recovery in this way, but ultimately, she made me stronger. I could retreat from the world, afraid of what may happen or I could take action and teach what I had learned from the situation.
This is where I am momentarily, two months after Grace’s death. There are still hard days. I’ve learned that grief comes in waves. There are still days I look at photos or videos and find it hard to believe that she’s gone. But there are more days that I hold her son and see her face, finding solace that a part of her will live on with us. What I’ve found is that Grace’s death taught me that I need to slow down and embrace the relationships I am so fortunate to have due to my recovery. Those amazing bonds that ultimately come from sharing my emotions, good and bad, with others. Without shame. What I have learned from her is that she has taught me more than I could ever have taught her.
In the end, Grace said it best:
“While our own individual experiences of sadness carry with them unique lessons, the implications of what we learn are universal. The wisdom we gain from going through the process of feeling loss, heartbreak, or deep disappointment gives us access to the heart of humanity.” –Grace Conklin-Healy
In memory of Grace Conklin-Healy
1984 – 2017
Reach Out Recovery Exclusive By: Kellie Walker
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