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Honoring late daughter, Wayne mom channels pain into passion

Apr 12, 2022 10:24AM ● By Jillian Risberg

 The visual impact of seeing 500+ children’s faces of loved ones lost gazing out from the trailer to scare the heck out of the youth is a powerful wake-up call: ‘this could happen to me’ — Stay Away From Drugs. 

It was Angels Across America’s first Event in Kissimmee, Florida — the camper will travel from state to state to create awareness, vital to save lives— and it meant everything.

“We were excited for our first rollout. Moms who lost their children wanted to see the picture of their child ‘cause that’s the only memory we have now,” says Susan Schmidt. 

For Schmidt, the loss of her daughter is crushing torture, as though her soul has been ripped from her body.  Alyssa is forever with her heart and always on her mind.  

It was May 28, 2016, when her world imploded.

“I live with the heartache of losing my daughter every single day. She was 20 years old and I found her in her bed, she made a choice by snorting heroin and it killed her,” Schmidt says after a year she got on Facebook and learned other moms experienced the same loss. That’s when she knew she needed to do something

“I had to learn about all this because I had no clue and there are a lot of naive families out there,” she says at first she was ashamed, ‘I raised her well, she went to Catholic school, came from a good family,’ how could this happen. 

Because addiction doesn’t discriminate, and will take the best of anyone.

 “You just grow with the pain and out of that becomes compassion to help others and keep our loved ones' memories alive,” says Schmidt. 

She has precious recollections of her beautiful, caring, charismatic, loving, smart, funny daughter. 

 “Everything changes when you lose a child,” she says you miss all those little things you experienced together.  

 And a heartbreaking new normal sets in. 

They’re educating the parents, the public, especially the youth because they’re buying drugs off Snapchat and social media. 

“Every drug (crack, cocaine, heroin, Xanax, methadone) is riddled with Fentanyl and these 10, 11, 12, 13-year-old kids are dying,” Schmidt says their life matters. That’s the ‘One Pill Can Kill’ campaign.  

“They want to get high but they die. Their sudden death is like a traumatic shock to all of us.”

 According to the CDC, there were an estimated 100,306 drug overdose deaths from opioids in the United States during the 12-month period ending in April 2021.

 Schmidt noticed slight behavior changes (‘she was a little more angry’) in her daughter but didn’t think much of it. 

Alyssa assured her it was nothing, ‘mom, just leave me alone.’

“I thought it was growing pains,” says Schmidt. “Never expected to go upstairs and find her gone, never in a million years.”  

 Her pain became passion and Alyssa’s mom dove into Angels Across America, to support every family as much as she can.  

 “I miss her dearly and love comes from what I’m doing now,” Schmidt says it’s for all those moms who found their child dead or got a phone call saying their child is dead. 

And she has company in her grief, having met MaryBeth Moore Zocco, who started Ryan’s Ride in 2019 after the loss of her 25-year-old son Ryan Moore from fentanyl poisoning on 12/17/2018. 

Shortly after the first ride, the Orlando mom began The FRoM Project (Forever Ryan’s Mom) to keep his memory alive by sending handmade personalized cards to grieving parents all over the world. They honor and remember loved ones taken too soon by substance use disorder overdose or fentanyl poisoning.

“Alyssa was my whole world, my best friend, we loved to cook together, shop together, did everything together, she’d come home from work, we’d talk for hours… and she’d tell me about her day.”

How do you pick up the pieces and move forward — according to Schmidt; honor them ‘and talk about our children as much as we can to whoever will listen.’

 She held ‘Celebration of Life for Alyssa’ and joined the Wayne Alliance. This year will be her fifth annual candle-lighting on International Overdose Awareness Day. 

Angels Across America supports all the grieving families and their loved ones, who are deeply loved and missed. They educate the public and youth on the dangers of illicit drugs, every street drug is extremely addictive and using can have dire consequences.  

 Leslie (Billy) Smith owns Angel’s trailer. Smith lost his son, Jeremy, 30, a construction worker who fell off a building. He was put on Oxycodone for the pain. When the prescriptions ceased — he turned to street drugs and it’s what killed him.  

Schmidt says tell your kids you love them every day and about the inherent risks out there. 

 “The heartache is unbearable some days but we keep pushing forward to honor and love all the angels we lost,” she says. “When I do their pictures, graphics — make a video talking to their moms, I feel like I know each one of them.”

 Kids are fragile today, COVID has made things worse… and there is much self-medicating going on. 

 Either you die or live this road of recovery every day, they struggle — nothing good comes out of doing any kind of drug.  

 “Alyssa’s dreams were shattered because she made a mistake,” Schmidt says she blamed herself.  “How did I not know, what if I did this, what if I said that; I beat myself up to this day and friends say stop, she made the choice.” 

 Recalling all their amazing milestones and accomplishments you boasted and bragged about, while also thinking: ’G-d knows what they’re getting into.’ 

It’s a lonely place to be after losing a child. 

 “I’ll do these events, then it hits you. Becomes so overwhelming where I’m quiet and within myself for days,” she says she can’t function. “Then go, go, go and break down again; it’s horrible. Or go upstairs and lay in my daughter’s bed and just cry.” 

 Her goal is to prevent kids from overdosing.  

 “Be afraid, be very afraid because you can’t come back from dying,” says Schmidt, of getting them to think before making a potentially fatal choice. “I can’t bring back any of our children we lost,” says Schmidt. 

To learn more, search Angels Across America on Facebook.