By Steve Sears
Her daughter wasn’t moving. She had died, a victim of heroin overdose. Schmidt never saw it coming.
The date was May 28, 2016. Schmidt had gone into the room of her daughter, Alyssa Marie Schmidt Bernhard, to wake her up for work. Alyssa’s skin was blue, she clutching a straw in her hand. Schmidt screamed, hollered, ‘Dear God, please bring her back!’ She laid on top of her daughter, shook her, kissed her, hugged her, and then called 9-1-1. Officers arrived on the scene and told Schmidt that it appeared to be a heroin overdose, but Schmidt responded that horrible morning, “No. My daughter doesn’t do drugs. She doesn’t do heroin.”
An eventual autopsy confirmed the statement.
Schmidt’s anguish, her pain, is felt by many. Last year in the United States alone, drug overdose deaths numbered close to 75,000.“Parents should sit down with their child or children and talk to them. It (heroin) is a very dangerous drug that will take over their being and destroy their lives. That one wrong choice can kill you, and I believe the statistic is 18 children a day.”
Schmidt sobs often when she speaks into the phone, recalling the painful morning when she entered her daughter Alyssa’s room to wake her for work.
Schmidt adds, “If you know your friend’s in trouble, tell someone. Tell their parents, get them help. You’re not being a rat, you’re saving a friends life!”
A parents’ distraught heartache was the genesis of Black Balloon Day. Now a national and international event which generates awareness to overdose deaths, Diane and Lauren Hurley began Black Balloon Day in remembrance of Greg Tremblay, the father of four children, who at age 38 died of an overdose on March 6, 2015. Families across the country who have lost a loved one to overdose or have someone in their family struggling with addiction will tie a black balloon outside their homes.
“I became aware of it (Black Balloon Day) the year of my daughter’s passing only because it’s an online thing. People would hang black balloons in front of their house. I didn’t know anything about this; you learn it, you know. I never thought my daughter would die of a heroin overdose. She was such a good kid. I don’t know why she experimented. In my case, my daughter wasn’t an addict, it was one time. And her life was gone.”
Schmidt, who also hosts the township’s International Overdose Awareness Day, brought the idea to Wayne Town Hall and Wayne Township’s Alliance for the Prevention of Substance Abuse. Why? “To bring more awareness. To help the ones that are struggling and honor the love ones we’ve sadly lost.” On March 6, in addition to the town hanging the black balloons at Town Hall, Schmidt in the bitter cold and wind also hung them around town per request. “I had asked on social media whoever wanted a balloon hung on Valley Road in Wayne in honor of the ones we loved and are sad they lost to send me their child’s names.”
“Black Balloon Day is drug awareness, honoring the ones we’ve lost, and help for those who are struggling, helping them to find a way.”
You can hear the pain in Schmidt’s voice as she speaks. “Do you know how many comments I’ve gotten about this? Because people don’t know. People DON’T know. People don’t know what’s happening in our towns and in our nation. I think if we get more awareness, and parents become more aware of what’s happening, they’ll keep a better eye on their kids and their kid’s friends. You know, friends get together, and this and that happens. They’re 20 years old; their brain is not fully developed as an adult, and they’re making bad choices. And they think they’re doing it to have good fun. It’s not fun.”
About 30 black balloons were hung up on March 6, and many more balloons found a home in the Township of Wayne Health Center, a reminder that those lost will not be forgotten, and an aid for those who are in the throes of addiction.
“It’s very difficult. It’s very wrong. If parents recognize the signs that your kids are in trouble, maybe they can help them, save their life.” Schmidt recommends that parents visit www.health.facty.com/ailments/body/10-signs-of-addiction regarding signs that their child might be an addict. “Our goal is to save lives, to stop the stigma, ‘Oh, it’s the bad kid on the block, down the road; it’s the bad kid on the street.’ It’s the normal, good families. The families that eat dinner together. It’s happening to us, our towns, our nation. It’s just insane, it’s never ending.”
Yes, Susan Schmidt feels the pain. “Oh,” she says, sobbing, “it doesn’t stop.”