This essay, written by Alicia Cook, originally appeared in The Advertiser.
On January 9 2016, I received an email with the subject line “A Sad Dad …”
I knew what the email would say before I opened it. By now, I know of far too many “sad dads” across our nation who lost children to drug addiction.
This father’s name is Peter LaQuesse. In 2012, he lost his 21-year-old daughter, Nikki, to a drug overdose.
I am not a parent. I will not even begin to try to relate to what parents go through when they lose a child, regardless of the circumstances; but I sat in the chair beside my aunt at my cousin’s funeral for two days, and those images still break me. I went home in 2006 and scribbled in one of my journals, “Sit next to a person who just lost a child and you will see that life can kill you every single day without ever burying you.”
Now, Peter’s email to me was short, it simply read: “Hello Alicia. All of our sad stories sound the same after a while, but they aren’t the same. Sincerely, Peter.”
However, Peter had provided me with an attachment.
“You may share the attached if you think it will help somebody.”
It was the eulogy he read at his daughter’s funeral.
I opened the attachment and began to read the eulogy. I stopped in shock by the third paragraph.
“There are many funny stories I can share with you about Nikki, but I am not going to do that today,” I read. “Instead I have something even more important to speak to you about – drugs, narcotics and whatever other names they go by. I have come up with a very fitting name for the drugs that end up in the hands of our children – ‘poison.’ ”
Peter, a grieving father, used this eulogy to forewarn Nikki’s peers, sitting in the church benches, about the dangers and repercussions of drug abuse.
No one can use heroin in a recreational way. As more and more families take a stand against the heroin epidemic, I have seen obituaries that talk about it head-on; they don’t coast over it with the ambiguous “died suddenly” phrase anymore. Families want to help other families feel less alone in their struggle and loss. Families want to see changes to public policy.
Peter wanted to help other families not suffer the same fate as his family.
“Heroin took the life of my Nikki,” I continued reading. “It managed to enter her life, addict her, take control of her mind, make her sick, and finally kill her.”
I spoke with Peter after reading the eulogy. Nikki was one of three children Peter had with his wife, Anne. She had a twin sister and a younger brother. She loved cats, movies, ice cream, and reading. She was beautiful and full of life.
“Everyone that knew her loved her,” Peter reminisced, once I reached out to him. “She had more friends than the four of us combined.”
Nikki was tiny, all of five feet and 100 pounds, but fearless. She was also completely loyal to her siblings, standing up for them countless times.
Peter mentioned to me a time when Nikki barged into where her sister’s ex-boyfriend worked to confront him about cheating on her sister. I smiled when he told me that, because my sister would, and has, done the same for me.
Peter and his wife cannot pinpoint why or when Nikki started using drugs. The family believes Nikki turned to drugs after being sexually molested at 16 (she did not tell her family this until much later), and following the suicide of a good friend.
She was using, they estimate, nearly two years before they were able to isolate the problem and get her to a hospital and into a program.
“When she came out of rehab, she was okay. I swear she was,” he said. I wasn’t sure if he wasn’t trying to convince me, or himself.
Things were seemingly better for Nikki and her family again for nearly another two years.
“She was a hair stylist. She was building up a clientele. She was living home surrounded with love from her family and friends.”
After five years of rehabs, hospitals, detox programs, therapists and doctor-prescribed medications, Nikki lost her battle with substance abuse one day after her 21st birthday. To this day, Peter believes she wanted to recover, but just couldn’t find the right help for herself.
“She was looking for outlets to replace her addiction. She started hiking, making jewelry, reading and writing poetry, and became interested in learning to play the guitar.”
Peter hopes sharing Nikki’s story and the eulogy he delivered will help young people understand that drugs re-wire your brain, making addiction, and then death, inevitable.
“I want them to know that they are not invincible, as most of us like to believe at a young age. I want our young people to know that they will cause a great deal of pain to their family. I want our young people to know drugs won’t make problems disappear. I want them to know that their best defense, probably the only defense, against becoming addicted to drugs is to never, ever try them.”
Peter has regrets. Nikki was lying to her family a lot toward the end, making it hard to believe what she was saying.
“She left this world thinking that her father didn’t believe the awful things that happened to her, and this hurts me deeply.”
Because of this, Peter wants to stress to other parents going through a similar situation:
“Listen to your children. Offer them tangible support, not just lip service like ‘it’s just a part of growing up’ or ‘you’ll be fine’ because they might not be fine.”
When he told me this, I got choked up. I recalled my cousin’s funeral and my uncle slipping a $10 bill into the front pocket of the shirt they had picked out for her. At the time, I asked him why. He told me, “For the last year I couldn’t give her any money because I couldn’t trust what she was going to spend it on.”
Peter’s advice to other parents is to not take every single bit of advice.
“Follow your own heart. I heard the term ‘tough love’ a lot when Nikki was deep into her addiction. One example of tough love is to throw the addict out on the street,” he began. “Right, wrong or indifferent, I was not going to throw her out. If she was going to die, she was going to die with us, and not in some alleyway, away from the people who loved her the most.”
The eulogy ended like how I imagine many eulogies delivered by grieving parents conclude.
“I want to thank God for lending Nikki to us for 21 wonderful years. It pains me to know that she will never experience many of the joys in life like feeling the love of a husband, raising children, and being the Maid of Honor at her twin sister’s wedding.”
You are welcome to read Peter’s eulogy for his daughter in full, here.
This story appears in Alicia Cook’s book, Heroin is the Worst Thing to Ever Happen to Me.