My Son was born, Derek Alexander Kardos on November 26, 1985 at 8:15 am, he was my 2nd child and would end up being my middle child and my only Son. He was a beautiful baby with blonde hair and blue eyes, just like his Sister. As a baby he was always smiling and laughing and such a joy to his family.
Derek was always a free spirit and did things his way and it wasn’t until he was 5 that I started having problems with him. He was very defiant and would be downright mean sometimes, I didn’t know what I was doing wrong with this sweet, little boy. At 8 years old, he was diagnosed with ADHD and ODD and the Doctor put him on Ritalin, it took months for them to get the dose right but Derek wasn’t the same happy little boy. Yes, he was able to focus on his school work but it was almost like he was depressed, he wasn’t the same. After a couple of years Derek decided that he didn’t want to take the meds anymore because he didn’t like the way they made him feel.
Derek loved sports as a little boy and played them all; t-ball, soccer, rocket football, baseball, hockey, basketball. He played them all and was very athletic and did well in everything that he did, and he was smart! Derek was so smart and could have gotten straight A’s if he wasn’t so distracted in school, he was bored and in his boredom would be very disruptive in class. In the 6th grade he was kicked out of school 43 times. I did everything that I knew how to do, I took parenting classes, read books, put him in therapy, whatever I thought would help and nothing helped.
It was in middle school when Derek started self-medicating with alcohol and weed; he would take off on Friday after school and I wouldn’t see him again until sometime on Sunday. He got into so much trouble, he broke into people’s cars in the apartment complex where we lived, he came home one Sunday morning with his face all bloody and cut and said that he had been hit in the face with a brick, he stole my car in the middle of the night and was pulled over, he pawned all of the things from his bedroom, tv, video game consoles, he even stole my wedding ring from his Dad and pawned that.
At 15 he was expelled from Rogers High School and I sent him to the Alternative School in town; after a few months a truant officer contacted me and said that if I didn’t start making my Son go to school they were going to put me in jail! I was confused because I dropped Derek off at school every morning; what I didn’t know was that he was walking in the front door and walking out the back door and he would spend the day getting high with friends. Eventually he was expelled from the Alternative School too. Age 15 was also the first time that he went to Rehab, he was only there for a week and convinced me that he didn’t belong there, that he wasn’t like the other kids in there.
So here I was with a 16 yr old young man that was hurting so much inside and self-medicating and I didn’t know what to do! We fought all the time because I didn’t understand and I don’t think that he did either, he wanted to do good and be good he just didn’t know how. Then, I found the Michigan Youth Challenge Academy (MYCA), this was a 6 month military style school for at risk youth and Derek was definitely at risk. I was hopeful that this was the answer to my prayers, Derek would be able to get his GED while there and some college credits. It would be the fresh start that he needed!
Derek did so well at MYCA and became a favorite Cadet of many of his Superiors; he was scheduled to graduate, with honors, in June/2003 but a week before graduation I received a call from his Master Sergeant, the man was in tears while he told me that Derek wasn’t going to be able to graduate and I needed to come pick him up immediately; seems that another Cadet said some hurtful things to Derek and it made Derek angry, he proceeded to pick up a metal chair and busted it over the kids head. Of course there was a ZERO tolerance for violence so they had to make Derek leave. They did, however, tell me to sign Derek up for the next cycle that started 2 weeks later and he would automatically be approved to return. That’s what we did and Derek went back to MYCA in July 2003. Again he did very well with straight A’s, did everything that he was supposed to do and became a Platoon Leader. He was so proud of what he was doing and he was drug and alcohol free while he was there. On October 1st, 2003 I had to drive to Battle Creek and do one of the hardest things that I’ve ever had to do; I had to set Derek down and tell him that his Dad had died by suicide the night before. At first he thought I was joking and he laughed and said yea right Mom. It was really hard on him when he realized that I wouldn’t joke about something like that; Derek and his Dad never had a great relationship but he always longed for his Dad’s love and approval, now in his mind, he would never get it.
They let Derek come home for his Dad’s funeral and Derek was dressed in his Cadet uniform, he was so handsome. I had to take him back to school right after the funeral and his time there after that was hard. Derek graduated, with honors, in December 2003 and he was also leaving for Marine boot camp 2 weeks after graduation; I was so proud of him! I thought that my beautiful boy was on his way to being happy and having the life that he deserved!
Derek disappeared the night before he was supposed to leave for his Marine basic training and there were a lot of phone calls between myself and the recruiter the next day. I finally found out that Derek had gone out and gotten high the night before so he was discharged for drugs before he ever even went.
Once Derek turned 18 I just couldn’t allow him to live with me anymore; there was too much chaos, fighting and arguing and I refused to live that way any longer. He bounced from house to house staying with friends and whoever would let him stay with them. I think that it was around this time that Derek graduated from drinking and smoking week to cocaine and a lot of the drugs, ecstasy, pills and who knows what. I don’t think I want to know.
He was in and out of jail, went through a ton of jobs that never worked out for one reason or another. He was in so much pain and I used to beg him to go to therapy and be diagnosed correctly; I always felt like it was more than ADHD and ODD. I always wondered if he was bipolar; he would pace around for hours and he would either be very happy or very depressed and sometimes suicidal. He would never go, said that he couldn’t afford it.
Derek was always invited to family things, birthday parties, bbqs, holidays and just Sunday dinner; if he did show up he was always late, sometimes high, wearing dirty clothes and not showered and he never brought anything to contribute to whatever meal we were having, he never had money.
Those years were difficult but it wasn’t all bad, when Derek decided that he wanted to be clean and have a better life he was so much fun to be around! He made us laugh, he was kind and generous and had such unconditional love for his family. He was smart and had Hollywood good looks which caused him a lot of problems with women. He would go from one girl to the next without a care in the world, I really didn’t think anything of it because he was young and single and was dating, and that’s what he was supposed to do.
In 2012 Derek had his first child, a Son, he loved Alexander so much and we all thought that this is what was going to convince Derek that he had to do better for his Son. Unfortunately, it didn’t and before Xander was a year old Derek was introduced to crack; that was the beginning of the end.
Crack is a stimulant and it is also a psychological high and there are no physical withdrawals from it; but when Derek was coming down from crack it was the most heartbreaking thing I’ve ever seen. He would cry and say that he didn’t want to live that way and that he just wanted to die. I hated seeing him like that and I would do everything that I could to help him. For the next several years he was in and out of rehab, he wouldn’t stay, the longest time he stayed was 9 days. He always said that he could do it on his own, he couldn’t, and nobody can.
Derek had his own tree business, he was the best tree climber around and had so many happy clients! He researched and taught himself everything there was to learn about trees; he knew how they grew and if they grew a certain way he would be able to explain to you what was wrong that the tree was growing the way it was. He was very successful, when he was clean. When he wasn’t he would sell everything he had to buy crack and wasn’t able to work.
In 2014, I lived in Florida, and I received a call from Xander’s Mom telling me how worried she was about Derek and that he was threatening suicide. I called Derek and tried talking to him but he was coming off of crack and sobbing and there was no talking to him. He actually told me that he was mad at me because I didn’t teach him how to be a man; I told him that I’m not a man so how could I be expected to teach him how to be one. That was not the right answer, he told me that he was going to kill himself because he couldn’t live like that anymore. There was nothing that I could do from 1200 miles away so I called the local police department and told them where Derek lived and that he was threatening suicide; they went to his house to check on him, he answered the door and was then arrested because he was fighting with the police.
I begged Derek to go to rehab but he said that he could do it on his own, I asked him if he wanted to come down to Florida and stay with us to get a fresh start. Surprisingly, he said yes. We had a lot of fun when Derek got there but I did lay down some rules: no drinking, no drugs, he had to have a job, he had to go to therapy and he had to go to meetings. He wasn’t able to follow the rules and after he had been there for a month we got into a huge argument and I told him that he had to leave. He went back to Michigan and was only there for a month when he was arrested again. He also had a 2nd child on the way at this time.
Derek got an opportunity to move to Philly and be a climber for a big tree company out there; he moved to Philly without knowing anyone there but he thought it was best for him and his children so he could get away from the influences that were in Grand Rapids. He was going to make a life for himself out there and start building a relationship with his Sons.
A few months after Derek got there, Derek met a woman on a dating site, he went on a date with her and I’m pretty sure that it was love at first site for both of them. Sam was the best thing that ever happened to Derek and he loved her with his entire heart. We were all so happy for him because he was happier than he had been in a long time, he had a good job and a woman that loved him unconditionally and he loved her the same.
Things were going well, until they weren’t, in the beginning of 2015 Sam found out that Derek was smoking crack again. This was the first time that she had ever dealt with addiction and wasn’t liking it. She was able to get Derek a scholarship for a private pay rehab facility in Bensalem, PA and Derek agreed to go! He was there for 28 days and decided that he had the tools that he needed to begin his recovery journey and he was excited about it.
He went to meetings, got a sponsor, worked his steps; he was doing great! He started talking to me again and we had some wonderful conversations, I was living in Kentucky at the time. After about 6 months into his recovery he started getting antsy to move back to Grand Rapids because he wanted to see his boys on a regular basis and have a part in raising them. We were all worried that it was too soon and he hadn’t been in recovery long enough and he was a little concerned too but in November of 2015 he moved back to Grand Rapids. He was doing what work he could, staying with his Sister and spending time with his kids. He had 7 months clean when he moved back to Grand Rapids but he stopped going to meetings, didn’t have a sponsor and thought that it was ok to hang out with his old friends again. He relapsed at the end of January 2016.
I think he was just smoking crack on the weekends and still working during the week but in May 2016 I was getting phone calls from friends and family telling me how worried they were about him. I called him and I was crying telling him that I didn’t want to bury my Son and he told me not to worry because he was going to be ok. He had quit before and he would quit again.
I moved back to Michigan in June of 2016 and Derek was really far into his addiction, he was still working when he needed money for drugs, he had his own place to live and was still functioning in his life. That didn’t last long, Derek sank very deep into his addiction very quickly and he also started doing heroin to come down from the crack. He sold his dirt bike, traded his car for crack, traded several cell phones for crack and soon started selling his tree equipment and furniture out of his house. He didn’t have many days of clarity for the entire summer of 2016. Derek would call me at all hours of the day and night for rides and I would go pick him up and take him home, I picked him up from his dealer’s house, from seed motels, you name it wherever he was I was there picking him up, he would call me after a 3 day binge and say Mom I’m hungry, I haven’t eaten in 3 days and I would go pick him up and buy him something to eat, I would buy him cigarettes all the time. At the time I thought that I was helping my Son, I didn’t know that I was enabling him but I was.
In September 2016 he was evicted from his home, he hadn’t paid rent in a couple of months and his landlord actually walked in on him when he was getting high. He had nowhere to go, no job and I thought finally he has to get help now! But no, his dealer let him stay with him!
Derek knew that he needed to get out of Grand Rapids if he was ever going to get clean again but every time he had any money it went for drugs. We didn’t talk a lot while he was using but every couple of days I would get a text that said “I’m alive”, at least I knew that he wasn’t dead.
Finally, in November of 2016 Derek made it back to Philly; he moved back in with Sam and went to work for someone else, started going to meetings and was on his way or so we thought. Derek relapsed shortly after getting back to Philly so Sam told him that he couldn’t live with her anymore; he found a room at a sober living house and moved right in. Derek did well at the sober living house, went to Church every Sunday, meetings a couple of times a day and really started working his steps. It was during this time that Derek and I really started building a good relationship, a relationship that I had always wanted with him. He would call me every day and tell me about his struggles, his accomplishments and I just listened! For the first time in Derek’s life I listened, I didn’t tell him what he should be doing or how he should be doing it; I believe that is the reason why we were able to build this awesome relationship. No more were the lectures from his Mom about how doing drugs wasn’t the answer; Derek knew that, he didn’t want to use, he didn’t want to live that life. He said to me once, “Mom people think that I’m just having the time of my life, partying and living it up, that’s not how it is.” He said, “I hate this life and that when I get that idea in my head that I want to smoke crack it will NOT go away until I smoke crack”. During this time he also told me why he relapsed so many times, when he was clean he had so much shame and guilt for the things that he did to people while he was using. He couldn’t live with those feelings so he would use so that he didn’t have to feel them. It broke my heart that Derek felt that way about himself; I didn’t see him as a bad person, he was an amazing Man and I knew that when he was using that wasn’t my Son at all. I tried to tell him that but I don’t think he believed me.
In September 2017 Derek took a crew to Florida to do hurricane clean-up, his dream was that he was going to make enough money to catch up on his child support, pay his guys and have enough money left over to get through the Winter when there wasn’t a lot of tree work. He relapsed while down there, got arrested in North Carolina on his way home and it was all downhill from there.
He thought that he was hiding the fact that he was using but I knew that something was up, he wouldn’t return phone calls or texts and he wasn’t really working. At the beginning of December he finally told me that he was using again. I begged him to go to rehab and he said no, I know what I need to do to get clean and stay clean and I’ll do it on my own, I don’t need rehab.
It was bad, he sold his chainsaws and a lot of his climbing gear so if he would have gotten a job he had no way to do it. He was getting high in the Lady’s house that he rented a room from and bringing other people into her home to get high. I continued to ask him to go to rehab and he continued to tell me no. He was going to meetings but he was either going high or he would go first thing in the morning and then spend the rest of the day getting high.
His friends in recovery took him to detox on December 26, 2017 and dropped him off; to my relief he stayed! He was getting meds there, therapy, both one on one and group and I could hear my Son in his voice; he was coming back! He stayed for a week and got out on January 2, 2018, his plan was to go to a sober living house again and he had one that had a bed available; when he got there he had a hot drug test so they wouldn’t let him stay. He was homeless.
For 6 days he slept in his truck and slept at Sam’s sometimes, at first he was calling me every day and I talked to him on Saturday, January 6th, we talked about what he wanted to do and he told me “Mom I have to get out of here, I can’t keep doing this to Sam. I love her and I’m going to marry her someday but I have to get my shit together first.” He was trying to figure out how he could get back to Michigan again.
That would be the last time that I spoke to my beautiful boy; he died at 2:20 pm on Monday, January 8, 2018 from hypothermia complicated by drug intoxication. He was all alone when he died and that breaks my heart. The final toxicology report says that he also had heroin laced with fentanyl in his system.
Yes, Derek was a drug addict but that wasn’t WHO he was; my Son was kind, caring, generous, loving, compassionate and had an amazing work ethic. He would do anything for his friends and family….that’s the Man that I want people to know and remember, not the addict because that wasn’t him that was the drugs.