- Associated Press - Sunday, December 20, 2015

KANKAKEE, Ill. (AP) - Lisa Ayres loved the holidays. She enjoyed dressing her three kids up for Halloween. She cherished being around her family for Thanksgiving. She gave the best Christmas presents.

When Thanksgiving returned this year, her ashes rested in a purple and white marble urn inside her mother’s cabinet. Her three kids were separated from each other.

This is the endgame of a heroin addiction.

“I go through the motions and try to make the holidays nice for the kids,” Lisa’s mother, Cindy Kennedy, said just before Thanksgiving. “But there’s something that’s just not right. Lisa is dead.”

Lisa was addicted to heroin for two years when she overdosed at her mother’s house. Her addiction started after she was prescribed a narcotic to handle stomach and head pains.

She was 30 years old, just had her third child and started taking classes at Kankakee Community College. The stress was overwhelming, and her lifelong battle with bipolar disorder persisted.

A friend introduced her to heroin to alleviate pain and pressure. She got hooked after that first try. It was noticeable.

“She started appearing a lot different,” her sister, Renee Kennedy, said. “She liked to dress up, do her hair nails, makeup. She wanted to look nice. All the sudden, she stopped shaving and cleaning herself for days. She was dirty.”

“Her skin didn’t look clear like it used to,” Cindy added. “She lost her glow.”

She no longer had money and was disappearing for hours at a time. People often saw her walking down the Washington Street bridge in Kankakee.

Then, a couple health screens revealed the problem. Lisa was in the hospital for migraine headaches when doctors detected pot, cocaine and prescribed opiates in her system.

Cindy knocked on Lisa’s door one morning, and her elementary school-aged grandchild answered the door. Lisa was passed out on the couch. Cindy had enough.

“She could no longer take care of her kids,” Cindy recalled. “I wasn’t going to let my grandkids find her dead. I wasn’t going to let that happen.”

So, Cindy called the kids’ fathers and asked them to take care of the kids. Lisa was going to rehab, Cindy said.

Lisa eventually lost custody of her kids, and the fathers filed restraining orders against her. Her oldest son never saw her again.

Child services showed up at the house. Lisa denied having a drug problem and blamed Renee for her problems. That created a rift between the two sisters.

One year into her addiction, she went to rehab twice and attended alcoholics anonymous meetings because Kankakee County didn’t have many narcotics anonymous classes at the time. Renee went with her for support.

Prior to rehab, she recorded a video meant to be viewed by her children. She promised them she would be back and get better. Her teeth were blackened and chipped. Her skin was gray. Her eyes were bloodshot. She was high on heroin.

The trips to rehab provided brief glimmers of hope for the Kennedys.

“She came out and had that glow back in her eye,” Cindy said. “She had that go. Then, it would die out again.”

“She started hanging out with the same people,” Renee added. “She didn’t want to change that lifestyle.”

Lisa lost her car and her house. She sold all her jewelry to feed her addiction. She had nothing left. So, she moved in with her parents.

Cindy watched her daughter battle through withdrawal. It’s a sight no mother wants to see.

“It was hard watching her be so sick,” Cindy said, pausing to wipe away tears. “The endless throwing up, sweating bullets, clothing drenched - it’s hard to watch your child like that.”

Lisa got clean, but one night changed everything as she scored heroin again. She woke up the next morning, got some coffee and went upstairs. Her parents didn’t know she had heroin in her purse.

Cindy called for her, but Lisa didn’t respond. Lisa’s father, Robert, ran upstairs and couldn’t wake her up. It was too late to use the narcan the family had just in case Lisa overdosed.

Lisa died on May 31, 2014. She was 32 years old. She was a mother, a daughter, a sister and an aunt.

Ever since then, the holidays haven’t been the same for the Kennedys. Life is no longer measured in days, months or years for them.

“When you lose a child, the measurement of time is different,” Cindy said. “It’s before Lisa died and after Lisa died. You lose track of things. You live with a lot of what-ifs.”

Cindy now has custody of Lisa’s 12-year-old daughter.

“I see a lot of Lisa in her,” Cindy said. “She’s mad, angry. She doesn’t cry. She doesn’t feel. She’s lost her mom, and her dad’s in jail. She’s angry.”

Lisa’s youngest child, now 6, knows his mommy is an angel in heaven. The oldest, now 14, knows how his mother died. All her kids do.

But Cindy and Renee want more people to know how Lisa died. They want to make sure nobody decides to try heroin in the first place. They want to help people who are addicted to enter rehab.

“I’ve learned more about heroin than I’ve ever wanted to,” Cindy said. “It’s there. It’s around your corner. It’s down your street. It’s going to take your kids, your husband or your wife. It’s going to take them if it’s allowed to.”

The Kennedys have started the Lisa Ayres Memorial Benefit, which will take place on May 21 at the Aroma Park Boat Club. They are raising money, which will go toward helping local addiction facilities transport addicts to rehab.

The holidays may never be the same again for the Kennedys, but they want to help save lives and end the heroin epidemic.

“No kid should be without their parent because of this drug. No mother should feel anything that I’ve felt. No mother should have to find their child dead over something their kid did to themselves. It’s tearing our families apart,” Cindy said.

“We need to talk about it. We need to fight it.”

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Source: The (Kankakee) Daily Journal, http://bit.ly/1SvmIcQ

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Information from: The Daily Journal, http://www.daily-journal.com

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