Holly’s Song Of Hope: Mother Turns Tragedy Into Action
SHERRODSVILLE, Ohio (May 4, 2017) – As an estimated 200,000 Ohioans struggle with addiction and as Mother’s Day fast approaches, one woman’s journey to save parents from her agonizing experience stands on the front lines of the battle for recovery.
Her story begins like many mothers: A loving home, a beautiful daughter with a bright future ahead of her, the two of them the best of friends. Tonda DaRe, a teenager at heart, could finish the sentences of her daughter Holly. The two were inseparable.
“She loved everybody. My girls both of them are very ‘root for the underdog’ girls,” says Tonda. “If there was a new kid in school they were the ones, both of them would go straight to the new kid and say ‘hey come sit with us.’”
If Holly felt there was an injustice happening, she would step up and say something. Having the voice of an angel, she sang soprano and loved opera. She was in all of the school plays and musicals – a showstopper. One summer Holly even traveled to North Carolina and tried out for the X-Factor.
“All she ever wanted was to get in front of Simon,” says Tonda. “She just thought he was the greatest thing in the world. She wanted to sing for him.”
Holly auditioned the week that Whitney Houston passed away. Her song was Celine Dion’s “I Surrender”.
In the beginning of 2010, as Holly turned 19, the two would face a nightmare that has become too common for over 33,000 parents every year.
“Holly had gotten involved with a boy who introduced her into crushing and snorting pills, which lasted a couple of weeks before I caught onto what was going on,” says Tonda. “I thought we had taken care of the situation and it was behind us.”
The boy Holly had gotten involved with became a closer romantic interest, and Holly gave birth to a beautiful baby boy they named Noah.
“Oh, she loved him so much. He was her world,” says Tonda.
A few months later, under the pressures of being a new mother, Holly decided to try heroin.
Within three months, Holly came to her mother wanting to get help. No matter how hard she tried, she just couldn’t stop. Tonda immediately got Holly into treatment. A loving mother, she was involved in Holly’s process and extremely supportive. The baby’s father decided to get help as well. Tonda watched and cared for Noah while the two were in treatment. When Holly was released, a song of victory as the two put it behind them and the sun rose on their dark night. By Noah’s first Christmas, the two were healthy and happy in a promising recovery.
Holly began working at Sherrodsville’s Atwood Lodge, a popular community resort that hosted weddings, proms and people looking to get away for a quick vacation.
“There was a big commotion the night before it happened,” says Tonda of the incident that will forever be etched in her memory. “She had been having some conflict at work.”
Holly had been nervous about going into work. She felt she needed to use, and did.
Neither her mother nor her fiance noticed signs of her using again. Neither had a clue that they would lose the love of their lives. The three of them were planning a wedding. One day, Holly would get an even more dangerous dose – one of the first batches laced with fentanyl that would hit their area.
“I got a call from her fiance that he had stopped by the house for lunch after he had to go into town,” says Tonda. “He found her laying on the floor blue. She was in the bathroom and Noah, one-year-old at the time, was by himself.”
Holly’s fiance called 911 and Tonda jumped in the car and raced to the house.
“The whole time all I kept thinking was please be okay, please be okay, please be okay,” says Tonda.
Because they lived in a rural area, it took the ambulance almost half an hour to get to them.
“The one thing I remember was when they got her in the ambulance and we were following them I kept praying, ‘Please God, please bring her through this. I won’t be blind to it anymore. Let this time just be the lesson that she needs,’” says Tonda. “But it wasn’t meant to be.”
They are open with Noah about what happened to his mother.
“He knows his mother. He knows her voice. He knows her face. He knows her. He’ll sometimes say that he misses her,” says Tonda. “We simply tell him mommy was sick and started messing around with drugs and they killed her. As a child of two parents who struggled with addiction, he needs to know that.”
In the months that followed Holly’s death, Tonda made sure that someone was always around Noah’s father to provide support and prevent him from relapsing. They made sure to make him a very large part of the situation and include him in all of the decisions.
“We wanted to make sure he knew he was a part of our family. We kept that forefront in our minds,” says Tonda.
For the first six months after Holly’s death, Tonda couldn’t bring herself to do much of anything. Holly’s birthday is April 12, so every six months, she goes through the same emotions.
“By her birthday that first year I had been in a fog and I just spiraled straight down,” says Tonda. “It took me a year and a lot of inpatient therapy before I started to come back a little bit. That’s when I made the decision.”
Tonda founded the advocacy group Holly’s Song of Hope. She knew she was struggling and started looking for support groups and there was nothing out there for someone like her. An overdose isn’t a “bring a casserole” death. Neighbors don’t show up like they do in perhaps a car accident. Still, she had a lot of support.
“The day of her funeral was in the middle of the week at 11 a.m., and there were so many people there that all of them didn’t fit inside the funeral home. They were piled out all around the place everywhere,” says Tonda. “When we left to drive to the cemetery on one of the straight stretches I stopped counting at 40 cars behind us. I was blown away. She had touched so many lives in just 21 years.”
Holly’s Song of Hope quickly grew to include members all across the globe. The group focused not just on support but educating each other. One of their first actions was to advocate for Naloxone (an overdose antidote drug) for law enforcement to carry in Carroll County. A Sheriff’s Deputy was at the house during the overdose within a matter of minutes and Tonda says it still haunts her to this day that if he had Narcan, Holly might still be with us.
Holly’s Song of Hope got approval and managed to get funding for law enforcement. Tonda composed Addiction 101, a course that educates communities on addiction.
“I started going to conferences everywhere I possibly could,” says Tonda. “I just wanted to learn. I had to figure out what happened to my child. I traveled to Washington, D.C. for the Facing Addiction rally.”
It was there Tonda would meet Ohio Senator Rob Portman. Governor Kasich then contacted her and asked her to come speak about the prescription reporting system. Tonda would go on to testify at the Senate about the Comprehensive Addiction and Recovery Act to help it get passed. She works to help get insurance companies to cover anti-crush meds where they are available.
“Fake it ’til you make it. Find something that you’re passionate about that involves something about your child’s death,” says Tonda. “In the beginning it’s hard. If it wasn’t for the fact that I’m so busy, I would curl up on the couch and cry all day. Holly’s Song of Hope gives me a reason not to do that.”
Tonda says her advice for parents with a child battling addiction is that they’re your child, not your friend. Don’t worry about hurting their feelings. Drug test them.
“I don’t care how appalled they are,” says Tonda. “If you know, stop enabling. It’s the hardest thing in the world to say no to them. The day you give them $10 for McDonald’s and they die you’ll regret it.”
“Heaven knows that there’s no other reason on this Earth that an addiction treatment center would find Atwood Lodge,” says Tonda.
Holly’s Song of Hope has several projects in the works, one being an effort to cut commercials in the U.S. for prescription painkillers. The other is a fight to end the rule that treatment centers who take Medicaid can only treat 16 people at a time for inpatient.
With a baby born every 25 minutes addicted to opioids, Holly’s Song of Hope is working to prepare schools for physical, mental and developmental problems that will influx the education system in a few years.
Holly was to be married October 12, 2013. She never got to walk the aisle in her wedding dress, but her sister will wear it this year at her wedding. It will serve as her “something borrowed” and a way of having her sister with her.
You can join Holly’s Song of Hope here.
Vertava Health is so proud of Tonda, and it is our goal to echo Holly’s voice by helping to save other families in Ohio when Vertava Health Ohio opens this Fall.