When Emily found out she was pregnant, her life began to snowball in a positive direction. She stopped using heroin, reconnected with family and was rocking it as a new mom to her beloved daughter, Carter. Sadly, Emily relapsed and died when Cater was 9-months old, leaving Emily’s mom, Joanne, to navigate the unexpected journey of becoming a new mom all over again. Today, Carter is four years old and thriving. She loves her Aunt Diane and Grandma “Mommy.” In this episode, we hear the heartfelt story of how one family is adjusting to raising a child, spreading awareness about addiction, and advocating for better policies to help families like theirs.
Please note, Last Day contains strong language and mature themes.
- Generations United’s National Center on Grandfamilies
- Key Notes Podcast
- Onsite Grief Workshop
- Overdosed newsletter by Diane Roznowski
[00:01] Emily: My name is Emily Roznowski. I am 22 years old and I live in Camp Hill, Pennsylvania. When I was 17 years old, I was introduced to heroin for the first time. Recovery for me and my family has been an incredibly long, hard, strenuous journey. I’ve been to five different treatment centers. I’ve lived in a sober house. I’ve moved to different states. I’ve tried everything and I just could not get it. And this last time I was using, I found out I was pregnant.
[00:40] Emily: We started calling places and nobody would take me because I was pregnant. It was terrifying because I know I’m not the only one. I’d known plenty of people who were pregnant who needed help. And it’s not only me who needs the help. It’s this child I’m carrying that also needs help. I was eventually pointed into the direction of a methadone clinic, which took me in immediately and I gave birth to a beautifully healthy little girl. Being a new mom is the absolute greatest feeling in the world for me. I firmly believe that my daughter was given to me to save my life. And I feel like she filled that void that had always been there that I had tried for years to fill with the drugs. She’s a miracle who has taught me how to love other people, myself and my life all over again.
[01:47] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Emily’s daughter Carter recently turned four. She’s chatty and adorable and precocious and incredibly loved. She celebrated her big day with an Elsa birthday party. Sadly, her mother wasn’t there. Because three months after she recorded the tape we just heard, Emily relapsed, overdosed and died. She’d been tapering off the methadone that she’d started taking while pregnant with Carter.
[02:31] Joanne: We didn’t understand about medically assisted treatment then. We thought total abstinence was what you had to do. And they wanted her to stay on it for another year and she just didn’t want to. And she was dead in three weeks.
[02:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: At the time, Carter was nine months old. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs, and this is Last Day.
[03:07] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Like all families who have experienced this kind of brutal loss, especially when a child is involved, somehow life keeps going. Today, Carter lives with Emily’s mom, Joanne. And honestly, these days life is pretty normal.
[03:28] Joanne: I get up usually before she does. And then I’ll be sitting, drinking a cup of coffee, watching the news or something or listening to music, and I hear running down the hall her feet. So we get up and I feed her breakfast usually. She used to eat everything. She’s starting to get picky, but she’ll usually — sometimes I usually make her an egg omelet, just an egg and with a piece of cheese in the middle. She prefers candy for breakfast. I usually do not give her candy for breakfast. Occasionally I finally let her have a piece of candy with whatever she’s eating for breakfast.
[03:59] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I mean, this could be the way-too-early-in-the-morning routine of any mom and her kid. that gigantic sound of little feet barreling down a hallway. The importance of omelette preferences. I mean, if you’re ever serving breakfast to my kid, she likes two pieces of cinnamon toast, dark, dripping with butter, Earth Balance to be specific, and you had better cut off those crusts or else. And this is the sort of mundane, everyday mom stuff that Emily got to be a part of the year before she died. She was doing really, really well.
[04:35] Joanne: She just looked healthy. She was healthy. She was so in love with Carter and really, really believed having Carter saved her life. And, you know, I had incredible gratitude when she died for the fact that we had her back that year. It made it sadder in a way, but it also — our last memories of her were really good and happy memories, and a lot of other people don’t have that.
[05:00] Diane Roznowski: The last year, I finally felt like I had my older sister back. Because for a while when her drug use was really bad, Emily and I both joked that I was her, like, big little sister because I was the one that had to, like, step up and be the more mature one in our relationship. That last year I got my old sister back and I got the experience I should have had with a sister and then she just died anyways. So.
[05:29] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s Emily’s sister, Diane. Their relationship was extremely strained when Emily was using, but they were finally getting to a point, as a family, where they could let their guard down. They all thought Emily was in the clear and they let themselves enjoy her in a way that they hadn’t in years. So when she died, they couldn’t help but ask the question we all ask when our person dies: what did I miss?
[05:59] Joanne: I think the saddest thing for Diane and I is we know so much more now that we wished we would have known that probably would have helped at the time. I think she kept telling me, Mommy, I just don’t feel normal anymore. Like, nothing makes me feel happy. I just don’t feel — she just said, like, I love Carter and I have friends, but she said would say, I just don’t feel happy or not. I don’t think I belong around normal people, she would say. She was such a beautiful girl and she was so talented in photography and writing and so many things. And she just never felt that way.
[06:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Emily’s complaints of not feeling happy or normal could be attributed to any new mom with a nine-month-old baby at home. It’s a hard fucking time, but Emily added another ingredient into the mix, which is that she stopped taking her methadone. And it just turned up the volume on all of those existing negative feelings. The night before she died, she and Diane got into it. Diane was going on a day-trip to New York City early in the morning, and her room was currently occupied with a crib that held a sleeping Carter. So she and her friend crashed in the living room. Emily came home late, slammed the front door, woke everyone up. Diane shouted at Emily, Emily shouted back, lots of bad words, you know, normal sister stuff. And then Diane woke up early the next day and headed out to the city. What’s also true of siblings is that making up is often pretty quick, and inside jokes are good currency. Emily and Diane used to play Sims all the time as kids. So Emily texted her a Sims meme as a peace offering.
[07:45] Diane Roznowski: And I text her back was like, “oh my gosh, that’s so funny.” I was like, “I’ve a great idea. We should buy each other both Sims 4 for Christmas. Like, wouldn’t that be so funny, just get each other the same present?” And she was like, no, like I don’t have a computer. I can’t play Sims 4. And I was just like, lol sucks to suck. And then she sent me like a crying emoji and I sent her the like information desk hair-flip emoji. And I came to find out like three months later that she died somewhere in between me sending that emoji and me sending the emoji back. And so I never would have remembered this conversation about the Sims meme she sent me, but it was the last thing I talked to her about. And I don’t know, like, I hope that she got the hair-flip emoji and laughed one last time before she died. But I just won’t ever know. And that’s like really hard for me to deal with, the fact that, like, I was one of the last people to have talked to her, and it was such a stupid conversation
[08:44] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: shortly after the emoji text exchange, Emily didn’t show up for work.
[08:53] Joanne: So her work called me. One of the people at work very panicked when she didn’t get to work because she never missed work, even when she was an active addict. She always worked. She was a very hard worker and they knew something was horribly wrong when she didn’t get there. And when they closed the restaurant that night, the manager and four other employees, they took five cars and they drove all over Harrisburg looking for her car to try to find her, but nobody could find her.
[09:17] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I mean, what was going through your mind during that 18 hours? I can not imagine.
[09:22] Joanne: Well, it’s horrible. And so first, when she didn’t get to work, to me I knew something was terribly wrong, because she didn’t even used to call off. But if she wasn’t going to go, she would have called off. So when they called and said she no-showed, no-called, I just started panicking and it took me a couple of hours. You know, I tried to call her repeatedly. I tried to call other people that might know where she was. I couldn’t go drive around because I had Carter. And after a couple of hours, I did start thinking the worst may have happened. But then I was thinking of great things like, oh, she probably just got arrested because her inspection had expired on her car. So I’m looking in the local jails to see if she’s been — that maybe she got pulled over and that she had an old warrant or something and they took her in.
[10:07] Joanne: Then I was hoping she was in a hospital, so I started calling hospitals. Then at a really desperate moment, around 9:30, 10:00 at night, I remembered somebody saying that 15, which runs right through the Harrisburg area, is a huge corridor for human trafficking. So I started Googling, do heroin addicts kidnap their cute customers and sell them into human trafficking? That was like my hope. That was like, oh, well, no, she’s — I mean, that’s how insane I was.
[10:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Later that night, Diane got home from New York
[10:40] Diane Roznowski: And all of the lights in our house were on, which shouldn’t be that weird of a thing, but my mom has always just been like, don’t turn the lights on. Like, she’s just very much like the stereotypical parent being like, do you pay the electric bill? No? Then turn the light off. And so I came in and my mom was sitting on the couch and the TV was off. And I was like why, like, mom, what are you doing? And I was like, “Hey!” And she was like, “um, so I have something to tell you.” I was, like, “OK, like what’s going on?” And she was like, “Emily didn’t show up to work.”
[11:13] Joanne: And I think Diane kind of thought, here goes Emily again, and she went to bed.
[11:21] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: At some point, Joanne also went to bed, but didn’t sleep at all. And around 6 a.m., she called a friend who did criminal investigation work for a bank, and she had access to cell phone records. And so they started trying to use cell tower data to locate where Emily was when she sent her last text. They reached out to the police, who started an official search. And in the meantime, the friend who was helping with the cell tower data called her brother, who was a paramedic in the area.
[11:48] Joanne: So she called him and said, if you get any runs in this area with a girl matching this description, this car, this license plate, please let us know, because Emily’s missing. And actually the next morning, or that morning, around 10 a.m., 10:30, he called his sister at my house. And the minute I saw her face, I knew. And she gave me the phone and he said, you know, this is my job. You can’t tell anybody. But we found her. She’s gone.
[12:17] Diane Roznowski: I think my brain has blocked out the sound my mom made. But I know it was like a sound I’ve never heard before.
[12:25] Joanne: So I was supposed to wait like three hours before I told anybody. And it was horrible. I really couldn’t do that. I did call some people, and my family. They started coming and some friends. And then I had to tell Carter’s dad because he was coming for a supervised visit.
[12:41] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Carter’s dad was also addicted to heroin. In fact, according to Joanne, who found out from Emily’s diary, he’s the one that introduced Emily to I.V. heroin use in the first place.
[12:54] Joanne: And his mother came and he went in the house because he had to get a drug test before he could see the baby. And I told her. She collapsed in my driveway. I think more out of the horror of if you were going to pick which one of the two of these kids would’ve made it out of the heroin thing, you would have definitely thought it was Emily. And I think when she realized Emily was dead, she wailed just like this primal wail. ‘Cause I think she thought, how is he ever going to escape this event if it’s killed Emily?
[13:22] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Pretty soon after getting the news. Joanne was desperate to see Emily’s body for herself.
[13:31] Joanne: And apparently in Dauphin County, they don’t let you do that. And I said, “well, I’m going to see her.” Then they tried to talk me out of it. I’m like, no. I needed to see it because I just don’t think it would have been real to me until I saw it. And I made them let me see her. And it’s not like on TV. She wasn’t in a little drawer in a nice clean building. She was like in a huge frozen garage on a gigantic table in a gigantic bag. And they unzipped it. And she a little referee shirt on from waitressing. And I just took one look at her and I felt warmth coming all over me. There’s a weird warmth. And I just looked at her and I said, “Emily, you never have to worry about it again. You don’t ever have to struggle. We love you. We’ll take you up to Eagle’s Mirror. Bury on the mountain next to Pop-Pop.” She used to use my dad as her higher power in her 12-step programs ‘cause she wasn’t so sure where she felt about faith, but she would always use him as the thing she’d say, “I know Pop-Pop will look over me and help me.” So. That got me through that a little bit.
[14:25] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Oh, my gosh, I’m so sorry. I’m like weeping over here. This is so sad.
[14:30] Joanne: It made it even more tragic that she just, for whatever reason that day, decided to buy something again. And the guy sold her five packs of 100 percent pure fentanyl, and that’s the one she used and it probably killed her instantly. She was missing for 18 hours before they found her the next day, dead in her car at Starbucks. And she left for work. And the last thing is that she said the last thing she said was, “Mommy, I love you.” And I said, “I love you, too.” And I was holding Carter and I babysat her when Emily was at work and that was it.
[15:06] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Carter, now that Emily was gone, what would happen to Carter? That’s where we’ll pick up after the break.
[17:46] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: We’re back. Funerals are undeniably terrible, and when it’s your loved one lying in the casket, it’s extra terrible, but it’s also a sort of out-of-body experience. You’ve gotten dressed somehow. Everyone you’ve ever known is there in the same room. But it’s hard to see anything more than their outlines. You’re going through the motions of civility, saying thank you 800 times. And in Joanne’s case, you are suddenly forced to think about custody.
[18:19] Joanne: I had many unsolicited do-gooders coming up to me while I was standing next to my daughter’s dead body at a viewing. “Well, you’re going to sue for custody, aren’t you? Well, you’re going to put her up for adoption. You can’t possibly raise it yourself.” You’re standing there reeling because your kid’s dead and all these people are throwing this stuff at you. And I decided, just like I had that calm when I walked in and saw my daughter dead, I decided I could hate her boyfriend or I could love him. And I decided I would love him because he is Carter’s father. And he had almost two years of sobriety and he had an overdose in August and almost died. The police didn’t think they were gonna be able to revive him, but they did. I just found out this morning he’s in jail. And I also try not to have resentment because I feel like I have already paid the biggest price. I got on a heroin rollercoaster that I never bought a ticket for. I have gone up and down those hills, around those bends. It has done everything it can and it has done the worst thing you could do to me. It killed my daughter. And I still am on the rollercoaster because of Carter, and having to deal with it with her dad. And in a way, Diane and I have it easier than his mom does, because she’s — as horrible as losing your child to this is, the hell of living with your child with it — and you probably know that different times with your brother. And Diane said to me at one point was, “Mommy, is it wrong to feel a little bit of relief that that part’s over?”
[19:51] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I get this. I so get this. And it feels shameful, in a way, to say it out loud, but it’s something that I felt. And it’s something I’ve heard from countless other people who have been on this same roller coaster from hell. These days, it’s still chaotic, but it’s an entirely different kind of chaos.
[20:17] Diane Roznowski: Carter, where do you want to go?
[20:19] Carter: Puppy.
[20:21] Diane Roznowski: You want to get a puppy? Can you ask Go-Go for a puppy?
[20:26] Carter: Puppy?
[20:27] Joanne: No.
[20:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Joanne’s days now revolve around this little puppy lover. Her nights, too, really.
[20:35] Joanne: Somehow in the last 10 months, she’s weaseled her way into sleeping in my bed. And I’m not making her stop because I think she, for whatever reason, needs that right now. She needs to be next to me. But next to me means I have feet up my buttcrack. She kicks me all night. She does this thing where she kneads me with her feet because she needs to know I’m there. Like she has to constantly touch me and I can’t stand people touching me. So she does that. Then I have a 100-pound dog on and off the bed and one of two cats on and off the bed. So if I sleep five hours total a night, that’s amazing. And that would be like eleven to one. I can’t believe I’m still awake. Two to three. Oh, my God, I’m awake. I mean it. I don’t sleep. I’ve never slept through the nights since Emily died.
[21:18] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: But Joanne’s not the only one whose nighttime routines have changed since Emily died.
[21:23] Joanne: My dog used to always sleep with me. He’s a hundred-pound lab golden retriever mix, Charlie. Not the brightest boy on the block, and absolutely zero in home security, but very loving. He would leave my room every night and sleep by her bed until around 6 o’clock in the morning then crawl back in my room because he knew there was something wrong with her breathing with her because of the drugs. He knew, and he just stayed with her all the time to watch over her. And he was a mess after she died.
[21:51] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: After losing Emily, Everyone had to figure out how to rebuild a new normal. I mean, at 59 years old, this is not how Joanne pictured this phase of her life.
[22:02] Joanne: So I had literally raised my daughter by myself for 16 years and I was almost finished raising them. And then Emily died and then I have Carter at nine months and starting all over again.
[22:14] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: In some ways, it was an abrupt shift back to the trenches of early motherhood, but it was kind of what Joanne needed at the time.
[22:23] Joanne: Emily used to say having Carter saved her life. I think having Carter saved my life when Emily died, because if I did not have Carter, I think I would have probably just stayed in my room, stayed at my house, not gone anywhere, not do anything. I’m a big denial person. I deny a lot of things. And so having to take care of Carter was right up my alley of denying what was going on. So I literally had to get up every, you know, three, four, five hours to feed or take care of her. You know, that was it. And I actually don’t even think I grieved Emily’s death at all for the first two years because I was so busy taking care of Carter and, you know, still trying to maintain some type of income and adjusting to all of the responsibility of having her and not really having a lot of help from the other family. You know, they would take her occasionally, but not a lot of time and not on a really specific schedule.
[23:18] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: On one level, taking care of Carter was saving Joanne. But the stress and urgency of the situation took away any time she might have had to process her own grief. And let me tell you from personal experience: a baby is a really good distraction for a while, but no amount of late-night feedings can keep that shit repressed forever.
[23:43] Joanne: And it finally dawned on me last year that I really hadn’t done any grieving work. And I was really fortunate, I got a scholarship to a place called Onsite. And you were just with 55 other parents that have lost their children, all different ways, all different ages, and just worked on that for a week. And it was really a fantastic thing for me to actually start that process because I really think up until that point, I grieved Carter missing Emily. I grieved Emily missing Carter. I grieved Diane missing Emily. But I couldn’t let myself get there with me missing Emily. So that’s been kind of, you know, I’ve been very easily just putting one foot in front of the other, taking care of her, not really dealing with a lot of the other stuff out there and also doing a lot of advocacy. I think if I sat still, that’s not good for me. I have to keep busy.
[24:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Since losing her daughter, Joanne has thrown herself into advocating for families who are like hers, because here’s the thing: no one was better equipped than Joanne to understand what to do when she found herself in this situation. And yet —
[24:45] Diane Roznowski: It’s crazy to me that my mom had at that point been a family law attorney for 25 years and regularly tried to help grandparents who are trying to raise their grandkids. But like, she had no idea where to go for help when it was her in the situation. And so it’s such a horrible, horrible issue. And she constantly says, like, I didn’t plan to be paying for tuition and daycare at the same time. And so I think recognizing that the best thing for our family and for a lot of families is to keep the child in the house that they’ve known, but they’ve not planned on caring for these kids and they need some help sometimes. And so I think that’s just like a way bigger issues than people realize.
[25:36] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And that’s really what your organization helps with, right?
[25:40] Diane Roznowski: Yeah. So Generations United works on intergenerational issues. So issues that affect the young and the old. And we’re home to the National Center on Grandfamilies. And we define grandfamilies as families like mine, where grandparents are raising children, but also as other relatives and close family friends, too. So I got to do a lot of work on families that look a lot like mine, which is great.
[26:05] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Grandfamilies are not a new phenomenon, but they are a rapidly growing demographic. Today, approximately 1.6 million kids in our country are being raised by a grandparent. These families can also fall under the heading of kin care. And this model provides some really great benefits for kids, especially when compared to the foster care system. But they face some unique challenges as well. So it’s important that organizations like the National Center of Grandfamilies exist.
[26:39] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: And I’m guessing that you didn’t plan to do this work.
[26:44] Diane Roznowski: Yeah, right around the time my sister died, I had taken this semester off from college to work on the presidential races in 2016. And I think a lot of it was I was kind of terrified to admit I wanted to actually create change on a policy level beforehand. And my sister dying so young was just a thing that I needed to, like, be like, no, you are good enough for this. Like you can create the changes you want to see. And a lot of times think that there’s two versions of me. There’s the me before Emily got into drugs. There’s a me from when Emily was on drugs until she died. And then there’s this whole entirely new, different person that is like me living without Emily. So that’s been like really hard to deal with, too, like these different parts of yourself. And I often wonder now, like, would she like this me? And I know the answer is yes, but it’s hard to kind of live with that. I don’t think people get that at all.
[27:45] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: While Diane is struggling to make sense of the past, Joanne is laser-focused on the future.
[27:53] Joanne: Colleagues say, “oh, are you retiring soon?” I’m like, I’m never gonna be able to retire. I have a child I’m raising. And I hope my health holds out. And I used to always worry with Emily and Diane — oh my god, what would happen if I died, because their dad was not going to be in the picture. And I worry about that for Carter, too. Like, oh my god, now I have that same worry again, which I kind of didn’t. And I also have the worry of we were this weird little three family unit. Me, Emily and Diane. And now it’s me and Diane. And who does Diane have if something happens to me, it’s just — and then Diane said to me about a year ago, she said you know what, mom? We’re still three. It’s you, me and Carter now.
[28:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Diane feels this worry, too.
[28:33] Diane Roznowski: It terrifies me. Like, what if something happens to my mom? She’s obviously under so much stress and has been for the last few years because of my sister’s problems. And then raising a kid, there’s a real possibility that she’s not going to be able to care for Carter until Carter graduates from high school. And so it’s terrifying to me, like, it’s made me change the way I think about everything. I’m like, OK, I really should be trying to pay down my student loans way faster than I ever would have if like this hadn’t been something that happened to me because gosh forbid if something happens to my mom, and I have to start caring for Carter, like I should really try and get them paid off faster. That it’s not OK, I have to pay daycare and student loans. And so it’s just — it’s hard. And I know my mom says to me, “I don’t want your sister dying to like change your life.” And I’m like, well it did. It changed the career path I wanted. It changed everything. And this is just like another thing it changed. And like, some days I’m upset that I don’t just get to be 23 and spend my money on all this dumb stuff and like that I have to worry about not just my future, but Carter’s future.
[29:41] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Because they’re so familiar with this unique set of stressors, Diane and Joanne have dedicated themselves to sharing their story and advocating for better policies when it comes to kin care. Which means they’ve become visible to the public. Which means trolls.
[29:59] Diane Roznowski: I’ll never forget, she and two other moms who had lost their children in 2017 were named like Pennsylvania newsmakers of the year by our local newspaper. And one of the comments said — and I know you’re never supposed to read the comments, but I know I’m good company here that I read the comments. This one comment said like, “so what? Her junkie kid died and now we’re just supposed to pay for this junkie’s baby to be raised.” And I sat there and I was like, I wish they could see how much of a complete boss my mom is. I don’t think I’ve ever met a harder-working person than my mom. And so there’s nothing my mom did that made Emily this way. And there’s nothing wrong about my sister that made her be someone who is addicted to drugs. And there’s nothing wrong with this baby who was nine months old when her mom died. She just has circumstances where both of her parents use drugs. That’s something she has to deal with forever. But the fact that my mom is stepping in to care for Carter is literally the best option for our family, and for so many families. Like the research shows that these families allow children to thrive. Kids raised by like grandparents or other relatives and family friends are more likely to report that they always feel loved, are going have to be like safer, and have better mental health and behavioral health, and stay connected to their siblings and their culture and their identities. But these families need help and people don’t realize that. Do they really think that if this state were to pay for Carter’s daycare, which they don’t, that is costing the taxpayers more money than if Carter was in foster care? Like grandfamilies save taxpayers $4 billion a year. It’s better economically and it’s better for the kids. But this commenter doesn’t know that and doesn’t care. And just wants to judge something they don’t understand.
[32:06] Joanne: Diane and I have always been public speakers and advocates. Emily never was. But that year she started to be. She gave a speech 58 days before she died about how having Carter saved her life, how she was completing the methadone program the next week, how fantastic it was to love herself, her child, feel love. And it just breaks your heart because it still got her.
[32:31] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: While they’re currently sharing Emily’s story with the world, Joanne knows the day will come when it’s time to share her story with Carter, who is steadily seeing her less and less as grandma and more as mommy.
[32:46] Joanne: I was Go-Go from the beginning, and that’s what Carter called me for a long time. She calls me mommy now, but she’s just started doing that, I think, from hearing kids do it at daycare. But she’ll tell people, my mommy is my grandma and mommy Emily’s in heaven. She talks about her all the time, being in heaven.
[33:03] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: I was going to ask you about that. How did you talk to her about Emily?
[33:07] Joanne: In the beginning it was really hard because how do you explain to a nine-month-old that their mom’s gone? And so after the funeral, she would stand up and hold her baby gate, hang on her baby gate, and look down the hall towards Emily’s bedroom and just go, “mama, mama.” For like the first two or three months, it just broke my heart. I mean, beyond words. And then I decided to tell her, “mommy went bye-bye.” And then a psychologist told me, “oh, no, no, no. Now, when anybody else goes bye-bye, she’s gonna think they’re never coming back.” So we would just kind of tell her that she died, even though she didn’t know what that meant, and that she was in heaven and that she was an angel. So she’s kind of learning that.
[33:51] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: So I want to just end asking you, like, if Emily were here, what would you tell her about Carter? How would you describe her to Emily?
[34:04] Diane Roznowski: Yeah. Gosh, that’s so hard. I think I would — I think I hope that Emily somehow is seeing Carter and gets to be with her. I don’t really know what I believe in terms of like an afterlife or anything, but there’s just so many times and I’m like, I hope Emily is seeing this. And I just wish, like, if anything, I could tell Emily that we are just so proud of everything she did while she was here, and for her trying and trying and trying to beat this. And Carter is more than OK. And she’s everything Emily would have wanted her to be and so much more. She is like, fearless and determined and gonna be such a handful when she’s older. But she’s just Emily, and herself, and like the good parts of all of us combined. And like we’ve got her and she’s gonna be OK.
[35:09] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: That’s really beautiful.
[35:12] Diane Roznowski: I’m just like crying a little bit now. But I mean it like — it’s like if you could select the best parts of all of us and add in a little bit of the crazy of all of us, that’s what Carter is.
[35:30] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Diane and Carter always used to say to each other, “I love you to the moon and back” until one day Carter noticed the moon up in the sky in the middle of the day where it doesn’t usually belong. So naturally she started calling it the silly moon. And now they all say, I love you to the silly moon and back.
[35:50] Carter: I love you to the silly moon and back. I love you to the silly moon and back.
[36:00] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Now, Carter always looks for the silly moon up in the sky. Because things that belong in the dark can look totally different in the light. It reminds me of something her mother said on that podcast just before she died.
[36:17] Emily: I’ve always been told, and I firmly believe that addiction is a disease that dies in the light. And the more we talk about it and the more we’re open about it and the more we make treatment and recovery easily accessible, I firmly believe that we can come to a point in time in which someone says, “I have a problem, I need help.” And they get that help right then and there. And fewer and fewer families will have to bury, you know, their wives, their husbands, their children.
[36:48] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: This is a disease that thrives in the dark. And must be defeated in the light. Next week, we talk long-term recovery with Calvin, TeRay and DeRay McKesson.
[37:06] DeRay McKesson: N.A. was the my first sort of community outside of family that I like understood what a community felt like. Like everybody chose to be here. People love each other. Like the sense of a place to go when you struggle or need help and like sharing your story, all that stuff, like the idea of the power of sharing your story and being really vulnerable and really honest. And there’s a community of people to help and support you. And this idea that like you actually keep doing that. Like, it’s not like — you don’t just come one day. You keep coming back. Like that stuck with me and shapes the way that I think about what it means to be a community and like the importance of being vulnerable. And why we tell a story like those sort of things that are important to me.
[37:49] Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Stephanie Wittels Wachs: Last Day is a production of Lemonada Media. Our producer is Jackie Danziger. Nicolle Galteland is our associate producer. And our assistant producer is Claire Jones. Kegan Zema is our technical director. Bryan Castillo is our editor. And our executive producer is Jessica Cordova Kramer. Our music is by Hannis Brown. Special thanks to Westwood One, our ad sales and distribution partner. You can and should find us online @LemonadaMedia. And you can find me online @wittelstephanie. If you like what you heard today, tell your family and friends to listen and subscribe, rate and review us on Apple, Spotify, Stitcher or wherever you get your podcasts. It really, really does help make an impact. I’m Stephanie Wittels Wachs. See you next week.