Uncle Dave’s Overdose was a Wake-Up Call

Updated: Oct 28

By: Hailey de la Vara


When I was six years old, Saturday nights at my grandma’s house were something I constantly looked forward to. Hunter, my brother, and I played Clue, Go Fish, and Battleship with Uncle Dave until we would both pee our pants from laughter. When my grandma, Dave’s mother, died a couple of years later from lupus, I didn’t know that that would be one of the last great memories I had of my Uncle Dave.

After my grandma’s passing, Dave had to move out of her house and find a new home. Her death was traumatizing for our entire family and a moment that I’ll never forget. She had been on life support in the comfort of her own home for two months prior to her death. When it came her time, her long-term care helper notified our family that grandma was beginning to become blue in the feet. Dave and his mother had a bond like no other, as he was her first baby and he would watch her slowly become lifeless over the span of a couple months.

The Thanksgiving after her death was the first time I saw him after the incident and his eyes were filled with sadness and grief. He had gained 50 pounds after her death due to the feeling he would describe to my young self as “nothingness.”

A month later I saw him again. He was the skinniest I’d ever seen him.

Hunter and I asked my mom, “Why is he so skinny? How could he have lost over 70 pounds within a month?” She avoided the question and our relationship with my uncle started to fade after that moment. That was the last time I saw him before his death seven years later.

Hunter and I couldn’t comprehend why my parents didn’t want us to visit him. When we asked they said, “He’s in a dark place and, trust me, he probably wouldn’t want to see you guys.” Once I was in high school, I understood that after my grandma’s death he started doing heroin and meth every day to the point he couldn’t function without it.

I am still unsure to this day how Dave’s heroin addiction began -- if he began abusing my grandmother’s pain medication or if he just felt he needed euphoria again. There are an estimated 9.2 million people in the world who use heroin. Addiction to this drug is almost guaranteed due to the high immediately going to the brain. There are also 9.7 million people believed to have misused prescription pain killers over the last year. In California, where we live, street drugs are everywhere.

He had lost himself to the point of no return after his mother’s death and ultimately lost relationships with everyone around him from his addiction. Although Hunter and I wished we could’ve seen him once more, we knew it wasn’t about us. Dave shut out the world around him because he knew substance had taken over his life. He died from an overdose. Dave, 62, was found by his partner, Carol, whom he lived with after my grandma’s passing. They weren’t close. She was basically his caregiver and knew what he was going through.

Once Uncle Dave passed, Hunter became severely depressed. We went to Dave’s funeral, the urn was sitting at the podium. As we were walking out, Hunter ran his hands through Dave’s ashes and accepted that was the last time he’d have a physical connection with his uncle. After that moment we became closer and promised each other we would build stronger connections with our family, no matter what. Hunter and I reflect on our experiences with Uncle Dave as a learning experience. We both loved him and still do. Hunter always reminisces on the good and positive memories of him.

Addiction is something so prevalent in my family that I know it is something I can never get caught up in.

A couple of months ago, my dad’s middle brother, Robert, passed from a heart attack at 60 and doctors claimed his death was related to his constant cocaine use throughout his life. It is sad to see my dad’s once strong family diminish over time. Hunter and I acknowledge the risks behind hard drug use and vow to not allow ourselves to make these mistakes.

Although I only had half of my lifetime knowing my Uncle Dave, he taught my family and me lessons that I will be forever grateful for. I know the difference between right and wrong, and how much family matters to me.


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