Submitted by Alexa’s father, Frank Cioffi, who has formally adopted her son, Frankie
What Alexa was like
Alexa was very outgoing, gregarious and fun to be with. She was a good friend to her friends … and kind and compassionate to everyone. She was always adopting dogs. Anyone who was in need, Alexa was always the first one there to help. One of my best friend’s brothers had a traumatic brain injury, and Alexa visited him a lot.
How drugs became a part of her life
She had a car accident — at 17. She broke her wrist, was prescribed painkillers and liked them. She’d use for a while and then not use. I don’t think she got super addicted until her mid-twenties. The rest of the time she just liked opioids but wasn’t totally dependent on them.
When I first knew something was wrong
Alexa and I worked together, so I was with her a lot. But she was pretty good at hiding things that were going on in her life. I kind of was oblivious to something being really wrong until she stole from family members, and that led to the discussion: “What do you need this money for?”
How opioid-use disorder changed our relationship
I think it got more honest. We got to the root of what was going on. She had a couple of incidents living with her former boyfriend that were not healthy. After one of them, I got called into the situation and thought to myself, Whoa, what’s going on here? I encouraged her to move away and helped her find her own place to live after that.
What I’ve learned about addiction
I grew up in the 1970s and I am no angel, by any means, but I don’t know what it’s like to be addicted to something that is so powerful that it’s all you can think about. Until any of us fully understand that, or have been with someone they love who is suffering like that, you don’t realize. Yes, it is an elective choice on their part, but it’s all-consuming, overwhelming. Alexa didn’t want to be addicted. She couldn’t find a way to get there.
Alexa went to counseling. She did a short rehab at Maple Leaf. It did help quite a bit for a while, but then she got back into it. More so, I think her boyfriend was struggling with addiction, and she really wanted a family.
What Alexa was most proud of
Being a mother. Definitely. Frankie was 2 years and 4 months old when she died. She had thousands of pictures of him. He was her primary purpose and total love in life.
Alexa had a child previous to Frankie that she offered up for adoption. She was in her twenties. She just wasn’t ready and she wasn’t in a relationship that she thought was going to be a partnership, and I don’t think she saw she could raise the baby alone, either. So she worked with Lund, and she selected the adoptive family. That certainly was heart-wrenching for her and, I think, drove her into a depression.
The last days I shared with my daughter
Alexa texted me in California to ask if she and Frankie could stay at my family’s home in St. Albans while I was away, because she didn’t feel safe where she was. I said yes, of course, and came back to find them there. I could tell she was sick. She thought she had a broken rib. And she was limping a little bit. I offered to take care of Frankie. From his birth, I have acted as his dad; I bathed him every night, read to him and put him to bed. Together with Jovana, my former wife and Alexa’s mom, the three of us were raising Frankie together.
On the day she died, Alexa was too sick to watch Frankie, so Frankie and I went to the store for diapers and baby needs. We came back within an hour, and the house was quiet. I thought Alexa was still sleeping. I made Frankie a snack and changed him before I went in to find Alexa lying sideways on the bed. I screamed her name. She didn’t move. So I shook her. She didn’t move. I think that Frankie heard me scream.
I took my phone out, put it on speaker, dialed 911 and started CPR. That’s when I noticed she had marks on her neck and chest. As soon as the EMTs came, they injected her with Narcan. They couldn’t bring her back and concluded she didn’t have an overdose.
The cause of death was acute bronchial pneumonia due to chronic substance abuse. So it was from snorting pills. She just stopped breathing. She might have had a heart issue that kicked in after that.
The autopsy showed traces of fentanyl, too. This is her obituary.
If I could say one thing to Alexa now, it would be this
I wish you were here to see your son every day. You would delight in everything he does. And he looks like you, too. He is beautiful.
What I have learned from this tragedy
My lesson in all of this is: You think you can plan. You can’t plan. If you get sick or something like this happens, you must be agile and find ways to move forward.
I’ve done a lot of things in life personally and professionally, and raising and caring for my grandson is the most meaningful, purposeful and most fulfilling thing I think I’ve ever been a part of. It’s a joyful and fun opportunity and a privilege. He turned 6 yesterday. Blueberry pancakes at 5:45 a.m.