Submitted by his mother, Debi Nadler

Brett was kind to animals

Brett’s passion for animals started in kindergarten. In elementary school, he brought home a dead bird and asked me to save it. I was a freak over bugs, and he was supposed to be my bug killer, but he would never kill them. He would literally pick up a spider by its leg and bring it outside.

Brett in Costa Rica

One time, as an adult, he was driving back to Los Angeles and stopped at a rest stop. There was a coyote, and he just started talking to it and named it and gave it water. When he died, I went down to the animal shelter and sponsored a kennel in Brett’s name.

He had a knack for language

We moved out to Vegas from Alabama after I got divorced, and my kids were real young. They never got the Southern accent — they’re West Coast kids, and I’m a Southern girl. They used to make fun of how I talked. Brett’s vocabulary was very superior. He used to make fun of my words, telling me they were nonsensical: “Mom, learn to use your words. That’s not the right verbiage.”

Brett was fluent in Spanish. He turned every one of my TVs to Spanish; he texted me in Spanish and studied in Costa Rica for a semester, too.

Brett and his mom in November 2015

How drugs became part of Brett’s life

Brett came crying to me that he was addicted to pain pills after his sophomore year in college at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas. He told me he was taking 30 pills a day. I had no clue. He begged me to help him. He went to a rehab in Las Vegas, and that is where he was introduced to heroin. From there, it was seven more rehabs — a vicious cycle. After reading his journals, I discovered that he’d had a traumatic experience in college that perpetuated his use.

Brett wanted to earn a college degree

Brett’s major in college was international business with a minor in Spanish. He went to UNLV for two years, then went to rehab in Alabama and transferred his credits to the University of Alabama so he could continue his studies. When he died, Brett had more than enough credits to graduate. In August 2019, UNLV awarded Brett with a degree posthumously.

The last moment we shared

Brett and his nephew Lyle

In December 2017, Brett was in Las Vegas for the holidays. We did an escape room and had a blast. We were really working together, figuring things out. We’re both like detectives. We went to see a hypnotist, and I was called up onstage and hypnotized. That was kind of embarrassing.

I just had a feeling then that he was going to flip. He used to say, “Mom, everything is going so good; I just know something is going to happen.” He was in between shoots as a production assistant, so he was trying to get another job. He relapsed and got himself back into rehab in January. After Mother’s Day, my daughter told me she was pregnant, and the next day I got the call that Brett had overdosed. I had talked to him that morning, and he was fine.

On still feeling Brett’s presence

I have a plaque of him in my garden and have the “One Day at a Time” coin he rubbed every single day that I bring with me to events. Every day, I’m reminded of him. While driving home a couple of months ago, a coyote was right in front of my car, just staring at me. I was like, Is this you, Brett?

How I’ve responded to Brett’s death

I started an organization called Moms Against Drugs. I’m organizing a Drug Epidemic Awareness Walk Across America to bring together parents whose kids have struggled with addiction. We’ve made banners of all our kids we’ve lost — eight banners with 150 kids per banner, and we’re adding people every day. We’re doing walks in each of our cities.

If I could say one thing to Brett now, it would be

Brett always told me I didn’t understand. He was correct. I didn’t understand what was going on in his mind because he kept his trauma and anxiety hidden. Only after reading his journals did I fully understand the pain he was feeling. I go to his grave weekly. I don’t need to say I love you, as I did that every single day of his life. I do want him to know I feel all the pain he was feeling, and I understand. 

An interview Brett did for his cousin’s high school project on addiction. He overdosed exactly one year after this.