Submitted by his birth mother, Donna Smith

I met Heath when he was 26


I didn’t raise him — I was pregnant at a very young age and relinquished my parental rights. It was a closed adoption, so I didn’t know who took him. By the time I started looking for him, two decades later, he’d been looking for me for years. It was like a needle in a haystack when we found each other. 

He had a big heart for people and dogs

Heath enjoyed spending time with family and friends. He could bring a smile to anyone’s face with his silly antics. He loved going to the family cabin for fishing and hiking when he wasn’t working as a landscaper or volunteering at the dog pound.

He loved experiencing new places. After we met, we took a vacation by ourselves. I drove up to his home in Salt Lake City, and we went down to see all the national parks. We shared a great love of the outdoors. We drove, ate, laughed and cried.

Heath saved me

He turned my life around. After I relinquished my parental rights, I drank for 26 years, trying to figure out why I did what I did. I denied he even existed. I would drink a 12-pack and a pint a day. So even though I had been sober for two years when I met him, Heath’s understanding and forgiveness saved me, because I held so much guilt and shame. 

When he became addicted, it just unraveled

He started out using marijuana in high school. He switched to alcohol when he was around 15. One day, he got hit over the head while drinking. He went to the hospital, and the doctor gave him some pain medication. He loved it too much and started buying off the street and using heroin. He would mix all kinds of substances with the opioids. He would have hallucinations. He would call me screaming because he would see such horrible things. Something turned in him six months before he died. He wouldn’t get out of bed for hours.

Parasailing in Lake Tahoe

There was a time when his mom, Jodi, called me saying he stabbed himself 18 times and he had to go to a psych ward. That’s how he started living with me and his younger siblings. He was in rehab near me in Nevada, so I took him in for eight months. It was magical watching all four siblings interact like no time was missed. My kids absorbed him into their life. My favorite memories were the simple things, like waking him up in the morning and making waffles with him. We would do everything together. Unfortunately, I had to ask him to leave when he started using again. There were kids in the house, and I was also recovering from alcoholism; it just wouldn’t work.

We still talked on the phone weekly. Other than that period of time when he was living with me, he was never sober.

What he did to fight his opioid-use disorder

Heath struggled for years with his substance abuse, attending many inpatient rehabilitation centers. The last time I saw him was 10 months before he died. He just looked like such an aged old man. He was only 39, but he looked 60. Gray hair, skin and bones … He wasn’t the same person.

We both knew something was going to happen

He always used to say he was so happy to have two moms.

At the time of his death, Heath lived close to the mom that raised him, Jodi. Both of us knew something was going to happen to him, so we kept in contact with him as much as we could. The night of his death, we both left messages, and he did not answer. Jodi called the police for a wellness check, and they found him hanging.

What I would tell Heath now

I’m here for you. You’re not in pain anymore, that much I do know. You went through true human suffering. I understand why you did what you did. God has you in heaven, but I will always have you in my heart. 

I feel like I need a place to sit and talk to him…

So I am building a memorial garden in my front yard. I have a bench with a large natural rock with a polished flat top where I can set my coffee and a beautiful mature Japanese maple. They grow so well out here.

Heath and I were both into collecting rocks, so I have a beautiful piece of citrine, Heath’s birthstone, that I’ll place in the garden with the flowers.  

Our bench