Submitted by Brittany Keyes, Nathan’s former partner and mother of their daughter

Nathan cared deeply for those he loved

He loved the outdoors — hunting and fishing. He was softhearted and genuinely wanted people around him to be happy. Nathan’s favorite thing to do was to spend time with his daughter, Gracie.

Nathan Staubs and his daughter, Gracie

Nathan was a good dad

My most vivid memory is the day Gracie was born. Once she was born, I looked over to see tears rolling down his cheeks. He was in awe of her and kept saying how beautiful she was. He was so afraid to hold her at first, because he said she was so little. After the first time he held her, all he could think of was his little girl. He always said Gracie was his little angel.

Nathan was playful and fun. Gracie loved to play in the backyard with him — she always looked forward to that. The last Christmas he had was spent with us — he came over and stayed the night to be there when she woke up in the morning. That’s a special memory I hope Gracie will have.

When we first met, I didn’t know about his addiction

Nathan started using drugs in middle school and was introduced to heroin when he was 16. I found out one morning when I woke up to him with a pale face and blue lips. He had used sometime before I woke up and accidentally overdosed. Luckily, he was able to be saved that time.

I remember going to the hospital after, and once the rest of his high wore off he became angry, trying to take his IV out and telling everyone he was going home. After that, he opened up to me about his drug use for the first time.

Our relationship began to resemble a roller coaster as he struggled with drug use. From there on out, I always knew when he was actively using, because he would become distant — he didn’t try to see our Gracie, and he sometimes became angry. Occasionally, we would reach a high — be happy and laugh together while he was sober — but the moment he relapsed, we would go speeding down to a low point of arguments, lies and hiding things.

Nathan fought the disease he had several times, several ways

Nathan used many different methods to fight his opioid-use disorder. He went to multiple rehabilitation centers, lived in sober-living facilities out of state and used inpatient local services. He tried medications therapies like suboxone and methadone and attended Narcotics Anonymous meetings. While incarcerated, he utilized rehabilitation programs, too. He even had an opioid-blocking implant at one point in time. He fought this disorder for nearly 10 years.

Explaining Nathan’s struggle to Gracie was difficult

When he would go to rehab, or jail, I would tell her that he had to go away to get better. It’s hard to explain such a complex thing to a young child, and I don’t want her to think he was a bad person, because he wasn’t. She was 6 when he died, so her memories are vague, but she talks about him and misses him.

Nathan died on a Thursday, but I didn’t tell Gracie until Sunday. I needed that time to process and think about how I would tell her that her dad was gone. It felt like the best way to tell her was to say this: Sometimes when people get sick, they have to go to heaven.

If I could say one thing to him

I miss you and don’t blame you for what happened. I’m slowly starting to understand addiction and how hard the battle was inside you. I forgive you. And, even though it breaks my heart every day, I’m glad you have some sort of peace now — no more demons to fight.