Happy Birthday in Heaven

For Danny

Today, March 6th 2020, would have been Danny’s 40th birthday. I am sure he, the kids and I would have celebrated with a steak dinner (carry-out of course…I stink at cooking), and probably would have watched re-runs of The Deadliest Catch or Gold Diggers on the Discovery Channel. I never understood why he found that so interesting. But, for his birthday, I would have given him free reign to the remote. I was a pretty awesome wife like that.

Unbelievably, today is also Black Balloon Day to bring awareness and to remember all those that lost their battle to addiction. Instead of giving Danny a card with a sweet and sarcastic letter inside, as we always used to do on holidays, I am visiting his grave with our children and the family to release balloons and sing to him in heaven. Danny died on September 11th, 2018, as a result of his addiction and co-occurring mental illness…after a period of long-term recovery. My life has never been the same since those four words were spoken to me: “your husband passed away.” And I never want it to be the same.

His death propelled a tidal wave of the most intense and debilitating emotions I could ever imagine. I grieved for myself, for his children, for our families, his friends, and for an entire community that he positively impacted over his 38 years here with us. He gave so much of himself to help others and made a difference in so many people’s lives. Signing on Facebook this morning, I saw post after post of folks wishing Danny a happy birthday in heaven. I know that I think about him every single day, and I cannot begin to tell you how special it feels to see that he is remembered and thought of by so many others as well.

I miss his sarcastic and witty humor. I miss his country charm. I miss watching him with the kids and seeing how much of his heart was dedicated to providing for them and making sure their futures looked bright. Gosh they love him. I love him. And although life continues to go on, I know he is with us every moment.

Shortly after his passing, I reflected on all of the astonishing and catastrophic events, encounters, and experiences that we faced as he declined and ultimately lost his life. The few months leading up to his death, there were so many individuals, entities, and opportunities to help him on a systems level. There was negligence and malpractice at the hands of two doctors. There was gap after gap that he slipped through while in psychiatric and substance use crisis. Everywhere we turned, he fell through the cracks. Every single piece of his story is almost unfathomable.

I cannot explain to you how or what happened, but I woke up one day and in my heart, I knew I was meant to speak up. I wasn’t sure how or what I was going to do; I just remember thinking to myself, “I have to do something.” So, I let the universe guide me as I embarked on an incredible journey of advocacy, service, and passion. A little over a week ago, the Virginia General Assembly passed SB903, commonly known as “Danny’s Bill,” through both chambers of our state government without one “no” on the board. Not one. This bill addresses substance use related emergencies in ER’s and hospitals, providing more consistency across the state on how these types of crises are handled.

I will say I have been connected to some of the most amazing legislators, advocates, providers and leaders I have ever met in my life. I have the most amazing business partner and friend in the world, Meredith, who has supported me on this journey without hesitation. I travel a ton, and without her, our transitional living program for women that struggle with addiction called The Recovery Connection, would not be thriving and saving lives as it is. People are listening to Danny’s story, to my story, to our story…and by sharing my heart and telling the truth, things are happening.

Danny’s Bill is a start. However, this is only the beginning. I have every intention on continuing my work on the local and state level, building and strengthening legislation regarding the mental health and substance use systems in order to save those still here and to honor those gone too soon. I will make sure Danny’s voice lives on beyond death so that he may continue helping others as he loved to do while here. In addition to my local and state efforts, I have my sights set on the federal landscape. Danny is with me. I can feel it. And he will be with me every step of the way, along with countless others whose voices will bring change. Together, we can.

Happy 40th Birthday, Danny. Maybe I’ll eat a steak dinner, watch The Deadliest Catch, cuddle our babies, and let you show me what I need to do next. I am sure your hand is in this; let’s see what else you have up your sleeve. <3

Written by: Julie Funkhouser, Co-Founder & CEO of The Recovery Connection