Three years ago, on November 20, 2019, my beloved 19-year-old son, Johnny died by suicide after becoming psychotic from dabbing high-potency marijuana wax. We miss him so much.
Every day, I wake up and put on my figurative grief backpack. It used to be very heavy, and it’s gotten easier to bear over the years, but I always wear it. I’m so much better than I used to be three years ago. The grief is still there, but I’ve grown around it. I do have a lot of joy in my life with our fist grandson on the way in January and our children flourishing, so maybe someday I won’t wear it.
I imagine if I hadn’t started our nonprofit Johnny’s Ambassadors Youth Marijuana Prevention, I might not be able to stand up under the weight of my backpack. The work you are helping us do to warn others about the harms of youth marijuana use is very healing. I am truly grateful to all of you for joining our mission to educate parents, teens, and communities about the dangers of today’s high-THC marijuana on adolescent brain development, psychosis, and suicide. I don’t know where I would be without you.
As you know, Johnny’s Ambassadors is a non-religious, non-partisan organization, because ALL our children are impacted by the harms of marijuana. But personally, I am a Christian. I believe with all my heart I will see Johnny again when reunited with him in heaven, which gives me hope when my backpack is heavy.
I’ve always been an educator at heart. Even as a young girl, I wanted to be a teacher. Our family taught Sunday school together (4-year olds) for many years. As my career as a professional speaker flourished for 30 years before Johnny’s passing, I always prayed the Lord use the gifts He had given me to help others in some way. I thought it would be in women’s ministries or Mothers of Preschoolers (MOPS), so I gave presentations in those areas, but it didn’t seem like my calling. I now see that educating teens and parents about marijuana was my calling all along.
I now know everything I did in my career with my knowledge of media, branding, communication, events, etc. were all for the purpose of applying it to this work. Now, when I stand on the stage in front of thousands of teens at schools, I see on their sweet faces the same hopes, dreams, and goals that Johnny used to have. I believe it’s my God-ordained mission to keep them from following Johnny’s path. I will fight to save the lives of our children with every bit of strength I have left in my days. I promise I will stand strong for Johnny when my backpack weighs me down.
When students come up to me following a presentation, thank me for sharing, and tell me they realize they have a problem and are going to get help and try to stop, I know it was meant to be this way. I’d prefer to have my son, of course, but I realize it’s the best I can do given the circumstances. I will continue to forge ahead despite the pain and give meaning to my loss, or else, what’s the point of his death?
Other people do not like what we do. I receive hate mail every day, but it truly doesn’t bother me. I read a few sentences, delete it, and move on. I know it’s not about me. It’s about the other person receiving information that disrupts their reality. There is no sense arguing with the unreachable. A friend reminded me of Matthew 5: 10-16, which says, “Blessed are those who are persecuted because of righteousness, for theirs is the kingdom of heaven. Blessed are you when people insult you, persecute you and falsely say all kinds of evil against you because of me. Rejoice and be glad, because great is your reward in heaven, for in the same way they persecuted the prophets who were before you. You are the salt of the earth. But if the salt loses its saltiness, how can it be made salty again? It is no longer good for anything, except to be thrown out and trampled by men. You are the light of the world. A city on a hill cannot be hidden. Neither do people light a lamp and put it under a bowl. Instead, they put it on its stand, and it gives light to everyone in the house. In the same way, let your light shine before men, that they may see your good deeds and praise your Father in heaven.”
Regardless of your religious beliefs, Johnny’s Ambassadors strive to show kindness, compassion, and love to others. It’s hard to stick your neck out and speak the truth with the risk of being attacked. Be brave, Johnny’s Ambassadors! Your work is noble, and good, and it’s fundamentally LOVING to speak the truth to try to help other people. We all need to have thick skin! DON’T BE AFRAID TO TELL YOUR STORY. It is your story, and no one can tell you different. As Ephesians 6:14 says, “Stand therefore, having girded your loins with truth and having put on the breastplate of righteousness!”
When Johnny was born, I had the sense he would do something very important in this world, and I told him so. We talked about it even as he neared his death what it would be. When Johnny died, I was confused, because he no longer had the ability to do something important. Or did he? I often think about Mary giving birth to Jesus, only to have him taken away as a sacrifice for humankind. I believe Johnny was given to me for a finite amount of time and allowed to go home 19 years later, so our mission to save others could begin. It gives me great comfort knowing I can share his warning, “Marijuana ruined my mind and my life,” with the world, even though he’s not here.
In a school paper he wrote just a few months before he died, Johnny said I was his role model of the value of conviction. I have tried to live up to his image of me and think he would be proud of me and our work. Maybe he’s doing something important after all through us. I know the education you’re helping to provide others is working! I have seen great strides in awareness across the U.S. since we started Johnny’s Ambassadors two and a half years ago. Keep going! Thank you all so much for helping me carry my backpack these past three years. Your love keeps me shoulder the load and keep moving forward, and I’m so grateful for your friendship.
Please help us honor Johnny for the work he continues to do on this earth by making a contribution to Johnny’s Ambassadors for his Angelversary and #GivingTuesday. For a minimum $25 donation, I will PM you a link to the recordings and slides from our July 2022 Youth Marijuana Prevention Conference from 9 world-class marijuana prevention experts! Thank you so much for your love and support.