#pamhpapfa #parentleadershipmonth #leadership #substanceusedisorder

"The last time I saw my son was on Mother's Day in 2018. He died a month later," said mother of three Kristen Grebey. Last week we highlighted a parent-leader and an advocate for her non-binary child. This week for February's Parent Leadership Series we sat down with Grebey, PA Parent and Family Alliance's very own outreach assistant, to hear her heartbreaking story of how she lost her son to a substance use disorder and how she is using her lived experiences to help other families facing similar challenges. She is another example of a parent that did not realize that the work and advocacy they have done and continue to do make them a leader among parents. Grebey may not see the leadership she exemplifies, but we sure do.

In October 2016 Grebey's son's girlfriend was hospitalized for an overdose. She ended up being okay but it was during the stress and scariness of this event that Grebey's son told his mom about his own drug use. "He turned to me and told me that he had done everything but bath salts but tried to reassure me that he had it under control," said Grebey. The following month her son went to court-ordered rehabilitation. "The rehab was really starting to work but his girlfriend's grandmother died and he flew out before rehab was finished for the funeral. They went off the radar after that and didn't resurface until they were homeless. A little bit of time past and they seemed to be off the radar again. Eventually, she moved in with a friend and my son went back to rehab to escape homelessness, and the couple broke up."

She described this second trip to rehab as something that "turned the light back on" over her child's head. "He was doing really well in July 2017. He was out in Utah, had gotten a job and an apartment for himself. He even came out to visit for Thanksgiving and was looking so great," said Grebey. She remembers her husband saying "welcome back, we missed you" to her son that Thanksgiving because it felt like he was finally the son and brother that he had been before his substance use challenges.

Her other children felt like they had their brother back. When asked how their sibling relationship was impacted she said that her other children were scared of her son when he was under the influence of drugs because they didn't know what he would do. "They really did suffer seeing their brother like that. All of my kids got a lot closer during his recovery. He made a point to reach out to and speak to his siblings and build that relationship back up." Today Grebey's kids miss their brother immensely and while she said she is constantly on the lookout for signs that they could be struggling with their own substance abuse challenges she highly doubts it would happen because of how they watched their brother suffer. She told us that her children are so scared and very cautious about becoming addicted to anything.

"He soon met a girl that quickly became his girlfriend. She was heavily into heroin and he became started using again," said Grebey. Grebey saw her son on Mother's Day in 2018 and one month later he died from asphyxiation. "Initially it rocked me to my core. I was numb for a long time then I started to mentally break down," said Grebey. Her therapist recommended EDMR Therapy and it helped Grebey process everything she was going through. "Without that therapy, I would be a shell of a person and would not be here talking to you today," said Grebey.

Burying a child has been the hardest thing Grebey has ever done and says that it is something that no parent should ever have to experience. After working with her therapist to process her own emotions and heartbreak, it invigorated her to share her voice with legislators, families and system providers. "I wanted to help other parents. I wanted to help them understand boundaries and what enabling looks like and how to avoid doing it. I want to give them a chance to not lose their child, as I have."

"By far the hardest part is that you can not fix this challenge for your child. From the time you have babies you want to take any pain or stress away from them and fix anything that is harming them. With this, you just can't. What is more important than trying to solve all of their problems is to set boundaries and make sure you are not enabling them," said Grebey. "I took his calls. I explained to him rationally and calmly why he couldn't move back in with me and my other children because I could not risk losing custody of them. I calmly explained things to him and kept those boundaries. I don't think he would have truly believed I was always there and a symbol of strength for him if I didn't stick by my word. I would have been too easy of a target if I was always letting him get away with things."

The number one thing she tells parents who are going through similar things is to seek help for yourself. She urges people to seek therapy and support groups as soon as possible. Finding someone who is educated on the topic and can help you get your footing while trying to figure out how to help your child is essential. She personally found a support group as soon as she learned about her son's challenges and she found that people that have actually lived through this challenge are so much less judgemental than people who have not.

In April Grebey became an outreach assistant with PA Parent and Family Alliance. As an outreach assistant, she works with families in Lackawanna County to help them find and connect with services that are useful for their family's needs. She also works with system providers to ensure their agencies and programs are designed to fully embrace family voice at all levels of planning and service delivery. Grebey sits on several regional stakeholder councils representing the families in her community.

As you will see all month the biggest impact that a leader can make is to share their story to inspire others. February marks a time where we can take a second to look at and celebrate parents who have become leaders. Grebey is an example of how one mother can take a traumatic and heartbreaking event and use it as a beacon of light and guidance for others. She has worked to show parents experiencing similar circumstances that they are not responsible for the substance use challenges their child is facing and has worked to share ideas on how to be there for their child.

To this day Grebey has people come up to her and say how they remember her son as a kind person who would give anybody the shirt off of his back if they needed it. While his life was cut short, it was a life full of kindness and love and that is exactly how Grebey remembers her son.

#pamhpafa #leadership #shareyourvoice #nationalsuicidehotline #earlyintervention

Our nation is experiencing a mental health and suicide crisis; its time our emergency systems are set up to help.

The Federal Communications Commission (FCC) has proposed to make 9-8-8 the national number for mental health crisis and suicide prevention. It’s important that the FCC hears from you to know how important an easy-to-use, 3-digit number for mental health emergencies is to our community.

Submit comments to the FCC here. You must enter “18-336” in the “Proceeding” section to comment or search "suicide".

Deadline to submit a comment is February 14, 2020.

Does your family or a family you know receive Early Intervention Services?

If so take a moment to Share Your Voice on the OCDEL Early Intervention Family Survey 2020. This survey is for families with children receiving Early Intervention services. Your responses will help guide efforts at the statewide and local levels to improve services and results for children and families.

Access the survey here.

As always remember that every time you take a few moments and share your experiences and suggestions you're paving the way for another family to receive better, more responsive services. Change takes time and many voices but you and your efforts can make a difference!

#parentleadershipmonth #lgbtq #leadership #familiesfirst #pamhpafa

Last week we took a look back at a number of our blog posts that feature parents who are leaders. While some people considered themselves leaders, a number of parents did not even realize that the things they do for their children, and other children make them leaders in their school district, town, or even state. Every Sunday during this month we will highlight one parent who has taken the lessons they have learned from parenting, specifically parenting a child with social, emotional, behavior or mental health challenges, and used it to help and lead others. For the first parent spotlight of Parent Leadership Month we sat down with Janet Brown, a Pennsylvania mother of three who is raising a child that identifies as non-binary. Brown never once said that she was a leader but to us at PA Parent and Family Alliance, it was clear that her acceptance, love, and in the end advocacy for her child has proven that she is in fact a leader.

"It has made me even more open-minded, not that I wasn't before but even more so now. I am still learning everyday and my child came out three years ago. There is always more to learn. I am still reading, still learning I won't ever possibly know everything because I am not my child, I am not in their head; but I can learn as much as possible for them," said Brown. Brown's child who is now 17, came out at the age of 14 to their mother. Coming out is a big moment for anybody who is in the LGBTQ+ community and Brown looks back on it fondly as a moment where she and her child grew even closer than they were before.

"They were surprised that I was so okay with it. I was like 'okay, I don't know much about that but I have friends who identify in this way and if you need someone to talk to who has been where you are I will find them for you.' They thought I would flip out but that is not really the kind of person I am. I was truly supportive, and to this day they appreciate it. It was much easier than they thought it would be. I have been told by my therapist that I was almost unusual in how I reacted. She informed me that most mothers go through a time where they grieve the loss of the child they thought they had. I never went through that because I still have my child and they are awesome and they are being themselves."

Brown's attitude toward her child coming out is one to look up to and to have parents strive for. She did not once make her child feel like they were wrong for feeling and identifying the way that they do. When asked if she would change anything about that initial conversation that the two of them had about being non-binary Brown simply said; "No, I wouldn't change a thing about how that moment went." Brown's immediate family was equally as supportive as she was, as well as slightly confused. Her other children and husband were 100% supportive but much like Brown, they were unfamiliar with all of the facts and terms that are associated with being non-binary. In the last three years, they have all done their research and continue to have unconditional love for their child, and sibling.

"My mother was unsure and really did not understand it at first. It took a lot of explanation and some time but she has been open and willing to learn for her grandchild. We don't tell my father he is not accepting and there is no point in putting my child in that situation for someone who is not going to understand or accept them. The same with my child's biological father. He is homophobic and transphobic and thankfully my child only visits him once in a while, by their father's own choice." Brown's children's biological father is the reason that the names in this article have been changed. It is a shame that Brown and her child have to keep this from him but it is in the best interest of her child and she would do anything to protect her children.

Stigma is one thing that plagues the world of mental health advocacy, as well as the LGBTQ+ community. "Any stigma that I have encountered I have pushed back on it. I am not taking it, no, I am sorry but if you are trying to say that this is in some way unnatural, you are flat out wrong. It has been happening forever, however, this community is only more recently feeling like they are safe to be who they have always been," said Brown. This is one way that Brown shows her leadership. She uses her experience raising her child to push back on hate or slander that is all too often thrown at the LGBTQ+ community. She is not afraid to stand up for people who are members of the community as well as push back at people who try and tear them down. Her child is shyer and reserved and often shuts down when they face ridicule or people who are critiquing the way they chose to identify. But according to Brown, "because of that I push back even harder for the two of us."

Brown is so dedicated to making members of the LGBTQ+ feel like they are loved for being who they are that she has opened her home to a transgender man in his early twenties. This man was thrown out of his house when he was younger because he opened up to his parents about being trans and identifying as male. The last thing she wanted was to see this sweet young man become homeless because of how he identified so she opened her home, and her arms to him. This is another example of how she is clearly a leader. She has surpassed using her voice to support and advocate for the LGBTQ+ community to being there for somebody financially and emotionally. This young man is now in college pursuing his dreams because Brown saw a thoughtful, and caring human being when she looked at him and not somebody who anyone should be ashamed of raising.

Before coming out, Brown's child dealt with anxiety and depression that she does not think is necessarily associated with identifying as non-binary. "After coming out I think their anxiety and depression was definitely heightened. Because of situations such as dealing with their biological father it has made an impact on their mental health.

When asked what she would say to a parent who was less than supportive of their child coming out she started her answer with this reminder, "It is so much better to be supportive than to bury a child. Do your best to keep an open mind and remember they are still the child you loved up until this disclosure. Reach out to organizations that can help educate you and help you process your feelings." Check here for a few of our favorites. Brown is disgusted and heartbroken by the suicide rates associated with members of the LGBTQ+ community that do not have an adult that supports them.

Sharing her story to make other parents feel less alone, advocating endlessly for her child, and reaching out to help not only her child but also other people's children who are not being loved the way they deserve all have made Brown a leader. While she may not consider what she has done to be an example of leadership, it is and chances are you are a leader and do not realize it either. Check back with us every Sunday this month to read about other parents who have used their experiences to lead others around them.

If you're ready to Share Your Voice you now have the option to share it with us via audio or video. Check out our new option at https://www.paparentandfamilyalliance.org/share-your-story You can also become a member so you can ensure your experience and opinions get to the legislators, administrators and decision-makers who need to hear them. https://www.paparentandfamilyalliance.org/membership

**names in this have been changed**