VERMILION — Norman Harwood, retired truck driver, Marine veteran, smoker of Kools, has a hard time talking about his daughter’s overdose death.
It’s tougher to think about than the war he helped fight in Vietnam, he said, or any other difficulty he has faced in his 67 years.
Rheanna Broome, his daughter, died in August at age 38, after a long struggle with opioid addiction. Her cremated remains were placed next to her grandmother’s grave, and when Harwood visited the site, he said, he’d try to make sense of what happened to her.
“I used to sit there and talk to her ashes and ask, ‘Why did you do this to us?’” he said.
Harwood and his wife, Mary, share feelings of unresolved grief and betrayal at their daughter’s death almost a year ago. They and their 16-year-old granddaughter, Maryanna, talked about Broome’s life and death with a reporter in the backyard of their home on a pleasant evening last month as birds chirped and the sun began to set. The Harwoods have custody of two of their daughter’s three children, Maryanna, and her 12-year-old sister, Abbey, who have been living with them since 2008, when addiction began to consume Rheanna Broome.
“I still can’t grieve over her,” Mary Harwood said, “I’m so mad at her, but I’ve got to get over that anger. I’m a strong female that always worked for my kids. The examples I gave her in life are not how she lived.”
Prior to death
Mary doesn’t shy away from the choices her daughter made that she said led to her death.
“We had to step in and take custody of two little girls in 2008,” Mary says. “They weren’t being cared for in the way they needed to be. She was with the wrong crowd and the wrong people.”
Broome had visitation through the courts, Mary said, and at first she came to see her daughters but eventually she stopped.
Broome doctor-shopped for prescription medications before moving to heroin, something her mother and father still have a hard time believing.
Their daughter wasn’t always an addict.
Broome smoked marijuana prior to her divorce, Mary said, and she drank alcohol and got a DUI. But she largely had control of her life prior to 2008.
Broome was the second oldest of four children and Norman said she was a tomboy who stuck up for her brothers, not allowing anyone to lay a hand on them.
“She was awesome prior to age 28,” Mary said. “She was a good mom, married and stayed home. She helped me take care of my mom who lived here with us. It was normal and not bad.”
But Mary says Broome and her ex-husband fought over finances and Broome asked for a divorce. After that, her life spun out of control.
“She got involved with some pretty nasty people,” Mary said, refusing to elaborate. Norman said he couldn’t believe how his daughter was living when they had to take custody of their granddaughters.
Broome would get clean off and on, Mary said, and sometimes attended 12-step meetings.
“I talked to one of her sponsors after she died who told me she overdosed on methadone a couple months before she overdosed on heroin,” Mary said. “I really can’t imagine my daughter doing that. You can pop a pill, smoke marijuana or manipulate doctors. I just can’t see her shooting up. But if she did, she did, God only knows.”
Mary paused before continuing.
She had to identify her daughter at a funeral home, she said. She described the long, awful process of waiting for the medical examiner to come back with results and a cause of death.
“If you don’t want to listen to this you can go in the house,” Norman gently tells Maryanna, Broome’s oldest daughter.
Maryanna shakes her head. She can face it. She is old enough to remember her mother before she started using and old enough to remember after she began using.
“I already know it all,” Maryanna said. “I know all of it.”
Mary said her own mother died a couple months before Broome, who didn’t attend the funeral. She’s been unable to grieve either loss.
“I ignored her because I was thinking that if I did some tough love maybe she would get her act together and somehow get normal so we could have a decent conversation,” Mary said. “But she never did.”
Maryanna knows that her mother’s death has left her with emotional scars.
“I want to see my mom and tell her personally how I feel and what she did to me,” Maryanna said. “I grieve and am angry at her. I miss knowing that she’s physically on Earth, and I feel like she abandoned me and I never had a relationship with her.”
Mary said such emotional problems are a hurdle for Maryanna, who has started allowing others to influence her. The two intend to seek out a counselor soon.
“It’s like she’s trying to find a mom or a dad, even though she’s got us, some person she can cling to,” Mary said, adding that there are people out there who can spot that and take advantage of it.
Norman and Mary are retirement age but instead of taking time off they are focused on getting Maryanna and Abbey through private school — a decision they hope will give them a strong educational foundation.
They fear for their granddaughters, saying it’s hard to let them leave the house or to trust anyone they hang out with.
“I don’t like to let them leave to go visit their other grandmother,” Norman said. “They aren’t gone more than a couple hours and I miss them.”
The Harwoods have a boat that is collecting dust as it hasn’t been used in years. Money these days goes toward raising their grandchildren.
Both are quick to say they’d take custody again in a heartbeat, a choice they do not regret. They just wish they knew what they could have done differently with their daughter even though they both say they don’t feel they could have prevented her death.
“There’s nothing you can do for them once they get hooked on this (expletive),” Mary said. “There’s nothing you can say to them. They’ll do anything they can to get it.”
Norman agreed. Broome stole from them and it got to the point where they wouldn’t allow her in the house.
The two only hope that their granddaughters won’t make the same decisions, but there’s never a guarantee. They are going to do what they can to prevent it, they said, hoping the girls learn to make the right choices and live independently.
“We love our grandkids dearly and we loved our daughter,” Norman said. “I loved her, but I resent what she did. I wish she would have thought about what she was doing.”