Shatterproof Boston 5k Rise Up Against Addiction

Today I was able to participate in the Shatterproof 5k in Boston to rise up against addiction. The event was special in every single way. I began volunteering with Shatterproof as an ambassador a month after my dad passed away. I wanted to find a nonprofit that I could learn from, meet others who have gone through what I have, and most importantly that I believed in their cause. Shatterproof name says it all, it’s tagline even more. Stronger than addiction. Although my dad passed from the disease, he was stronger than addiction. After 9 months of volunteering with the wonderful Erin Barfield, Community Engagement Manager, I was at the big event with the love of my life beside me.

The Event

We arrived at 8am. It was a true fall day, the air was crisp but the sky was blue. The fog was beginning to break and there were about 50 people in the open fields next to the Franklin Park Zoo. Most people had on an orange t-shirt that said “Shatterproof Volunteer”. As we got our t-shirts and race bibs, more and more people began flowing in. A lot of people had custom shirts made with their loved ones names on it. Shirts had sayings on them too like, “Above the Stigma,” and “Recovery,” and one that I loved, “Boston Medical Center vs. Addiction.”

We were all their for someone and everyone had a smile on their face and a look of compassion for one another. We wanted to hear others stories just as much as we wanted to share ours. The beautiful thing is that everyone did so without guilt, embarrassment or judgement. Shatterproof created a community of people who were compassionate, caring, and supportive.

As the sun began to break behind the fog music began playing. At first it was upbeat and energizing music. People across the field broke out in dance, especially the little kids. I noticed a beautiful long red haired woman radiating with a big white smile dancing who looked oddly familiar to a fellow ambassador, but I knew it wasn’t her. I thought, “maybe they’re related.”

As the event was a half an hour away from race time a familiar but slower song began to play.

When the silence isn’t quiet
And it feels like it’s getting hard to breathe
And I know you feel like dying
But I promise we’ll take the world to its feet
And move mountains
We gonna walk it out
And move mountains
And I’ll rise up
I’ll rise like the day
I’ll rise up
I’ll rise unafraid
I’ll rise up
And I’ll do it a thousand times again
For you

I was choked up with a knot in my throat as the words made so much sense to why all of us were here and what this race meant to us. A woman behind me crying made it harder not to cry. I then noticed we weren’t the only two who were moved by the song.

The Speakers

Then came the incredible speeches by Darshak Sanghavi (@darshaksanghavi), Michael Botticelli (@MBotticelliBMC), Brendan Little (@blittle86), Dr. Mallika Marshall (@MallikaMarshall) and many more.

The CEO and founder of Shatterproof, Gary Mendell (LinkedIn), spoke about his son.  It was familiar the way he described the last visit his son had at his house. He told his dad he wanted to be better and he was really trying but that it was really hard. All he wanted to do was make his dad proud. “Even more tragic it wasn’t just addiction that took my sons life, it was the feeling of shame he felt everyday when he opened his eyes.”

Gary Mendell felt his sons pain the same way I felt my dads pain. In my dads last phone call you can hear the pain and shame in his voice. He told me, he wish he hadn’t been a failure to me. What I wanted my dad to know and what I want everyone who is struggling to know is that he is not a failure because he had a disease. You are not a failure because of the disease you have and we all want you to not only hear that but feel it in your hearts. That day with all 1,800 people standing in front of the Shatterproof stage, we could all feel it. I wish my dad could’ve been there to see how far we’ve come. I wish Gary Mendell’s son could be there too, and all the other children, parents, grandparents, and friends who lost a love one to addiction.

Brendan Little shared his incredible story as well. At the age of 11 he struggled with addiction and by the time he was 15, he was in a recovery program. Now Brendan is Policy Director at Mayor’s Office of Recovery Services. He spoke on Mayor @marty_walsh‘s and told the story of when they were trying to get permits for addiction services in a Greater Boston town. The staff member said something along the lines of “We don’t want those people in this part of town.”  To which he responded, “Those people you’re talking about are me and mayor Walsh, so you might want to reconsider.” As hurtful as that statement could be, that comeback was a grand slam out the park.

Michael Botticelli gave a compelling speech on addiction and health care, a topic that was brought to my attention as a big issue in the last two years of my dads life. You can read more about my experience with my dad on health care policies for addiction here. Botticelli gave me hope with his passion and desire for change as well as his examples of walking the walk.

 

 

Remember that girl I saw dancing and having a great time that I thought looked like my fellow ambassador? Dr. Mallika Marshall began introducing a woman, a Shatterproof Ambassador, that had struggled with addiction and now is sober. When I looked to my right there she was. I met her the first time at a tabling event at the International Overdose Awareness event hosted by Heroin is Killing my Town. I didn’t know she had struggled herself with addiction.

As she spoke about her story, she shared how lonely and scary it was to struggle and how in order to forget the pain and embarrassment it fueled the addiction more. Then she said  bravely she knew if she didn’t stop, she would die and she was ready for help. She looked up towards the crowd of 1800 people and then down towards the front, she said “I was so relieved that I had my friends and family there.” She was looking at the woman that I saw dancing earlier. I noticed she was with others too, both older and younger. Her family looked at her so proudly and suddenly I was overcome with emotions.

It was so beautiful to see her speak proudly about her sobriety. She ended her speech with a message to those who were struggling. “Look around you,” she said. “Addiction is so lonely even when people are around. But today 1,800 people are here as a community. Together.” I once again felt so proud to be a Shatterproof ambassador and to have the privilege to meet her and hear her story.

It truly was a beautiful day. Thank you so much to the people that donated to Shatterproof. The donations are going to amazing work being done for the opioid epidemic. Rynnie Cotter, Misti Cain, Hayden Voss, Richard Knox, Ryan Hana, Alex Ciullo, Eric Leone, Ryan Cook, and Nick. Thank you.

Join My Shatterproof Team Next Year, 2019.

Next year I want to get a big team together and make it bigger and better than this year. If you’d like to join my team, Rising Hope, in honor of your loved one email me at leanna@risinghope.co. It’s a walk/run so even if you’re not a runner you can participate. I’d love for you to be apart of this wonderful event with me. If you’re reading from out of state, there are races all over the nation. Find out more here.

 

 

 

 

Health Care Policy Change for Opioid Addiction

My dad overdosed and was brought to the hospital 6 times before his fatal visit. I must’ve spent over 30 hrs in total on the phone with nurses, doctors, but primarily case workers. The calls with doctors and nurses were often cut short. Because of policies put into place to protect peoples privacy, anything I wanted to find out about my dad was denied. Me providing information on my dads history with addiction, suicide attempts, and my dads severe depression were not acknowledged well. It wasn’t the nurses fault and I knew they could hear the frustration in my voice, but they knew they had to follow policy. It made it very clear that policy changes were needed and quickly.

One of the last times my dad was in the hospital, he didn’t wake for 2 weeks. When he finally awoke I called and begged to talk to him. Because of his embarrassment of what had happened, he denied my calls and told the nurses not to release any information. Even after explaining that he was at high risk for suicide, I was told that I had two choices. Call and get him sectioned or let him make his own choices. He was finally in the place where he could get the help he needed, but there wasn’t a system in place for him to get that proper, specific care.

I’m sure that my dads case isn’t the only one either.

I was visiting a friend at the restaurant I used to work at and there was a couple sitting at the bar. They were visiting from Indiana for their anniversary and looked so in love. I began chatting with them and I discovered they were in the business of saving peoples lives. She was a nurse and he was an EMT. I went to High School and prom with the EMT that saved my dad’s life on multiple of his overdoses and his wife is also a nurse. I knew that both jobs were extremely difficult. I thanked the couple at the bar, mentioning the couple from High School that I admire, and our conversation got deeper. I told them about my dad. The woman said something very true to me. She said, “As a nurse, we get a lot of people who come in from overdoses. It’s really hard for some of the nurses to feel obligated to help them. A lot of them think, ‘if they don’t want to help themselves why should I want to help them?’, or ‘they’ll just be back again.’ They don’t get the same care as other patients do and it’s true a lot of them are back sometimes even in the same day. But what I like to think anytime I see someone who is struggling with addiction is what kind of pain this person must’ve gone through to be where they are right now. I think about how broken and hurt they must be and that every single person has a story. It makes me try harder to be a better nurse and I know these people are really strong for what they must’ve gone through.”

She was an amazing human and an incredible nurse, but what about the people who don’t have that experience or outlook like her?  What if a nurse really doesn’t connect to someone struggling with addiction? It doesn’t mean they’re not as good of a nurse or as good of a human. It really just takes proper training and a bit of understanding. Even after talking to nurses who were tired from my taking care of my dad, (trust me he is a handful!) once I explained a little more about our situation and explained how good of a dad he really was they were always a little bit more patient and responsive.

Being a nurse is the most honorable job I’ve ever seen. Over the summer I lived with a roommate who was a nurse. She always had a smile on her face and no matter what she was always in a great mood and asked me about my day. She probably had 100 things going on at work and in her own life, but she cared about people more than herself. I think that’s a quality of nurses that make them superheroes. So to ask of a nurse to give another 100% to people that try to refuse the help or on the other hand demand medication, it’s really hard. But with the proper training and policy changes, I have no doubt these compassionate, super-human healers would absolutely be wonderful at helping improve conditions of the epidemic and help in the fight to end the stigma.

My dad was really open about his recovery, despite his privacy in the hospital. When he was sober he told me about a specific doctor that he loved seeing. He said to me, “I just love that she doesn’t look at me different. I just feel like I can be honest and open with her and she won’t talk to me like I’m any less of a human. It gives me hope.” I love that Doctor for the work that she is doing and I wish I knew her name. Doctors are brilliant humans as well. It’s hard for anyone to have an open and nonjudgemental conversation when it’s not something they’re comfortable talking about.

Once doctors, nurses, and policy makers understand why they should care and what impact it’ll have on the epidemic and quite frankly the nation, I think we’ll be in a much better place. We all want to be better humans and better at our jobs, and sometimes we just need someone to show us why.

I’m happy to see so much progress by nonprofits like Shatterproof making change to the health care policies. After the Shatterproof 5k in Boston, I was inspired by Michael Botticelli, Executive Director of The Boston Medical Center’s Grayken Center for Addiction and Darshak Sanghavi, CMO of Optum Labs for their commitment to change. I am especially proud of Shatterproof CEO, Mendell, for nationally advocating for this change and partnering with such people who walk the walk.

If you have a story about healthcare and addiction and you’d like to share please do so in the comments below or email me privately at leanna@risinghope.co. I’m always here to talk.

7 Stages of Addiction Grieving: Opioid and heroin death grieving

How can we handle the death of a loved one that has passed away from opioid or heroin or any drug addiction?

The truth is it’s almost impossible because unfortunately, we’ve been watching our loved one die repeatedly probably for years.

The 7 stages of grieving give us clarity on emotions we feel when a loved one passes. When my dad passed away from addiction, I found that I experienced different emotions that I wasn’t sure I should feel guilty about. Below are the steps of grieving I have taken after watching my dad struggle with addiction throughout his life.

7 Stages of Grieving an Addiction Death

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Anxiety | Initially, all the built-up fear in anticipation for a fatal overdose or accident is now a reality. An anxiety that has built up for years will take over. 

The first feeling is anxiety. All the built-up fear in anticipation for something to go wrong hits you like a ton of bricks. This is it. This is the time you’ve really feared the most and now you’re facing your fear. Everyone reacts differently to anxiety. I screamed in my tears, I was trembling, bent over at the waste looking out the window trying to catch my breath. I paced my little apartment and after 10 minutes, I put myself in an uber to the hospital.

Tip: Turn on auto-pilot. 

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Relief | It’s common to feel relieved in weeks following the loss of a loved one. You are no longer constantly worrying about your loved one’s safety.

It’s not uncommon to secondly feel relieved. You never know when the next time will be the last time and suddenly that anxious feeling escapes you and is filled with a new feeling of disbelief that this is over. Maybe you’re used to your loved one in and out of jail or on the streets, and your mind may convince you that this is like one of these times and it will take a few months, even years, to realize this isn’t the case.

Tip: Don’t feel guilty. Your body and mind need the rest. Don’t fight it.

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Trauma | The last moments with your loved one’s body are extremely traumatizing. TV shows, movies, or seeing addiction in person can cause strong emotions. 

The third feeling is experiencing sudden realizations of what happened. If you were the one to find your loved one unconscious or if you saw them in the hospital trying to revive, you’ll be brought back to that place. It’ll feel like free falling. A pit in your stomach that you can’t explain and a dark place that you’ll need to be careful not to stay in. The last moments with your loved one’s body are extremely traumatizing because you want to believe so badly that they could’ve or should’ve been revived one last time.

Tip: Breath in and breath out slowly. Remember your loved one is no longer in pain and that’s most important. 

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Regret/Guilt | Regretting the weeks leading up before the death is common. We question whether we did the right thing and if our final decisions caused the death. We take the blame. 

Along with the third feeling comes a form of regret. We put addiction aside and wish that we should’ve been there more and we envision if we had just been their things would’ve been different. We take self-blame and ownership of the addiction. Confidence in all the decisions we made throughout our loved one’s life is key. These feelings will come but you can control if they stay.

Tip: Remember, our loved ones never wanted us to take on their problems as our own.

note from dad before he passed away

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Misunderstanding | We’ve mourned the loss of the soul before. Now we are connecting the loss of the soul with the loss of the physical person. It can be complicated to explain or experience.

Fifth is a feeling of others not understanding our grief. We’ve mourned the loss of the soul far before the passing of the body on and off and no one will ever understand that. Others may not understand that the soul was harder to grieve than the body and now the combination is nearly incomprehensible. We’ll feel that people just don’t get it and feel alone and a bit frustrated. When we say we miss our loved ones, we miss them in ever since of the word. While when our loved one was alive, we missed who their spirit made them. Now we’re experiencing the desire to have any form of our loved one back.

Tip: Talk with loved ones. Try to be vulnerable and open.

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Calmness | We’re not used to feeling calm. Our bodies had become used to chaos. Now we’re adjusting to more predictability in our lives.

Six is the feeling of loneliness and a calm we weren’t ready for. Loving someone who is struggling with addiction makes us hyper-aware of everything. Every phone call, every time you hear an ambulance, you’re not sure if it’s for your loved one. Every time you walk in the door, you don’t know what version of your loved one you’ll get. Suddenly, you have to get used to not having those worries, and that makes us feel calm but at the same time lonely. Our bodies aren’t used to the chaos that addiction brings, but over time we adapt to the constant worrying.  Our bodies begin to function in chaos.

Now, we suddenly don’t have to worry about the ambulance on its way to give Narcan to your loved one. Now you walk in the door and it’s more predictable of what you’ll see. At the same time, this creates an unsettling feeling of emptiness and your body and mind are searching for something to fill the void. For a while, you may be extremely high strung, emotional, and feel out of place in a normal setting.

Tip: Let out your chaotic energy with a hobby, exercise, or something that is transcendent.

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Letting go | In time, letting go of pain and remembering the good memories and the spirit of our loved one is possible. 

Seven is the most wonderful feeling of them all. Letting go of your role as a constant worrier for your loved one. The feeling that your loved one is no longer in pain and that there is hope. Whether you’re religious or not, we all hope that our loved one is drug-free looking out for us. Now is the time to realize our strength and theirs throughout the years. Letting go of pain and remembering the good memories and the spirit of our loved one (without the all the memories of the disease clouding judgment) is relieving. We tell friends, family, and acquaintances stories about our loved one that show who they were as a person and not how the disease of addiction made them appear. It’s not easy to get to this step and it may take time. This is healing.

Tip: Keep a journal for when you remember memories.


The best thing to do is tell stories of your loved one often and keep their spirit alive. Cry when you need to. Get angry when you need to. Feel regret when you need to. But only as long as you remind yourself that you’re strong. You experienced pain that no one else can ever understand. It’s an excruciating pain to watch someones spirit leave and come back multiple times before actually dying. You made it through and that makes you one of the strongest people I know. If you’re alive, focusing on your health, and improving your life for yourself and others, you have no reason to have any regrets. We do all we can for our loved ones struggling with addiction, all in different ways.

Our loved ones want and need us to move on because the greatest feeling they feel is guilt. Wake up and tell your loved one out loud:

“You didn’t fail me. Your disease taught me strength. I go on today to make my life and other lives better because of you. You shaped me and I accept you for all that you were in my life. I will remember you always, NAME” 

7 stages of grief: addiction grieving

In memory of Steven Olbinsky, my best friend, my dad, my everything. March 23, 1964 – October 26th, 2017. As the years go by, there will be less time spent with you. Your spirit will continue to thrive because I’ll share the memory of you with others that never got the pleasure. Addiction is a disease that deserves more love and understanding. I believe that if you, dad, were able to love so deeply despite your disease, others can too. I have hope that together you and I will give a chance for healthy relationships, forgiveness, and love despite the disease of addiction. To learn more visit my website www.lolbinsky.com. 

A New Look at Addiction to Consider

Maybe we’re looking at addiction wrong. Would it be insulting or hurtful to the addict if I said I am anticipating their relapse? Maybe not anticipating but maybe I’m sort of expecting it, but not in the way that I am wishing bad things or not believing in the person to fight the battle full force.

Steve Olbinsky Sobriety

In the last months of my dad’s life, I no longer felt a pit in my stomach that my dad was using drugs. I anticipated he was. The scariest part of his addiction wasn’t the drug use anymore, it was his desire to die. He was using drugs not to get high but to feel like he could hold on for just one more day. Physically he was down to almost 100 pounds, and mentally he couldn’t stand himself. I recorded our last conversation we had where he painfully told me his desire to close his eyes while weeping for my forgiveness. He said, “I tried to like lay down and I started to stop taking all the pills and everything.”

I anticipated that my dad would use drugs again but is that really even the issue? Because an addiction is the disease but is the drug use even the day to day issue? We’re all living to find a reason to continue living. With this disease, living becomes a dependency to a substance. So to fight that dependency it takes giving up something that you depend on and that takes a kind of power that we shouldn’t put so much pressure on to achieve unless we’ve been in those shoes before. Why can’t you just stay sober? It’s only like holding your breath from the moment you wake up till the moment you fall asleep. And good luck catching your breath and have a pleasant dream at the same time.

I had 5 years to decide how I was going to handle my dad’s release from prison and his freedom to make good or bad choices with the tough task of re-entering society. We wrote to each other every week just about and we talked about the things we wanted to do and the way we loved each other so full we could take over the world if we wanted to. In a way, I think that’s why it didn’t work out. Our love was way too powerful.

While he was in prison I wrote this blog post, why I won’t be upset if my dad relapses. It was my eternalized emancipation to his addiction. I wrote about the realities. A drug addiction shouldn’t ruin a bond like the one my dad and I had. I knew I couldn’t enable him. I wrote about the emotions. I understood I’d feel a bit heartbroken inside if he were to relapse. But most importantly I wrote what I would hold on as a truth. I would never let his addiction measure how much he loves me and the chapter doesn’t end until the day that I give up. And here I am continuing to write about my dad even after his passing.

I loved and love my dad more than anything in this world. I don’t even fear death anymore. That’s how our strong our bond was. He fulfilled my life and he gave me my riches- his love, his advice, his heart. I hold onto his letters, photos, and notes like treasured artifacts.

Despite this crazy love, I can confidently tell you that I anticipated his relapse. And to be honest, it made my life so much easier- and maybe his too. It wasn’t something I ever said to him. It should really go as an unspoken truism if you choose to adopt. I no longer had the ups and downs and celebrations with every day that passed that he wasn’t using. I also didn’t have the disappointments either.

When my dad and I went to Bruno Mars, he was excitedly choosing which outfit he should wear for his big night. He had on one shirt but when he decided he wanted to wear something Bruins related, he threw on another over. His frail body looked as though the shirt was weighing him down, but he was so excited to be back in TD Garden it didn’t seem to bother him much. He went over to his pills and he said, “Leanna should I take my pills?” I didn’t know what to say. My heart was beating fast and I had to take a big deep breath. He was looking at me so deeply and so desperately and yet I didn’t know the answer he wanted to hear. I really think he wanted to hear that if he didn’t take the pills everything would be okay and he wouldn’t be in pain but we both knew that wasn’t true. I calmly, with a choke in my throat, said, “Daddy, take what you need so that you’re comfortable at the concert.” It was such a scary feeling to know that if he didn’t take those pills he could’ve been in agonizing pain. He could’ve had a heart attack or a breakdown.

The day after the concert, he was so happy. The happiest I had heard him since he lost his license and totaled his car. He was singing, celebrating, and appreciating how beautiful life can be. He said, “This is what life is about, Leanna.” About 2 days later, I tried calling and didn’t get an answer. I knew that he was using again because if he wasn’t I would’ve had a text back instantly. Regardless, I continued to text him, “I love you, daddy!” I didn’t feel an ounce of regret, anger, or disappointment. I just wanted my dad to be okay, and I was waiting for his next call.

I was my dad’s reason for living. I gave his life as much meaning as I could. I would’ve given him my life. I would’ve traded my beautiful apartment, all my possessions, all my confidence and learned skills to let help him understand how much he meant to me. I tried articulating it in every way possible. The last letter I sent him I said if I could have the richest, smartest, dad that was a Doctor I wouldn’t trade him for you for even one second.

So what if we all stop putting so much pressure on sobriety as the solution? Could it potentially give loved ones more sleep at night? And more importantly, can it help an addict to feel like it’s as rare as it really is to not relapse? I just think it’s crazy that we ask so much. We think our love is enough to make a person want to be sober. Sobriety is desired by all addicts who’ve seen the pain they’ve caused. Your love is not a measurement of sobriety. Your support is, however, a measurement of love. But maybe we redefine support. Maybe we can accept that helping our loved one find meaning is more of the mission rather than helping an addict be sober. 

In the hospital when my dad was pronounced brain dead, my grandpa with tears streaming down his face said, Leanna. You saw dad different. I never thought he would die, I thought every time he was sober it’d be the last time and he would stay. But you accepted him and loved him for who he was.

Here is another glimpse of the last call my dad and I had. One day you’ll hear the pain and see my reaction as I accepted this nightmare but until I’m ready, read our words and please understand that addiction is more than using drugs. It takes away your life and puts you in a prison of depression.

Steve Olbinsky Last Phone Call

[Dad] I’m just so tired. I’m so… They took my f***ing license. Without a license, I’m like a fish out of water. I have no way of even attempting to even get a job. I don’t know how I’m going to get anything with the way my arm is. I’m… I don’t want to do drugs. I don’t want to have relapses anymore. I don’t want to have nothing anymore. I just like. I was really sick in bed for days. I couldn’t get out. I couldn’t do anything. I just like…

[Leanna] It’s okay daddy I’m here for you

[Dad] if it wasn’t for you I wouldn’t even want to live. I can’t do that to you. I just can’t leave you. That’s the only thing that’s stopping me from… from just … it’d be so nice to just go to sleep and not worry about nothing anymore. Not have any more problems. Not have any more letdowns. Not have any more you know?

My dad is at peace now

 

Last Thursday my dad called me and said he was tired. He said he was ready to close his eyes and be with grandma. It wasn’t a desperate call for attention, I could tell he felt his body getting tired and he was letting me know that right then on the phone. He said he was tired of being an addict, tired of feeling the way he did, and tired of the guilt he felt. I wanted to take away all of his pain but he told me that he felt like the luckiest man in the world. He talked about Lou Gehrig and how he had ended his career and was in pain and said, “Fans, for the past two weeks you have been reading about a bad break I got. Yet today I consider myself the luckiest man on the face of the earth.”

This is only a week after the most amazing concert of our lives, Bruno Mars. I didn’t think it’d be possible to get him to the concert with all the factors standing in my way but my dad has never asked me for anything and a few days before the concert he asked me to go with him. With the help and support of my loved ones, I was able to dance and sing and smile and laugh one last time with my daddy.

He was in so much pain. He was skinny as a rail, could barely stay awake, but the way his eyes lit up when we danced together really showed me that love is the most powerful thing in this world.

My dad and I have a love that’ll continue to keep me going because even now I hear my daddy saying I love you, helping me make right decisions, and encouraging me to be a good person to others. My dad believed whole-heartedly that giving to those who cannot give back is a true testament of a person’s character. I know people will continue to tell me that I gave my dad a purpose for living, but to be honest he has given me so much more than that and I’ll never be able to repay him. He gave me the things in life that are invaluable. I will carry with me his spirit, I’ll share all of his love, and I’ll live with his name on lips for the rest of my life. That is the best way that I can make up for what he has given me.

To my grandpa, mom, uncles, aunts, cousins, brothers, co-workers, acquaintances, and friends, I will love you so much. I will always be there for you just as my dad was always there for me. And I will give and give and give, and I know it’ll make my dad the proudest. Thank you for being here with me to celebrate the life of the man that’ll keep my fire burning. If you ever are wondering “how I do it,” it’s because Steven Olbinsky, my dad, wouldn’t have it any other way.