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Kala, Sister to Mother: Life After Losing a Mother to Addiction

I will never forget the first time I met Kala. We were working in the observation unit at work late one night and we started talking about the normal “tell me a little about yourself” questions. The more Kala shared her story with me the more I realized how many other women needed to hear it. That night I was reminded of the brilliant resilience we have as women. Kala’s story has changed my outlook on how I see families, how I treat people struggling with addiction and it reminded that the loss of a loved one isn’t the end.

We have heard many stories about strong and amazing women throughout history. We read about them. We watch movies about them. Women like Marie Curie, Valentina Tereshkova and Rosa Parks were world changers, their stories live on.

Kala Doyle might not have changed the world, but she changed at least one life in a very meaningful and beautiful way. Not many know Kala’s difficult and beautiful journey. Today I want to remind you, dear reader, of the power inside of the women standing next to you at work, standing next to you in the grocery aisle and all the other women in your life.

“A self that goes on changing is a self that goes on living.” -Virginia Woolf

Kala’s story begins with the story of her mother. Her mother and father were high school sweethearts and married when her father turned 18. Growing up Kala’s mother was enthralled in the life of her daughter. She coached Kala’s volleyball and basketball teams and went on all of her field trips. Kala remembers her parents being wildly in love and that love poured over into their children.

Kala’s family life changed around the age of 12 when her dad noticed her mom acting strangely. Money was misplaced. Her mom wouldn’t come home from the grocery store for hours. Kala’s mom was not acting like herself. They would all soon learn that Kala’s mother was battling an addiction with heroin.

The tension and strain on her mother’s life from her addiction would eventually motivate Kala’s mother to seek help. Her mother found sobriety that would last for five years. Her parents divorced and after some time Kala’s mother would meet a new man that she would develop a relationship with and give birth to her youngest daughter Maddie.

There were several times while Kala’s mom was living that Kala would attempt to help her mother get clean. Kala recalled various times where she would reach out to every resource possible to help her mother. “My memories of my mom typically, up until the end of her life, were good. That’s why I fought for her for so long and stuck by her, because I had those good memories.”

During the times Kala was helping fight for her mom, she was given some of the most profound advice -- to love her mother where she was and stop trying to change her.

Kala was aware that her mother’s life wouldn’t be long considering her lifestyle and drug addiction.

“The closest I was to my mom during my entire life was right before she died. I stopped trying to change her and I would just enjoy my time with her when we were together.”

Shortly after Maddie’s first birthday their mom would begin to struggle with using heroin again. Kala’s mother’s life kept unraveling after her relapse. Child Protective Services intervened and notified Kala that her youngest sister would be removed from the care of their mom. Kala was unwilling to see her sister taken away and thrown into the foster system. At the age of 18 Kala started the intense work to foster her sister and eventually adopt her at the age of 21.

During this transition phase Kala would work with her mother’s case worker at the Department of Health and Human Services and facilitate meetings with their mother for Maddie. However, as time went on their mother would get further lost in her addiction. Her mother at different times wouldn’t show to the meetings and the times she did she would come high. I asked Kala how she dealt with the tensions between DHS, her mom and the whole situation and she said, “Despite everything I was still really close with my mom.”

Unfortunately addiction and the lifestyle attached to it take the ones we love to a place we can no longer reach them. Maddie was 5 years old when her and Kala’s mom died. Several months before the passing of their mom Maddie’s father passed away, as well.

This wasn’t the end of their story. This is where a new life began for both her and Maddie. Kala did not let the death of their mother define her and Maddie’s life. She refused to let this tragedy bury them in grief.

The process of overcoming grief and moving forward isn’t easy. Kala went through therapy. The transition from sister to mother was difficult as well.

“The hardest thing was transitioning as a sister to a mom, like as a sister you can laugh at the bad things they do. Like she’d swear and that would be funny… She didn’t start calling me mom ‘til like two years ago. She’s 10 now. She would say I was her mom to people but she wouldn’t call me mom. We sat down and had a talk about how she can call me what she wants, like ‘you don’t have to call me mom.’ She’d call me sissy.”

Kala chose to keep on living. She worked hard and provided for her and Maddie. Eventually Kala would meet her future husband Seth and they would build a home and life together. Kala challenged herself, continued her education and became a nurse. The cherry on top of it all would be the arrival of her and Seth’s magical baby boy Jack.

She learned to love and forgive and find happiness again. Her story is a story of hope, a story of power and a story of a future full of promise.

When faced with the biggest tragedy in her life, Kala chose to take on the new role of mother. When she could have turned bitter and lost herself in grief, she chose to turn toward love.

Like the wild ferns in the forests, Kala sought light and grew into the beautiful and brave woman she is today. She is an old soul with a heart that grows every day for her beautiful family. Her story is a reminder to all of us that we can overcome loss.

We can change the lives of the people around us.

If you get the amazing opportunity to meet Kala you will instantly feel at home. If you already know her, you’re fortunate enough to see that she is genuine and full of life. Leaving her presence means leaving with a sense of hope and a reminder that we all have a story.

It is what we do with our story that makes all the difference.

Written and Photographed by: Jenifer Veloso

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