Mothers turn tragedy into efforts to help others hooked on heroin

Sisters Lori Hanway and Kat Cordes hold pictures of their children who died from heroin overdoses.

By JAN LARSON McLAUGHLIN

BG Independent News

 

Sunday will be agonizing for sisters Kat Cordes and Lori Hanway. It will be the first Mother’s Day they spend without their children who both died from heroin overdoses.

“She would have been 24 yesterday,” Cordes said of her daughter, Amanda Haas, who died in March at age 23. “We had a birthday cake for her and let balloons go.”

Hanway’s son, Thomas Urhammer died in December at age 35.

After years of battling heroin, both cousins lost to their fierce addictions.

In an effort to find some hope in their losses, the two mothers have planned a memorial benefit and tribute to their children, this Saturday, at the Eagles Club in Bowling Green. The event will raise awareness and funding for Team Recovery, a group that helps opiate users beat their addictions.

“It has to be done. It’s getting out of control,” Cordes said of the opiate epidemic. “It helps me. I feel like if I help one person turn their life around, another parent doesn’t have to go through what I did.”

Earlier this week, the sisters took turns talking about their children and their heart wrenching losses as they prepared meals at A Taste of Amish Deli, owned by Hanway in Bowling Green.

Cordes said Amanda first started taking heroin when she began dating someone around age 17.

“It started as snorting. When that wasn’t a good enough high, they went to IV drug use,” she said.

Cordes and her husband soon realized valuables were taken from their home. “I started noticing things missing to support their habits.” Gone were her jewelry, wedding ring, TV and tools.

She also noticed a personality change in Amanda.

“She was so smart. All her friends asked her to do their math,” her mom said, with tears rolling down her face. The family lives on a farm, and Amanda was a big-hearted animal lover. “She wanted to let the animals go.”

“That happens. It turns them into different people,” Cordes said. “She would get clean for a little bit. She’d go to rehab and it always went back to the same thing. It was too strong for her. She couldn’t get away from it. It was heartbreaking. Still is.”

“I always envied moms who had great relationships with their daughters. I haven’t had that for so long,” she said, wiping tears.

Hanway’s son, Thomas was a jack-of-all-trades with talents in woodworking, carpentry, painting and home renovating. He was a good cook and excelled in hockey when he was younger.

“He’d go out of his way to help anyone,” his mom said.

Like many, he struggled for years with the addiction. “He was in and out of out-patient services,” Hanway said.

“He was going to get help after Christmas, but he died before he could,” she said, wiping tears from her cheeks.

Thomas died on Dec. 16, 2016, from a deadly dose of fentanyl. He was helping his mom with a catering job, when he told her he was running home for a few minutes.

“It only took Thomas five minutes and he was gone,” Hanway said. “I wish I could have just held him down and said, ‘You’re not going anywhere.’”

After Thomas’ death, the family held an intervention with Amanda in an effort to save her from her cousin’s fate.

“We said, ‘We’re all here. Don’t do this anymore,’” Hanway said. “We held her and told her we loved her. She told me she was done.”

But less than three months later, Amanda also was gone.

Cordes said she was at a surprise birthday party thrown for her by her sister, when she decided to go home because she wasn’t feeling well. When they arrived home, Cordes and her husband found Amanda dead of an overdose in her bedroom.

Days later, Amanda’s obituary appeared, telling of her battle against opiates and encouraging others to get help.

“I wrote her obituary. It kept me busy,” Cordes said.

Both women have 6-year-old grandchildren. Thomas left behind a son, Andrew, and Amanda left behind a daughter, Addyson. Cordes has had custody of her granddaughter for five years.

“That’s how long we’ve been going through this addiction with Amanda,” Cordes said.

Addyson is being strong. Though the other day she came home from school asking why she can’t have her mommy – all the other kids at school had theirs.

“Can we have a video chat with mommy in heaven?” she asked her grandmother. “She’s really smart, just like her mom was.”

The sisters are bracing for Mother’s Day on Sunday. “It’s gonna be hard,” Cordes said. She just got past Amanda’s birthday earlier this week. “All I did was cry all day.”

Cordes is planning on spending more time with her son. “I put him on the back burner for years because I was dealing with Amanda.”

Both women want to help other families so they don’t face similar fates. That is one of their goals in Saturday’s benefit for Team Recovery.

“I want anyone using to seek help,” Cordes said.

“We can help people find the way to get help,” Hanway said. “Anyone who wants to get help can come and find the resources to stop this epidemic. There’s nothing to be ashamed about.”

The sisters can also help other parents through their children’s addictions. “Parents think they are doing the right thing,” but often they end up enabling the addictions to continue, Hanway said.

“I just want parents to be mindful of their children, look for the symptoms,” Cordes said. She believes education on opiates should start as early as elementary age.

The Memorial Benefit and Tribute to Thomas Urhammer and Amanda Haas will be held Saturday, May 13, from 3 to 11 p.m., in the Eagles Club at 1163 N. Main St., Bowling Green. The cover charge will be $10, and the hog roast dinners will be $10. There will be a cash bar. Music will be provided by The Itch, Fork in the Road, Billy Hanway and Russell Martin, and Rewraith.

A silent auction will feature donated items from local vendors and artists. Proceeds of the auction and benefit will go to Team Recovery, a non-profit organization that helps addicts and their families find help and resources to get sober and fight opiate addictions. Proceeds will also go to the college funds for Addyson and Andrew.

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