‘Mommy’s dead’: She’s raising her grandsons after losing her daughter to heroin

Dave Sunday, district attorney-elect, speaks about why people must focus on the heroin epidemic in York County. He said 80 percent of crime in the county is connected to drug activity. York Daily Record

It was Dec. 16, 2015, when everything changed.

Not long before, Denise Shanahan’s daughter, Bryanna, had moved back into her mother’s townhouse in Stewartstown and appeared to be doing all right.

She had struggled with addiction for years, about a decade. It was hard on Denise. There’s not a lot you can do. You try to do what you can, but in the end, only the addiction is left. The person you loved is still in there, somewhere, clouded and obscured by the haze of addiction.

Bryanna was a good kid, her mother recalled, a happy, smart, beautiful child who grew into a smart and beautiful young woman. She worked at Wegman’s as a cashier when she was still a teenager and did so well that she trained other cashiers.

But then she got involved with people she shouldn’t have gotten involved with, her mother said. She started sneaking out of the house at night and wouldn’t come back. She wouldn’t listen to her mother.

Denise tried. She had raised Bryanna and her sister on her own, a single mother. But there wasn’t a lot she could do as she watched her daughter’s descent into addiction.

She wasn’t sure when it began, the heroin. She was shocked. She grew up as the drug culture was prevalent among her peers, but she never succumbed. She was scared of it. And now her daughter was on heroin.

Bryanna went to rehab. She was in and out of rehab a number of times. It never really stuck. Once, when she left a rehab before the treatment was completed, she called her mother to pick her up where she was staying. The experts all tell you not to do that, that you’re enabling the addict. Denise did it anyway. If her daughter died out on the street, she said she couldn’t live with that. Someone mentioned that if she brings her daughter into her house, and not back to rehab, she could just as soon die on her sofa.

Bryanna got involved with a guy – she always had to have a guy; it was how she was, her mother said – and got pregnant. Her mother didn’t think it was a joyous occasion. She suspected that her daughter was still using heroin while she was pregnant.

Bryanna’s son, Jorden, was born in September 2012. He was perfect, Denise said. He didn’t seem to carry any of the effects of his mother’s drug abuse.

Denise found out that Bryanna was taking Jorden along when she went on drug runs. She wasn’t happy about that and took steps to get custody of her grandchild. Bryanna was angry her mother took that step. She was determined to get her son back and went to rehab again, to show that she could clean up and be a good mother. It didn’t last. She stayed just long enough to detox and then showed up at her mother’s house with a cop and another woman, trying to claim her son.

Child services stepped in and Denise went to court to get permanent custody….

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