Just over one year ago, Amanda Krueger got the news no mother ever wants to hear. Her son, Giancarlo Baldini, had died of an accidental drug overdose.
He was just 19 years old.
Giancarlo had been actively recovering from a heroin addiction for more than a year when he died on Dec. 16, 2018. With the support of his family and girlfriend Lucy, the young man was living a sober life.
“He had everything going for him,” said Krueger, who lives in Napa.
And then he was gone.
Krueger has spent the past 13 months processing and moving through the trauma of Giancarlo’s death.
She continues to grieve, but now has a new focus in her life: to help prevent others from suffering the same fate as her son.
Before this tragedy, “I lived in a bubble,” said Krueger. “I didn’t ever think terrible things happened,” she said.
“This was soul shattering,” she said.
Any of her previous challenges or obstacles “seem so small now.”
The first months: ‘shock’Those first few months after Giancarlo died were a blur, said Krueger.
“I don’t remember it very well,” she said. “It was a shock to my system.”
In the immediate aftermath of her sons’ death, “I had the highest level of anxiety,” Krueger recalled. Terrible images of shattering mirrors would come to her mind when she closed her eyes.
“I thought I was having a nervous breakdown,” she said. “I was terrified of the world. Nothing made sense. It was terrible.”
Krueger credits her friends, family and husband Brian for their extensive support. People brought food, flowers, called, visited, and even brought toys for her younger son, who is in elementary school.
“I get so touched at that,” she said during an interview this past week.
Krueger also went public with Giancarlo’s story, in the hopes of bringing more awareness to the problem of opioid addiction and removing the stigma of such addiction.
“I’m passionate about being honest,” said Krueger. “We’re a normal family, we raised him well,” she said, but addiction can strike any family. She thought by sharing her story, “maybe it can help other people.”
In response, Krueger received thousands of messages and emails of condolence and appreciation. She also received another kind of message: parents asking for help for their own sons and daughters who were facing addiction.
One Napa father who has also lost a child also made a huge difference, said Krueger.
Arik Housley, whose daughter Alaina was killed by gun violence in Thousand Oaks just weeks before Giancarlo died, came to see Krueger one day.
“I remember looking at him,” she said. Even though Housley was also grieving, he was still upright. Dressed. Talking. Alive. “He was moving forward,” she said.
Housley’s steady presence and his own perseverance, “He touched me at my lowest moment.” He really inspired me,” she said. “Seeing Eric, a light switch went on for me.”
“It made me think that’s the right way to do it. To move forward.”
“Arik changed my process,” she said. “It was just what I needed. I don’t know if he knows the magnitude of what he did for me. It wasn’t anything profound. It was just his way — so genuine and strong.”
At the same time, Krueger had a vision of her younger son as an adult, remembering how his mother grieved for his brother. Would he remember that as the time when his mom persevered and tried to make a difference? Or when his mom stopped living?
“I couldn’t go that route,” she said. Krueger said she knew she had to be a good example for her son, “so when he faces hardships or tragedies he can look back and see how we handled it. That’s really important to me.”
A path to healingOver the past year, Krueger also sought out other ways of healing. She attended grief and loss groups. She took antidepressants.
She also tried alternative healing methods such as sound healing, Reiki, floating therapy, talking to a psychic, grief yoga and light therapy. She also started exercising, something she’d never been into before.
“I was looking for something that would heal my soul rather than something that would distract me,” she said. “I wanted to come to understand this spiritually. And it all helped,” she said.
“My soul was like a broken bone that I had to be easy with or I would cause permanent damage. I’ve been really mindful to how I treat and talk to myself.”
“I wanted to be able to smile for my son and mean it. And my husband. I don’t want to be a shell. Giancarlo wouldn’t have wanted that.”
“The number one thing that helped was my husband — he’s my rock.” The two have a small business, Ironside Construction, and he was able to shoulder much of the responsibility for that company in those early months.
Stepping into advocacyAfter spending the first six months soul searching, Krueger began speaking and visiting at the sober living house in Marin County that Giancarlo had once lived at.
“I have a lot of empathy and love for these young men who are struggling to stay sober,” she said. “I just want to hug them all, because it’s rough. I just love being a mom and seeing these boys who remind me so much of Giancarlo.”
There are still moments of heartbreak, for example, when her younger son says he doesn’t remember Giancarlo’s voice anymore.
But Giancarlo’s girlfriend Lucy and his best friend Oliver still visit often. They hang out with her younger son and share memories about Giancarlo. “I’m very happy they are such a big part of our lives.”
She’s also recently joined the Napa Opioid Safety Coalition. That group works to create community awareness and a dialogue about the opioid epidemic in the United States.
More specifically, she’s starting a nonprofit called Giancarloslight.org. Efforts will include a fundraiser to make Narcan accessible and free to the community. Narcan is a nasal spray that can help reverse an opioid overdose.
“There is nowhere currently to get it for free. I want to change that,” she said. “Narcan needs to be easy to get. It should be on the streets as much as drugs are.”
She’d also like to raise money to provide scholarships for those who need sober housing.
Remembering GiancarloIn the months leading up to the one year anniversary of Giancarlo’s death, Krueger said she felt a wave of grief coming. That’s when she started going to a fitness center called Orange Theory in Napa.
“I’m going to arm myself,” she recalled. “If I fall apart right now” before Christmas, what kind of memory would that leave for her younger son?
Her workouts at Orange Theory “got me through Christmas,” — along with her family and son.
On Nov. 7, on what would have been Giancarlo’s 20th birthday, Krueger planned a day of self-care including grief yoga and meditation. She laid out photos, clothing and books that belonged to Giancarlo. “I dived into it rather than avoid” her grief, she said. “And it helped.”
Krueger and her husband have also taken another big step forward: they plan to become a foster family.
She knows there is a need for more foster families in Napa, said Krueger. “I was born to be a mom and having a house full of love is where I want to be.”
“I loved being a mom to Giancarlo. I have a lot more mom in me and my husband feels the same.”
“I feel like we have more room in our house — and in our hearts to care for other children that need it.”
She commented on the perception that it can be hard for a foster parent to say goodbye to foster child. But Krueger thinks she can handle that challenge. “I’ve said the hardest goodbye.”
Moving forwardAs she enters the second year after Giancarlo’s death, Krueger has new perspective on her grief and loss.
“At first you are overcome and sinking and drowning,” she recalled. Today, waves of grief still wash over her, “but they don’t last as long.”
“I feel like I spent the first year collecting all the right tools” to navigate her loss, reflected Krueger. “I have myself surrounded by the right people at the right time. I feel fortunate for that.”
“I didn’t think I could possibly be here” as she is today, but “Giancarlo is an angel and he guides me,” said Krueger.
When asked what she would say to others who have lost a loved one, Krueger had this reply: “Dig deep and soul search. It can get better. And know that you will find joy again. True joy.”
“Just like Arik, I’m up and I’m walking.”
If her son could see her now and her plans to help others in need, “I know he would give me a big hug and say, ‘I love you mom,’” said Krueger.
You can reach reporter Jennifer Huffman at 256-2218 or firstname.lastname@example.org
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