December 27, 1995 - April 28, 2015
December 27, 1995 - April 28, 2015
Our beautiful daughter, Erin Kim Chia, age 19, of Ashburn, Virginia, passed away unexpectedly but peacefully on April 28, 2015. She was born a triplet on December 27, 1995 in Chicago, Illinois and lived briefly in Highland, Indiana. She graduated from Dominion High School in 2014. Erin is survived by her sisters, Caitlin and Lauren, her mother Del Lewis Chia, her father, Brian Chia and her grandmother, Dolores Lewis. A Memorial Service for Erin will be held at Potomac Baptist Church, 20747 Lowes Island Blvd, Sterling, VA 20165, on Saturday, May 9, 2015. Pastor Brent J. Small of Cascades Bible Church, will officiate. Relatives, friends and the people whose lives Erin touched are welcome. The service begins at 10:00 a.m. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made in Erin’s name at www.gofundme.com/ErinChia. Funds over and above funeral and grief expenses will be donated to a teen crisis center yet to be named.
Other loving members of Erin’s surviving family include aunts Kathy Lewis DuBach, Cindy Chia, Paula Chia, and Peggy Chia; Uncle Ronald Chia; and several cousins on both sides of the Pacific. She is preceded in death by her Grandmother Molly Chia and Grandfathers Soon Chia and Milton T. Lewis. Arrangements are entrusted to Adams Green Funeral Home
We chose not to hide behind the obituary code for “passed away unexpectedly but peacefully.” Though we will not positively know for another 80-90 days pending an official toxicology report, we believe it was an accidental overdose. Happier than she had been for a long time, Erin was making plans to get her driver’s permit and take summer college classes. Despite a struggle with deep depression and anxiety, for which she self-medicated, we are confident when she closed her eyes to sleep, she expected to awake the next morning. To be upfront about Erin’s struggles and to lay it bare for many to see is difficult to do. But we will take our courage from other parents who are all too familiar with the pain of knowing their amazing kids have died far, far too soon. Erin’s life goal was a degree in psychology so she could help other young people with problems like hers. We hope we can use this devastating moment in our lives as an opportunity to fulfill that goal of helping others overcome the disease of addiction.
Erin was the older sister (by a couple of minutes) to Caitlin and Lauren. From the start, she expected to be first. Erin was the first to come home from the hospital. The first to crawl, talk, and walk. The first to find or create a little mischief. At three, Erin learned to lock the kitchen door so as to keep Mom out of the entire main floor. Unfortunately, she hadn’t yet mastered the opposite skill of unlocking doors. By the time Mom figured out an alternative way in, Erin and her sisters had dusted the main floor, and themselves, with pancake flour. They were four when we moved to Virginia. We sent them to a spring camp at a park that featured a pond. One rainy day at home, Erin was inspired to make a pond on the kitchen floor. Of course, her sisters were more than happy to assist. It had everything a pond should have: water, dirt from the emptied flower pots, and plants. Mom was grateful it didn’t have tadpoles. We have many video tapes of similar escapades. Mom kept a video camera handy so she could keep her hands occupied while she processed her frustration. She knew someday we would laugh with them about it.
We went to church as a family, tried to live out our beliefs however imperfectly, and raised the kids to be responsible, caring, and compassionate. In elementary school, Erin did well in academics, sports, and music. She had great friends. She knew very well the dangers of drugs and cigarettes and the pain and suffering it brought to families. She promised to stay clear. As we opened the door to the outside world and lengthened the leash, we were confident her good and strong character would shield her from life’s evils. We assumed far too much.
When her grades slipped, when curfews were missed and when the language turned angry and disrespectful, we were shocked and unprepared. Of course, we demanded she straighten out. When she rebelled further, we sent her to therapists, rehab, and psychiatrists to get “fixed.” When none of that worked, we resorted to tough love. Nothing worked. After graduating high school, and she did move out, we put aside our disappointment, anger and fear and practiced unconditional love. We worked hard to let her know we loved her no matter what. We discussed her problems rationally. She knew we were here to help and support her. When she came by to get her birth certificate so she could get a driving permit, we were ecstatic. We believed there was finally some progress. Tragically for all of us who love her, her belief that she really could change came too late to get her out of harm’s way. That she closed her eyes to go to sleep on Monday and was happy and hopeful to awake on Tuesday is a blessing to her and to us.
While preparing this, we did some research on “best obituaries.” What came up was a shock. Over and over, families are using their child’s on-line obituary to warn anyone who can read about a national plaque that is taking not just the irresponsible and reckless, but the best and the brightest. It seems the issue is far more complex than bad families, bad parenting, bad choices and loser friends. Their high school kids were on honor rolls, from loving families and very good homes. One young man had a $100,000 scholarship to Drexel. All these kids, just like Erin, desperately wanted to quit but couldn’t find a way out. Sadly, death provided it for them.
Why? Why? Why did this have to happen to Erin? To us? Mom googled “Why are some teen agers are so reckless?” to see if there was an answer. As it turns out, new science developed during the last decade throws out many assumptions about teenagers and young adults. That includes the one where we assumed Erin, at 13, had mastered life’s essential skills well enough to manage her expanding world with more independence. We knew drugs were bad because the brain was still developing and we did everything we could to drill that into her head. We assumed the major work of brain and emotional development was over. The fact is, just at the age when many kids start abusing drugs, the work is just beginning.
In April, 2015, the Washington Post published an article entitled “Science Explains Why Teenagers Are Reckless.” We remember how often Erin would lament we didn’t understand her. We assured her we did. We were, after all, teenagers once too. After reading the article, Erin was right. We did not understand her turmoil or the world in which we expected her to engage. We assumed her brain, for the most part, was functioning pretty much as an adult’s would. Yes, the brain was still developing but we assumed the ability to reason and make good decisions was there. Our assumptions are wrong. The part of the brain which makes judgments and provides impulse control is not completely connected to the part of the brain that seeks pleasure and reward. While alcohol and marijuana usage quiets the adult brain, it can change and damage a teen’s. A teenager’s addiction is far more difficult to treat and less likely to be overcome by sheer will power, good moral choices and a 28 day stint in rehab. When experimentation starts too early and goes on for too long, the chemical properties of those and other drugs can make those changes permanent.
We believe our family’s outcome would have been completely different if we had been better prepared for Erin’s passage from child to tween and then teen. Our guidance and expectations would have been completely different. We believe hers would have been as well.
Erin’s favorite quote was from a poem written by The Lord of the Rings author, J. R. R. Tolkien, “Not all those who wander are lost.” Erin was never a lost soul. As a tween, and a big fan of C.S. Lewis’ Narnia, she asked Jesus into her heart. As a teen, Erin wandered off and began to question what all that meant, if anything. Recently, we began to talk again about our faith and why we each had decided to follow the teachings of Jesus Christ. In one recent conversation with Dad, she cut through all he was trying to explain and said “God just wants a relationship with us.” Erin changed her status that last Monday night to “Still here, counting my blessings.” We believe she is still counting her blessings and will for eternity…in the loving arms of her Heavenly Father.
Please don’t remember Erin as a drug addict, as a tragedy, or her death a senseless waste of life. Remember her as a beautiful vessel of many talents who had a disease for which she needed the adults in her world to understand. When understood, it is a preventable disease. Caught in its early stages, it is treatable disease. Found later, it is a manageable disease.
Erin wanted to give young people like her a voice, a language so the adults in their world would understand them. Because of her passing, we are beginning to understand and want to pass that understanding on. In 19 short years, Erin has completed her life, leaving a legacy for understanding. If you want to make something priceless out of something that seems so otherwise meaningless, take this disease out of the shadows and be her voice.
Erin may not be physically here to make us smile, laugh or be annoyed with her. But she has left us with pictures of that wonderful smile. Take a mental picture of that smile, put it next to your heart, and she will be with you always.
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