Tim Webb: Fathers in Grief
Updated: May 26, 2019
By Tayla Courage, Tara Flores and Caryn Tramel
MTSU/Seigenthaler News Service
In the carport of Tim Webb’s home sits a green Ford Ranger, its rear window featuring a pair of decals that communicate two divergent messages. On the left is a sticker that offers this instruction: “Shoot your local heroin dealer.” On the right is a decal depicting butterflies erupting from a cross, a mobile memorial, of sorts, for Brooke Webb, Tim’s 25-year-old daughter, who died May 23, 2018, from an overdose of heroin laced with fentanyl.
The two decals are a symbol of the emotional journey the Rockford father of three has traveled since learning the news of his daughter’s death a year ago: from livid anger at the drug culture that killed his daughter to acceptance of his loss, but with the understanding that he must turn his personal pain into advocacy for others trapped by opioid dependency.
“It’s taken me about seven months to regain my sanity, to get my feet back under me, so I am just now beginning to start,” said Webb, 57, who occasionally paused for several beats to gather his thoughts. With the white noise of an air conditioner humming in the background, he sat in a wooden dining chair, fingers interlocked and ankles crossed, as he reflected on his daughter’s short, troubled life.
Brooke was the middle child of three children born to Tim and his wife Teresa. Both of the other children were sons. “The time from when she was about 3-years-old it was very evident that she was going to be the alpha child. They minded her,” Tim said.
Of her many six cousins on her father’s side, Brooke was the only girl. “We brought her home from the hospital and I knew that there was going to be something different about her, not just because she was going to be the only girl, but I could just tell something.”
She was musically inclined. When Brooke was a teen she joined her parents playing the piano at Maryville United Pentecostal Church, sandwiched between her parents, her mother on the drums and her father on the bass. In private, she was a songwriter, whose lyrics never met the page. “She took her music with her because it was all in her head,” Webb said, speaking of his daughter’s talent.
Today, he has no lyrics of her songs, but he does have the coroner’s report concerning his daughter’s death. He keeps the document in the basement of his home, but hasn’t mustered enough courage yet to read it.
“I loved my daughter, but I hated the addict.”
Webb said trouble started when Brooke moved in with her mother at the age of 16. The couple divorced when the daughter was in elementary school and by the time she reached high school Brooke felt the need to have her mother close.
The father said his deceased 25-year-old daughter’s addiction began with prescribed painkillers to treat painful menstruation and the symptoms of ulcerative colitis, an autoimmune disease affecting the digestive tract. To deal with the pain, Brooke was prescribed hydrocodone, a narcotic painkiller that became her gateway drug to addiction, Webb said. As she aged into adulthood, the misuse of painkillers escalated. Over the years, there were frequent emergency room visits, enough visits that the hospital took note of her potential drug misuse. This resulted in Brooke being placed in the state’s Controlled Substance Monitoring Database, a state program that flags the prescription history of patients. If a patient receives frequent prescriptions of painkillers, entry into the database makes it harder for them to get new prescriptions filled. Her mother was also added to the database, Webb said.
“They couldn’t go to any hospital in East Tennessee and get anything stronger than ibuprofen,” Webb said.
In a matter of a few years, Brooke’s drug use escalated, leading to other troubles. Between November of 2015 and May of 2017, she was in and out of court several times. The charges included simple possession, possession of drug paraphernalia, contempt of court and several probation violations and shoplifting. For this last crime, she was first placed on probation but nine days later she failed a drug screening and was ordered to serve 90 days in the county jail, court records indicate. Her father said that while she in jail, his daughter learned of alternatives to hydrocodone. These included liquid morphine and heroin.
Meanwhile, Teresa Lynn Webb, Brooke’s mother also had legal and addiction problems, as well. The mother came to use opioids as a result of back problems, Tim Webb said. Both mother and daughter were using illegal drugs, even so far as to purchase drugs from the same dealer and shooting up together, he added.
On Thanksgiving morning in 2017, Teresa Webb died of an overdose of morphine and heroin, Webb told the producers of a documentary produced earlier this year.
Webb said he did not know how much his ex-wife’s death had affected his daughter.
“I didn’t know how to console my daughter because I couldn’t relate,” he said.
As Brooke wavered between a desire to become sober and the temptation of old habits, Webb was dealing with his own grief. He lost his wife once to divorce and a second time, permanently, to a drug overdose. Eventually, however, Brooke’s problems became a focus.
A Boy Scout leader for 15 years, Webb found himself becoming less involved with troop responsibilities to look after his struggling daughter. Following Brooke’s death, Webb stepped away from his leadership position to process the newly-formed rift in his family dynamic. The loss of his daughter made him question his faith.
“I got to the point where I was questioning God, if he actually existed, or if he actually knew who I was,” Webb said. He credits Celebrate Recovery, a Bible-based recovery group with a branch based in Maryville, for saving his life and relationship with religion.
Rather than working through his grief and the feelings surrounding his daughter, Webb wanted to be strong for everyone else. This, he says, is the difference between the way mothers and fathers grieve the loss of a child.
Mothers congregate, while fathers isolate, he said. Quick to excuse himself from contributing to age-old stereotypes, Webb said he avoided emotions so as not to appear vulnerable. From Webb’s perspective, a mother’s ability to come together and openly talk through the pain allows them to heal faster.
“There’s so many mothers,” Webb sighed. “Mothers Against Drunk Driving, Mothers Against Addicts, mothers doing that, mothers forming this organization. You never hear anything about the fathers.”
Webb struggled with accepting the duality of his daughter. The girl who was quick to comfort others was the same girl who left his bank account in ruins during the height of her addiction. She pawned his guitars and guns. She was always asking for money. Sometimes he gave her cash but stopped after realizing she was using it to buy drugs.
The last time she asked him for money was the day before she died. She said she needed $20. “No, I don’t have $20 that you can borrow. Because I knew what she was going to do with it. She was going to take it and get high. She’s like, ‘Nah, it’s OK daddy. I’ll get it somewhere else.’”
Webb said his daughter told him she loved him. Her final words in the text message: “I will see you tomorrow.”
The next day he returned from work and shortly afterwards two Blount County deputies knocked on his door. He didn’t think much of it because law enforcement showing up at the house was the norm, considering Brooke’s drug misuse.
“I could tell something was wrong because they asked me if I had a daughter named Brooke. I said, yes, I do. They said, does she have a drug problem? I said, yes, she does.”
Then the officers told him that his daughter died earlier that day.
“It was like I died with her, but I was forced to stay…so it was basically like a living creature in a dead man’s body.”
He’s still reconciling his loss.
“It’s hard to differentiate love for a daughter and hate for an addict when they’re in the same person, but I did the best I could do,” said Webb.
The father is in the process of publishing a book titled, “See It From My Side” to start a conversation about grief through a father’s lens. The book’s forward will feature a dedication to his sons and granddaughter, in addition to a poem titled “Feed Not the Demon.”
“I have problems writing poems because I can’t think of three words that rhyme with cat, so this came from somewhere besides me,” Webb said, unfolding the paper on which he typed the poem.
“I feel like this is my daughter. This is what she would have said had she been able to.”
Webb misses Brooke and knows other families who are missing their sons and daughters lost to opioid addiction. He doesn’t want any of the departed to be forgotten.
One way to keep their memory alive, he suggested, would be a Christmas tree posted in a public setting. The tree would be decorated with ornaments on which families could write the name of a loved one who succumbed to opioid addiction. He’s working to make the tree a reality by Christmas 2019.
In the meantime, Webb is resolved to share his story of loss, to anyone who will listen.
“I feel like it’s more of a duty that I have to do now because I don’t want any other parents to feel and deal with what I’ve gone through.”
Tayla Courage, Tara Flores and Caryn Tramel are Middle Tennessee State University journalism students. They are in Blount County as part of a feature writing class call the Road Trip Class.