Oh, AJ!

Smoke spiraled into the kitchen ceiling fan as 64-year-old Diane Roberts took out another cigarette and put it in her mouth, raised her lighter, with a flick she lit it. 

“He is not my grandson, he is my son,” she said, as AJ, her 7-year-old biological grandson bickered about a video game in the adjoining living room.

For Diane, her world has always revolved around family — her parents, her three children, and later her grandchild, AJ. When she retired 11-years-ago, she sought to spend the rest of her days with her family, being a grandmother to little AJ, playing cards, traveling outside of the north-central Appalachian town where she has lived most of her life, getting a post-retirement job, and maybe even resting. However, in a heartbeat, all of that changed. 

On Sunday, March 20, 2016, her eldest child, Tony, 41, died of a prescription painkiller overdose. With AJ’s mother out of the picture, having signed off her parental rights to Tony when AJ was barely a year old due to her sustained substance use, overnight, Diane went from being AJ’s grandmother to his kinship care provider — or as AJ calls her, “mom.” 

After Tony’s passing, Diane chose to legally adopt him as her own. Because she wanted to make sure, even when she is not around, AJ does not revert back to his biological mother. Today, AJ and Diane live in their perfect world with everything they need. While most days after Diane has put AJ to bed at 9 p.m., she is exhausted after tending to her ADHD grandson’s beck and calls and cleaning up after him. But she would not have it any other way. 

While Diane may not be around for the long haul, for now, she finds contentment in the fact that their life, at this very point in time, is nothing short of love, joy, and laughter.   

“I love that little fellow,” Diane said. “He is my world and I am his.”

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