Monday, December 16, 2013

Goodbye, My Little Boy

Yesterday the phone rang with the call some part of me has been expecting for a year or two now. It was the Galax Police Department calling to notify me they had found my 23-year-old son dead in his apartment after being asked to do a welfare check.

It's the call no mother wants to get, but after living with his addiction for so long it was one I expected at the back of my mind. I thought I was prepared, but really, until the phone rang I always clung to hope that he would turn his life around.

I'm still struggling to wrap my head and heart around the idea that this time he really is gone. Our communication has been so spotty for years, so full of anger at times, that I'm used to not hearing from him for days or weeks. Just a week ago, he called wanting a Playstation 4 for Christmas. I told him no.

He had skipped Thanksgiving, I think at least partly because he was angry with me over a Facebook post in which I was thankful for him, despite the fact that he hadn't always been the son I imagined. I was uncertain over what Christmas would bring. Maybe that was the cloud that's been hanging over my holiday. I hadn't even bought him any gifts.

Now I won't get to, ever again.

There's a picture of him on the living room wall holding my dog last Christmas, sporting a goofy toboggan and a grin. When he was straight, he had a lethal sense of humor and was always worried about me. In my memories he is the golden haired little boy who trooped behind his older sister and worried her to death as she played; the elementary schooler who liked being smart and didn't care for basketball or karate; the middle schooler who put on weight and had braces and didn't like himself as much as he should have because I still loved his smile. He's also the sullen teen who stretched out and became tall and lean, who gave up band and skate boarding, who put his fist through the wall and wouldn't do chores. Yet on good days he still gave awesome hugs and when he managed a smile, the room would light up.

The good days, however, seemed fewer and farther between the older he got. Instead of correcting his path, he intentionally chose it, repeatedly. We argued, by text, at great length last month about all the wonderful things he thought his drug of choice did for him and whether or not he was happy. When he was high, he thought he was Death incarnate, or maybe god. He was immortal and capable of anything he set his mind to doing. He hated everything around him except the video games in which he could further escape from reality.

I know he had dreams -- of being a video game designer, of having a family and being a dad. He told me he wanted to be a good dad, which was so sad because his dad was such a deadbeat, and he was great with children. His nieces adored him. But he poisoned his chances at all that when he started using drugs, when he chose repeatedly to keep using them. In many ways, I lost my son when he and his best friend started getting high. He was never the same after that; moody, angry, scary and demanding.

He always thought that since it wasn't an illegal drug, or even one he had to obtain illegally, that it was OK. Dextromethorphan is a cough suppressant and central nervous system depressant. It's sold over the counter and safe in recommended dosages. Taken a whole pack or more at a time, however, it mimics the effects of PCPs. It causes psychosis, seizures, organ damage, and potentially death.

He left home for nearly a year when he was 16, loading his belongings in a rage on the day my grandfather died. Even when he didn't live with me though, I gave him a phone to keep in touch, came to his rescue when he needed me, took afternoons off work to deal with a broken heart. He came home the next summer because they didn't have room for him any more and I wanted him to finish school, which he did. But frankly, I was afraid of him and his angry outbursts. He turned 18 and graduated, still with no purpose or desire to have one, and I made him move out.

He had a few jobs, wrecked a few cars, and was living in his car when one last accident ended its usefulness. By then he was having seizures. He was unable to work, so I rented him an apartment and took him regularly to Winston-Salem to see a doctor and psychologist. We didn't know that, even then, he continued to use. Then he found a roommate and they got high together, he went into a psychosis and pulled a Japanese sword on the roommate, and we found out the truth. He was in jail when we cleaned out his apartment and found bag after bag of empty blister packs where he'd been taking drugs -- drugs he stole, by the way.

I should have known by the illogical rages, I guess. But even though I knew the drugs had caused the neurological damage that brought on the seizures, I didn't know their effects as well as I would have some widely discussed street drug.

When he got out of jail, I refused to enable him any more. He moved to Virginia with my parents. He never worked again, except odd jobs at the church and for my family. When my dad's illness meant mom couldn't take care of him as well, he first rented a house, then lost his job at the church and wound up in the homeless shelter. During that time he had a horrific wreck in which he should have been killed. He was high and in a blackout, hit a parked car and went over an embankment. He was ejected and broke multiple bones, including his back, but was not paralyzed. We were all convinced that would be hitting bottom.

For months, back at the shelter, he stayed on the straight and narrow. He had to because of random drug testing. He was a house monitor, had friends and was fun to be around again. When he moved out into an apartment, the first thing he did was get high. This summer police called me and asked if I was his mom. I expected the next words to be a death notification. No, he was on the streets acting strange. He spent two nights in jail for public intoxication.

I hate to admit how seldom I've seen him since his birthday in April. He was in a downward spiral that I knew I was powerless to stop. I talked to him on the phone fairly regularly and tried to make sure he knew I loved him. Often when he called his voice was unintelligible and I would strain to have a conversation, never knowing if he were high or if were an aftereffect of the drugs. Sometimes he called in tears from emotional or mental pain. Lately there had been physical pain as well, but he would not see a doctor.

For years I've prayed for God to heal him, to make him choose sobriety, and more recently just to take away the pain that seemed to drive him. At last, Ethan hurts no more. At one level, my prayers have been answered.

There's a hole in my heart and an ache in my stomach. I'm not sure if writing about it makes it more real, or less. I know now I've had almost a day to process and I'm still not sure I'm ready to do anything else. I hate that, right now, so many of my memories are not good, but maybe that's what I need to get through the next few days. I refuse to take a photo album down and bring happier ones to the surface.

I've been touched by how many people have reached out to me and wept again when I realized how many of my friends have already, in some form, walked this path I'm on. I don't know what to tell people I need beyond time. I'm trying to go on with life and do the things I enjoy instead of trembling in a corner in sackcloth and ashes, and I know that may raise a few eyebrows but my grief won't change his death, just as it never changed the way he chose to live.

I know I'm fragile right now and I'm trying to take care of myself. I wish I could hug him one more time and remind him again that I love him, no matter what. That not being possible I want to hold my daughter and granddaughters and feel the breath in their lungs and the beat of their hearts.

I want to somehow know that he's finally at peace and that I won't ever have to feel this way again.


  1. Thank you for sharing this I hope by you sharing others will be helped. God Bless

    Frankie Andrews
    Pilot Mountain NC

    1. Thank you Frankie and thank you for not only reaching out, but becoming a real person to me.

  2. My heart breaks for you. My family has dealt with addiction since I was a little girl. I will keep you and your family in my prayers as you endure the days to come. Please know that you will help a great deal of people with your story.

  3. What a powerful message this is. I am so sorry not only for the death of your son, but also for the pain you have suffered through the years. Addiction is something that can bring an entire family to it's knees. I know your not only feeling greif and pain, but also anger right now. I cant imagine walking in those shoes. I am so sorry! Prayers for you and your family!

    1. You are right, I'm in pain, I'm grieving and I'm angry. I think it is the anger that has got me through much of the last week. When I let the good memories in, it will be rough at another level. Thank you for your prayers.

  4. I am so sorry for your loss. It was not meant for us to bury our children but some of us have to for whatever reason. It is not an easy thing to do. I will pray that God will wrap his arms around you and hold and comfort you as you so deserve. The days are gone that you will worry about your son again. Know now that he is at peace!

    1. Thank you for reminding me I don't have to worry any more. I don't have to worry about him hurting someone else. I don't have to worry about his pain, whether his needs are met with food and warmth. I try to remind myself he is at peace, but I'm not and sometimes it is a struggle, minute to minute, just to keep going.

  5. Angela, I'm so sorry for your loss. I can tell in your words the depth of your love for your son, and how you fought for him to see the good and beauty you saw. Addiction takes people down roads they never imagined. I pray that your family will find a measure of peace in time. I know your powerful words could help someone in the grips of addiction or a mother struggling with grief.

    1. I'm glad you can tell I loved him. I was so raw when I wrote it that I wonder. I'm trying to keep sharing to help someone else because I can't imagine that this isn't supposed to mean anything.

  6. I walk with you, Angela. Our Jeremy left us on Nov. 8th at the age of 26. His battle was with bi-polar disorder and a gambling addiction. Seeking sleep after gambling (a great deal of guilt ensued), he drank alcohol and took some pills. Like you, we had to learn to stop enabling, which may have been even harder than saying goodbye. I pray grace for you along with peace and comfort. Much love, Julie

    1. I'm sorry for your loss and hope you've found some of the peace I'm still seeking. People tell me it's a long process and one you don't get over, but through. People often do not realize how hard it is to walk the line of love and not enabling and believe that we have so much more control than we do. I know your journey has been difficult and thank you for your support.

  7. This is a call I have expected for years about my brother, or my mother. Both struggle with addiction. My mother used heroin a lot, I remember finding needles around the house, I remember walking in and seeing her using... She was off and on the methodone program our health system provides and forces heroin addicts onto.
    Now she mostly smokes weed, and lots of it. She lives in squalor, her house is filthy and smells like animal and nicotine. At 10 years old we were taken to foster care.
    She would get better and worse as time moved on.
    I remember the time I took my husband to meet her, we sat on her filthy couch and as we sat there our skin crawled, looking down we had LICE crawling all over us.

    Drugs do a lot of harm to families.

    My brother saw that growing up, and yet, he's recently been released from a mental institution after being admitted for what they're calling a 'drug induced psychosis'.
    My brother used to be nice and sweet and he loved his nieces and nephew. Now whenever I talk to him he tells me that my husband is poisoning me and is part of some big conspiracy created to destroy him.
    All my brother really 'uses' for drugs, is alcohol and weed. And he is a ruined man.
    He has had one job that I know of and he lost it because he preferred to stay at home and play xbox, he is 22 now. He still lives with mum in her disgusting house and they fight over weed. I've more than once had one or the other calling me to referee their fights over cigarettes or weed.

    My brother has seizures, is paranoid and convinced the world is out to get him and that everything is about him. He is your textbook schizophrenic, and yet he's not medicated or diagnosed. He was a healthy child, until the drugs.

    Because of drugs they don't feel like family to me anymore, they feel like a burden and that hurts.

    I expect and dread that call that you received, in any form.

    I wouldn't be surprised to get a call that my brother had killed my mother, himself, someone else in a deluded freak out.
    I wouldn't be surprised to get a call that they've OD'd or been in an accident as a result of being high.
    I wouldn't be surprised to get a call that their house has burned down because they we smoking in bed or left the stove on.

    People think that heroin is the destroyer of lives and families, and it definitely destroyed my mother, but even weed destroys.

    Sorry for your loss, but sadly somehow that's the only way to stop their pain, and our own.

  8. Sending out love and warmth and healing energy...

  9. Angela,
    my brother died from cocaine when he was only 21 back in 1986. He was both a dealer and a user. Hugs for you.

  10. Thank you for sharing this...while it was not a child I lost, I did lose my husband to addiction (I was a very young widow at 26 with a 4 year old son) so one some level I completely understand that you would feel a sense of relief in addition to the grief of loss...addiction does crazy things to people and to those of us who love them....the feelings we feel under these circumstances are not wrong, but are hard to understand by someone who had not been in a similar situation.

  11. I have read your posts before but I hadn't read this one. It is so weird that I would read this tonight. My stepdaughter has been out of our lives for over 4years. She has a 10 yr old daughter that she just abandoned. We finally found her after looking for 3 years. She's a heroin addict. She was in jail 500 miles away. I quickly mailed her a letter and was making arrangements to go there. The stupid jail let her leave today, said they didn't have room. Our only chance is gone again and we're just heartbroken about it.