Wednesday, January 15, 2014

A Month Ago, My Life Changed

con·do·lence noun \kən-ˈdō-lən(t)s also ˈkän-də-\
: a feeling or expression of sympathy and sadness especially when someone is suffering because of the death of a family member, a friend, etc.

I hate the word condolence, or condolences. No matter how the dictionary defines it, it has to be one of the most meaningless words in the English language to me, perhaps because it is a word that I would never use.

It may be a proper sort of noun, but to me it's proper in that unfeeling, keep my distance, I don't really know you sort of way.

Sympathy isn't a lot better.

If you are sorry for what I'm going through, then simply say it. Don't look for pretty ways to make it less painful. Tell me you're sorry. Although I've received some beautifully written sympathy cards, I've found the meaningful part is the "I'm so sorry" scrawled above the signature.

A month ago, I would never have given a thought to these things. A month ago, I didn't know the rollercoaster of my life had already jumped the tracks and was sailing through the air on its way to a heartbreaking crash. I didn't know that while I thought I was traveling a familiar road, there was actually black ice and everything was going to spin out of control.

I didn't know that about noon the phone would ring and I would learn my son was dead.

Now, a month later there is still an unreality to it all.

Next to Ethan being gone, the thing that disturbs me most is not knowing when. Even if the autopsy gives us answers as to how or why, I'm not expecting an answer to that relatively meaningless question. He's gone and I learned he was gone on Dec. 15. But when did he die? Why didn't my mother's heart feel that he was gone?

As I've slowly regathered the unraveling threads of my life (most of them anyway) over the last two weeks, I'm still troubled by that question. I'll be heading off to one of the activities that was a normal part of my life and I'll think, "The last time I did this, Ethan was alive." That thought is quickly followed by, "The last time I did this, I didn't know Ethan was dead."

That's such a horrible question mark to have hanging over my life. I don't even care as much about why -- why to me is dextromethorphan, whether it was an accidental overdose, chronic overuse that caused organ failure, a seizure from drug use that finally pushed his brain and heart over the edge. As far as I'm concerned, I know what killed him. It was the drug that took a healthy teenager and turned him into an addict with seizures and physical damage and all of the emotional pain that goes along with addiction. Knowing what finally couldn't stand the abuse any longer really doesn't matter to me.

Having Dec. 15, 2013 as his death date and knowing it's not right bothers me beyond all rational thinking.

Then I have to wonder how many other families of addicts wind up carrying this same baggage through their lives. A phone call that tells them a beloved was found dead, not that they died with someone nearby who at least gave a damn, they were found dead. How many people with a network of loving, caring family members push everyone away, don't answer the phone, and isolate themselves for so long that they die alone and are found dead? How many families never even know that they should have gotten that call because the isolation pushes the addict so far that they leave everyone behind and are not only out of touch, but surrounded by strangers who don't even know who to call?

A month ago, I didn't know my life was about to change, but in reality, it already had. Sometime in the days preceding that fateful phone call, Ethan had stretched out in the floor of his apartment, folded his legs like he was apt to do, and simply slipped away with no earthly fanfare or outcry over his going. Because he had spent so long extricating himself, bit by bit, from so much of what went on in our day-to-day lives, we didn't immediately notice he was gone.

But I know it now and I've known it every day for a month. I've felt the hole that the loss of his physical presence has ripped out of my life, the knowledge that this side of heaven I'll never hear his voice, see his smile, or feel his arms around me. I try to cling to that vision of freedom, a happy smile as an angel released him from his pain and addiction, but that's not really enough. I'd like to say, just one more time, but that wouldn't be enough either and that would be a lie. I'm human and still bound by tasks I've yet to complete and a path I have to finish walking, and it may be selfish, but anything short of having him here to walk it with me to the end isn't enough.

So I suppose Dec. 15 will have to do. A month ago today my life changed.

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