On March 11, 2017 I lost my beloved twenty-five-year-old son to the disease of addiction. He was a beautiful, creative and compassionate person with enormous potential. Receiving the call from the police that he was dead from an overdose was a nightmare no parent should have to experience. Driving to his drug dealer’s apartment to identify his body was not close to any situation I had read about in parenting books as he was growing up.
Looking back over the eight years prior to his death, I see now that I was actually parenting a dying child. Although my son was alive, so much of him had died. Because he started using drugs as a young adolescent, his development was arrested. By age seventeen, he was addicted to heroin and other illicit substances, in part, owing to severe—but unreported—sexual abuse earlier in his teens. Normal teenage and young adult developmental milestones were not achieved. Owing to his drug use, and its fallout, he did not graduate from high school or college, or pursue a career. Instead his disease took him to a world of criminal arrests, court and jail. As the addiction progressed, he entered infectious disease clinics for the treatment of his hepatitis C and HIV.
As a mother I was consumed by dread and fear. Addiction is a disease that is counterintuitive to navigate as a parent. A parent’s instinctual urge is to nurture and guide, but that becomes impossible amidst the chaos of addiction. When my son repeatedly stole my money and possessions, I was frequently compelled to make the heart-wrenching decision to expel him from my home. Often he was homeless on the streets of Baltimore in the middle of the freezing winter. I enrolled him in numerous drug rehab interventions. They proved futile. The only sane choice was to let go.
The hopes and dreams every parent has for their child gradually faded in my case. Two months before his death, I received a call from an emergency department informing me that my son had attempted suicide by jumping off a building while intoxicated. Miraculously, he survived with minimal injury. He quickly returned to the same pattern of drug abuse. I finally accepted that he had a fatal illness.
Now that my son is gone, I’ve discovered that I am not done with being his mother. I thought that his loss would end our relationship. Instead, now that his suffering has ceased, I have a new relationship with him based upon the beauty of his essence and the deep love between us. Sorting through his remaining possessions and journals has given me a new understanding of his torment and struggle. My profound mourning and grief have led me to uncover many other past losses in my own life that I am now healing. In surviving the pain of this unimaginable loss, the opportunity for new life, and meaning, has emerged.