A reporter called to interview me about my son’s death and my subsequent advocacy for overdose prevention. She asked the usual questions: How old was he when he died, when did he start to use, would Naloxone have saved his life. And then she asked a question no one had ever asked before. What is it like to lose a child to overdose?
I thought for a minute. On the surface, losing a child to overdose is no different than losing a child to disease, violence or an accident. I don’t think the loss itself is any more or less painful. The level of grief over losing a child is only linked to the immeasurable love you had for them in life.
When you lose a child, nothing is ever the same again. Parents are not supposed to outlive their children. Every facet of your life has a memory of your child. Every room in the house, every trip in the car, a song, a picture, a book, a walk in the park. There is a hole in your heart that will never be filled. You search and search for answers that just aren’t there. Holidays, birthdays are never the same.
You dial their phone number to tell them something and then it hits you that the phone is in your purse — but you still let it ring so that you can hear his voice: “Hello, this is Michael. I’m sorry I missed your call but leave a message and I’ll call you back.” You don’t know why you carry it and keep it charged, but it is comforting to know it is there. That message will be the only connection ever to what his voice sounded like.
You save his clothing unwashed in a plastic bag so that you can open it and still smell his smell lest you forget. You close your eyes, breathe deep and for just a minute he is there with you. You beg, you bargain, you plead to wake up and make it all not true. You find that tears are healing. You walk up the sidewalk from the car to the cemetery and put flowers and balloons and mementos on a plot of grass, because that is the place that has his name on it, the last place you saw the box that held his body.
You hear and smell and feel things that can’t possibly be there. And you talk – you talk to the dead. You work on your religion, because you have to believe that there is a better place, another place where angels sing and there is no more pain. Losing a child is a pain like no other. It creeps up on you. You go to the grocery store and as you walk past a box of Cap’n Crunch cereal, tears begin to roll down your cheeks. When you feel so much pain, it seems impossible that people can just pass by with their shopping carts, why they go on with their lives like nothing has happened. You wonder why they can’t tell that someone important is missing. Read more