I spent the year after Duane died just trying to keep myself busy. I got an anti-depressant from the doctor which helped some but I find that if you have something “real” to be depressed about, it doesn’t totally mask that sadness. I remember I took a trip down to Florida where my oldest son, Johnny went after Duane died. He was broken and we sent him to live with his sister and her family. He was so fatalistic about life – saying stuff about if life is a game, he gives up, “they” win. This mother’s heart was already broken and to hear another son with such an attitude just added to the pain. I tried to encourage him. Life is a struggle. And a lot of the struggle comes from the consequences of our own choices. Even if we choose to change after we’ve made bad choices, the consequences don’t immediately go away. For instance, if you’ve stolen something, you may repent of that, but you still have to go to court … and still take the punishment that is dealt out. Some of the struggle in life is brought to us courtesy of the choices of others and it seems that a mother bears the brunt of her children’s choices often. She must pay consequences that she hasn’t even earned.
John and I had gone to see a movie the night Duane died. I had my phone volume turned down so that I wouldn’t disturb anyone. It had gotten to be that every time we went out, something happened. And I was really tired of it. I was to the point where I took time for myself and I didn’t care (or told myself not to care) about what was going on with Duane and his dramatic life. Anyway, the phone vibrated and I looked and saw a message from my daughter that I should call her. I texted that I was in a movie and it was almost over. She texted, “OK well Duane’s in the hospital.” My heart sunk but this had happened before and I thought that he had probably either hurt himself, taken too many drugs or gotten too drunk or something. You know, it was only a year ago that he had been in the hospital in Michigan nearly dead from an overdose. Between then and now, more drama had taken place almost weekly. My complaisance was such because I guess I was numb. When you try your hardest to help over and over and over and nothing comes of it, in fact things just keep plummeting, I think it’s normal to almost stop caring. I say almost because, after all I am a mother and we never stop really, ever.
The next minute I found myself answering the vibrating phone – a call from Johnny. I quietly said, “Hello?” These are the words that are still burned into my brain and into my heart as if they were etched there by a tool: “Mom, Duane’s dead!” Johnny was sobbing and I couldn’t hear him very well. And their voices sounded so much alike, I thought it was Duane. I said, “Duane? Is that you?” And Johnny sobbed, “No Mom, Duane’s DEAD.” My heart nearly stopped – it literally felt like a huge vice had grabbed it and was twisting. The world around me became surreal. The ending credits were of women throwing money in the air and laughing and I actually noticed that. I grabbed John’s arm and we began squeezing past our fellow movie-goers. I was trying to be sure of what Johnny was saying because I could tell he was drunk or something. He told me that they took Duane in the ambulance to Wilson Hospital and I was trying to calm Johnny down who was crying like a baby. I told him that probably he didn’t really know how Duane was, that most likely the emergency crew were working on him and Johnny had just assumed Duane died. Johnny asked me to come get him. He said, “Please hurry Mom.” He was crying when I hung up.
As we rushed into the car and John started driving, I was being pulled in two different directions. Should I go to my son, Duane who was in the hospital or should I rescue my son, Johnny who had been left devastated and alone? As a mother, I always want to do what’s best for my children. I want so much to help them and I try always to make the best decisions so that what I do is truly helpful and will lead them towards the right. I asked John if he didn’t think we should go get Johnny first and then go to the hospital. My straight thinking husband just said no that we were going to the hospital. On the way, I called the hospital emergency room. Now I’ve called emergency rooms and ICU’s before – they find out who you are and especially when it’s an emergency, they tell you what’s going on. The nurse put me on hold and came back and said that I should come as soon as possible. I again asked how Duane was doing and she would only say that I should come asap. I had an idea from that that all was not well. And then my heart turned to my husband and how I could help him because, after all is said and done, he is my true love, my forever. I put my hand in his and I told him they wouldn’t tell me anything and I said, “You know, John, whatever this is, we can get through it together.” And he said that yes, he knew that.
A lot of couples break up when bad things happen to their children. I have seen that over and over again. One friend’s child got a girl pregnant and they weren’t married. My friend and her husband didn’t see eye to eye on what should happen for their child and one day he walked out on her. A 20 year marriage gone like that. A child born with physical or mental problems can bring about the same thing. A wayward child like my Duane, also. I know I only saw it as a time that I should help my husband all that I could. And we would help each other because after all, we started this whole thing, this family and we, the two of us, would be together when (and if) they all were gone.
We arrived at the hospital and reported to the nurse at the desk. And routinely, they will quickly usher you back to your child … again it was different. They escorted us to a little private room and asked us to wait for the doctor. The nurse wouldn’t say anything other than I needed to talk to the doctor. And so that’s how we were prepared. We sat there when the doctor came in with an assistant and John held my hand as she told us “…I am so sorry, we did everything we could but we could never get his heart beating again,” we already knew really. I could see that she was sad and I knew that it must feel terrible to tell a mother and father that their child is dead when he’s so young. I told her that we’d been expecting this for so long and that I knew she’d done everything she could.
And we had been expecting it. For four years at least. Every time the phone rang at night; every time an ambulance siren was heard; every time he didn’t come home when he was expected. And I had told Duane so many times that if he didn’t stop, he was going to die. And now he really was dead, my little 19 year old boy was actually dead from a stupid heroin overdose. They led us to the room he was in and left us there alone. And together we faced the consequences of Duane’s poor choices. He lay there on the bed just like he had when he was in Michigan and in that coma. He was so big. Tall and big boned and with his gorgeous sunstreaked hair that the girls all accused him of high-lighting. He was still warm but his lips were blue. I kissed him and I held his hand and I stroked his hair and I told him how much I loved him and how I would always love him. My boy, my Duaney-poo, my baby.
There is so much sweetness to life that can’t be denied. Many precious things that make up a wonderful life. Finding your love is one. The way that lifts you up. The butterflies and excitement in discovering the feelings are mutual. Your wedding day and the sweet promise of a future full and bright. The births of your children and the pure joy of seeing your true love’s eyes shine as baby meets father. The every day happiness of life. Watching your family grow and learn. The proud moments of parenthood. Baby’s first smile (as if you had anything to do with that); first words; first steps. School compliments from teachers. Church achievements. When children do stuff that affirms for the first time they believe as you believe. And so on. The love of parent for child. The love of wife for husband. The love of sister for sister.
And although this life is truly full of struggles or trials, I know we can find happiness and joy when we continue on in doing what we know is right in the best way we can.
Cassie writes about losing her son, Duane to his Heroin Addiction on the blog, Duane’s Song dedicated to his memory. It is her hope that by sharing the learnings from her loss she will help another parent or addict avoid her son’s fate.