My experience with my 18 year old son Matt, who died of a drug overdose on June 3, 2007, is somewhat like that of one of your recent radio show guests, Dr. Nancy Rosenbledt.
Before his teens, Matt was a nice, friendly, caring, and happy go lucky kid who for the most part, we did not have any problems with. He did not do as well in school as we would have liked, but other than that, there was no indication of what was to come.
Matt started getting into trouble from time to time around the age of 13 or so. To our horror, his problems involved stealing and drug use. My wife and my two daughters and myself all loved Matt very much. At times however, we became very frustrated with him because of his periodic bad behavior that we could not understand or respect. When he did these things, we would find it hard to believe that he had done them. He knew it was wrong to take things not belonging to him and buying drugs, but it was evident th at he had become very impulsive and also seemed to suffer from low self esteem.
At about the age of 15-16 years old, Matt was diagnosed with Bipolar disorder which my wife’s grandmother suffered with throughout her life. We got Matt on BP medication which seemed to help but not enough. It was also hard having Matt take his medication consistantly. Matt’s behavior led him to at one point, to be sentenced to a teenage detention program empahazing behavioral changes and drug use education for about 7 months. Since it was run by the state of Florida, the quality of the program was less than what I had hoped for. My wife and I found that we had little to no control of where he would be sent. It is a very bad feeling knowing that someone else, meaning the state in our case, has control over your son.
After the program, my wife and I made the mistake of thinking-or at least hoping-that he had grown up in the program, and that his problems of the past we re behind us. looking back now, I wish I had done more for his mental health needs-though it was difficult to get Matt to take action about that.
I could go on and on but the bottom line is that Matt overdosed and died while my wife and I were away from home on Sunday evening, June 3, 2007. The experience of my son’s death has been devastating to me and my family. Throughout all of Matt’s problems, he was still the fun loving, caring, and loving son and brother. That only made trying to understands his problems harder. It seemed out of character but it was reality too. I struggle with his loss everyday and I am not all that sure that I will make it through all of this in good health. I miss him greatly as does my wife and daughters, and I am try to understand how such an unatural and terrible thing like this could ever have happened to me and my family. Anyway, I appreciate your program.
Drs. Gloria an Heidi Respond
We are so very sorry for your loss. There is nothing as difficult as losing a child — there is no pain as deep and excruciating. As parents it is so easy to blame ourselves and search through the “should haves,” etc., for some kind of answers and often we come up empty handed. In reading your letter it sounds like you did everything you knew to do in a very difficult and challenging situation. It has been less than a year since this terrible loss and that is a very short time when you are grieving. It is important for you and your family to be gentle with yourselves and with each other right now. Each grieves in his or her own way and in his or her own time — there are no rules and, unfortunately, no short cuts. We wish we could tell you that one day all the pain will be gone but we both know that isn’t true. And yet there will be a time when you can begin to look forward again, as hard as that is to imagine right now.
We strongly encourage you and your family to become involved with Compassionate Friends. It is a wonderful group of people, each of whom has lost a child or a sibling. They understand your loss, your feelings of guilt, your wondering how you can go on can help you, your wife and daughters receive the comfort and support you need right now. The death of a child in a tragic way sometimes pulls families apart but, with help, it can also bind them even closer together. You can find more about Compassionate Friends and if there is a chapter near you at http://compassionatefriends.org. However, we understand that groups are not for everyone. If groups are not for you we recommend that you reach out to your family, church, and friends for support. We have found that the load of grief is lighter when it is not carried alone.
Thank you for sharing your story with our readers. We will post it on the site so others can benefit from your words.
Drs. Gloria and Heidi