Ben was an addict. That declaration is enormously painful and takes even more courage to write than Ben died at age nineteen. He was an honor student, football captain, neighborhood skateboard star, altar server, little league all-star, and lead singer in a punk rock band; he was handsome, popular, kind, and gentle. He was my first born, my only boy…he was an addict and heroin killed him.
When Ben was in the throes of his disease, I would jolt awake, stare at the blank ceiling, feeling my blood turn to ice. With my hands slipped under my lower back and my fingers spread so my body heat could radiate through my arms, hands, and fingers, I’d say the Lord’s Prayer, trying to obliterate the swarming fears.
Obsessed with this prayer, I studied Emmet Fox’s Around the Year with Emmet Fox before bed each night. Reading and dissecting the prayer by phrase, I studied each word on every page, searching for an answer to my never-ending question: “How can I save Ben?”
I also wrote in journals, pouring out my heart to empty space. Addiction is lonely and isolating, and it leaves a trail of “Whys?” and “Could haves?” I’m still haunted by the idea that some kind of trauma or horrible encounter unleashed a beast within my son. Why didn’t I see it? Why didn’t Ben feel safe enough to tell me? Was the disease so embedded in his DNA, that there was nothing anyone could do? Did I fail him? That is the hardest question of all: Did I fail him?
I sometimes wish Ben had died of cancer. People understand that disease. Addiction carries an insidious stigma, casting out its victims and relegating them – and their families – to society’s margins. There is no respect attached to such conditions. Police officers don’t touch the brim of their hats in homage, and no other fanfare takes place to mark the grievous occasion of loss. There is only mourning…and those damn unanswerable questions.
But yet, there are times in the stillness of my grieving years (almost seven years now) that I can cease my internal wrangling and remember my son: his dirty-dog smell and little boy’s giggle, the dime-sized mole on his left butt-cheek, his fondness for canned peaches and Jell-O chocolate pudding; I reminisce about his talent for building medieval castles out of Lego’s, his knack for altering his own clothes with dental floss, instead of thread (a habit which earned him the nickname, “Stitch”). In the echoes of my mind, these recollections linger to the accompaniment of the gentle melodies he would play on his guitar or keyboard the few times we were alone together at home.
As I integrate these cherished memories into this present moment, I realize how much I have changed since Ben’s passing. I once was a harried college administrator balancing career and family, living for others and not seeking to find myself buried under the avalanche of external demands. I now spend summers with my parents, and volunteer at elementary schools teaching struggling kids to read while reassuring them of their inherent worth.
I lunch with my high school girl friends, study water fowl as it dances across our lake in the fall, grow grapes, and eat kettle corn while watching romantic comedies. I spoon with my husband in our backyard hammock, and allow myself to be transported by the breeze that rustles in the olive trees. I marvel at the drone of bees as they pollinate the apple and plum trees, and laugh at the blue jays as they make mischief. I listen for God’s whisper, beckoning me to live; and as for the unanswered questions, I cast them aside for another day… and then, another… and then, the next.
Beautiful sentiment written beautifully.
Oh Joni, ….. sigh. Dirty dog smell and little boy giggle. Such powerful images, brings tears to my eyes. For some reason, I think Ben was like my son. I’m glad you are remembering him like this. Beautiful.
very powerful sentiment,seems like you are telling the story of my son Rob who also died due to drugs at age 19.Why these kids has no courage to tell parents that i am addict and need help.Now we have live with this pain rest of our life.We have to pay with our happiness due to their mistake.I wish you can email me ,so we may share our thoughts,
Thank you for your story. I too lost my son, my only child, at age 33 to a heroin overdose on 8/27/14. The stigma of death by drug overdose is still alive and well. In fact I too shared misconceptions about this scourge. I too lay awake at nights worrying. My son got addicted in his late 20 through a sociopathic girl friend. He had an education, career he loved, making good money and getting along in life. And then, inexplicably, it was all gone. I knew at a soul and gut level I was going to lose him. No matter how much support, love, etc. I could not heal him. I feel as if I failed him as a mother. Yet, I also know that he was an adult making his own decisions. Why he decided to turn to drugs I will never know. All I know is that my funny, sensitive, beautiful baby boy is gone. I do know I will be with him again, but until then I try to get though each day with my Smokey Robinson face on (i.e. Tears of a Clown…nobody sees what’s behind the smiling face.) Any way, your story moved me and I thank you. I am considering sharing my son’s story too. This scourge of drug abuse and overdoses is frightening. What is even more frightening is it isn’t really the black/brown inner city problem we are lead to believe. Opiate overdosing is primarily a middle and upper middle class white problem besieging people of all ages. It makes me wonder why?
So sorry for your loss. I lost my son Adam 3 weeks ago to a Heroin overdose.It’s a terrible disease. I am a detox nurse and I am at angry I let this happen. I ask myself often why couldn’the I fix him. Adam left a journal about his struggle with addiction. He told how much he hated his addiction and wished God would heal him so he could help others. I guess GOD had a different plan for him.
Your comment. is closest to date,I to. lost my son. on 2-28 ,toxicology report will take weeks but I am pretty sire he smoked crack out of depression. .How will my life ever be normal again? It will not,he was my best friend at ahe 35 he never married,no children. ..he lived on his own bit recently found love(his new love was a recovering addict who basically was depressed die to her parents death of a illmess ,I believe this worsened his depression)Around me we laughed joked…we were remodeling my main bathroom, & while i was away on vaca he came to my he to do laundry alone,n his dad found him here unresponsive. .y world was shattered. …my journey of why’s has just begun. .
I, too, have lost a son to drug addiction just two months ago. Heartbroken, sad, broken are all words I say to describe how I am feeling but the sorrow and loss is so immense that there are no words to describe it. My son was 33 years old and had been living with us for the last nine months before his passing. We knew he took too many prescription drugs and he had used heroin two years before but we had no idea of the depth of his addiction as he lived under our roof, right under our noses. I feel so guilty for not doing more, for believing or even just accepting the lies when I knew it didn’t make sense. My heart wanting to believe him would overrule my brain thinking not to.
My heart goes out to all of you that are suffering the loss of your son or daughter. This is a hurt like no other.
I lost not only my son but my friend, Jan 1, 2017 and he was 24. I have three other sons and my purpose is to make sure they are okay. I am a zombie though and I want to be there for them. They have lost their first friend and oldest brother. I am not sure what to do. I am sad and feeling the pain of loss more and more. I feel I tried to mask it in the beginning. I’m trying to find my way. It’s very lonely. I miss him very much. He was a sweet caring soul. Addiction killed him and he always told me the last months of his life he had cancer…the cancer was addiction. I am determined to change people’s perception.
I don’t like the comments and looks I get. People can be ignorant.
Your essay captured so eloquently what it must feel like to have loved and lost a son to heroin addiction. I will keep you in my thoughts and prayers along with other mothers who have had to deal with this fate. I applaud your courage.
Thank you sharing your story. My 41 year old daughter died of an overdose just three months ago and I still feel like I can’t breathe. I did not know that humans could experience such intense pain. My heart goes out to you and to your kind generosity for the gift of hope.
I, too, lost a son, my middle child, at age 38. He had been fighting his demons since age 18. He met up with his high school girlfriend who is a sociopath as well. He died of what we believe may have been a heroin overdose (no medical examiner report back yet). I also did not know that this intense pain could be endured. It is like my heart has been ripped out and many days I feel like I cannot face another day myself. I am not suicidal I just don’t care.
I too just lost my handsome intelligent wonderful son at age 20 to drugs. He thought he was Superman and could mix and experiment with any drug of choice. I guess he died doing what h e chose to do. I too am not suicidal but don’t know if I will ever be happy again. The grief is unbearable.
I, like so many of you have written, lost my youngest son last October to a heroin/fentanyl overdose. The pain of losing him seems to consume me at times and I don’t feel I can go on. I wonder when this intense pain will lessen. I was intensely proud of him but he struggled with these demons for 10 years. He promised me he wouldn’t die and yet he did. I don’t know how to live with my grief.
Deborah, My Son Died of Morphine/laced with fentanyl! He was 26yrs old! I can not explain The pain! My Heart is broken! At times I can not breathe! I failed him! I had No idea! Why? Why? Is an everyday question. Why? Did he not tell me! I am lost with No energy! I feel defeated! How can a mother raise her children to see them die? I want him back! My Beautiful Son in My Presence! I Loved that Boy of mine! No Matter What! God grant Me Peace and comfort! And for All those Mommys who feel Lost with Sorrow of Their Child! Give Them Comfort Also!
I am so sorry for the pain you have endured, both before and after the death of your son.
my son died a few days ago of heroin overdose. my oldest beautiful boy omg help!
Thank you Joni for sharing your personal experience .
My 20 year old son died 9-19-15 of a heroin overdose
Don’t know what to do or how to cope
Reaching out to God,family and friends but still crying all the time
Are there on line support groups for parents like us?
Any books you recommend ?
I lost my 36 year old son almost 4 months ago to an overdose of his prescription drug fentanyl when he was in a private detox and treatment center. He had asked me for a medical detox as he hated what this horrible drug was doing to him and his family. He was 3 and a half weeks clean and sober and in the treatment phase of the program in this center when he used one the fentanyl patch and he died.
This is the worst pain and deepest sadness I have ever felt in my entire life. He was in this accredited facility to get better not to die.
I lost my youngest son 2weeks ago to a suspected overdose. Anthony was my spark. His smile, his grin but most of all his big heart. He leaves behind his young wife and two children. I guess I should be thankful that his son has the same tendencies as his father, but I’d rather have my son here with us. I feel guilty that he left his wife struggling to understand why? I see the pain in her eyes….I know that my loss is different than hers.
The anguish/indescribable pain hit me right after my sons services and everyone had left. I thought I’d feel relieved to get my house back but sitting there in my quiet home only made me realize this is it. This is my new “normal.” I don’t want a new “normal.” I want my son back!! I want to hear his voice, I want to see his smile, I want to hear him tell me he loves me. There is an endless flow of tears that runs through the gaping hole in my heart. I know I will never ever be the same…My oldest son summed it up perfectly when he said “the days just don’t seem as bright as before.” Our spark is gone…..
I’m a 68 year old retired entertainer from Burton Michigan. 3 years ago my beloved first son Todd died at 3am Nov. 19th, 2012 of oxycontin and alcohol overdose which stopped his breathing. I was very close to Todd; at 37 he was my best friend as well as our son. Mary his mom has coped much better than i with the grief. I cry literally every day and Gregory Peck’s quote about his son always haunts me; “I don’t think of him every day–i think of him every hour”. I’m trying to concentrate on celebrating his life but images of the end and his addiction which he kept from me keep haunting me. The guilt anger and sadness have almost killed me. From my depressed immune system i got shingles which has almost killed me (yes, it CAN kill you); i got it in the eye and it has cost me my right eye vision and IS and can be fatal as bad as I have it (15 months now with no sign of letting up). I”ve tried everything; religion, counseling, anti anxiety and anti depression meds, journaling and lots more. It’s easing up a bit at 3 years but his image as an infant, toddler, young boy, young man middle aged man and father himself will pop into my head at all times and the tears come. I’ve read 3 good books on handling the grief. Nothing but time seems to help. I have told people in sincerity i don’t care if i live or die, because i died when my son did. I feel as hollow as a huge drum. My remaining son and my wife haven’t tried as i hoped they would to comfort me. No one but another dad understands. And no offense to Compassionate Friends but they DWELL on the circumstances of their child’s death even years later which i don’t think is healthy. I do smile when i look at Todd’s pictures but i always cry anyway. Any tips are welcome. Sign me the world’s saddest dad
My Autumn died 2-09-16 at approx. 4Pm . My beutiful daughter died in a bathroom of a bar. She died of Heroin. and methamphetamine. I miss her so much it hasn’t even been two month’s yet. I have a lot of guilt and a lot of what it’s and if onlys. My relationships with friends has changed as I get impatient with people. As they don’t even want to talk about her or it. I can see this changes everything. She was to beutiful for this world and had a hard life. She was generous. A good mother and my child who showed the most love to me. I did all the wrong things at all the wrong Times for her. It seems as the shock wears off. Somethings are worse. She suffered with addiction so bad. It seems a lot of our young people don’t realize the seriousness of these drugs and there so available. And a lot of life is more complicated and a lot of pressure. I don’t think we appreciate the world is as hard as it is for them. I want to tell my daughters story and somehow help young people. I think using this pain for good would help. Because I’m going through parts of the day that I want to not be here. I’m .notvsuicidal either. But I confess I’ve asked God to take me to her. I’m glad this is here to get out feelings and thoughts. I’m so sorry for you guy’s loss to. Sometimes it seems this addictionctakes the brightest and best of them . I love your children to and so does Jesus.
On March 26,2016 at 10:15am our lives pretty much ended.
Lacey was 26 by just a few weeks and she was an opiate addict for several years…she like many young people has entered the drug addict world with a few oxycontins for “fun” . From there it escalated to smoking black tar and eventually to shooting heroin.
I was shocked, angry and heart sick when I found out. She was living with her dad and I and hiding her habit pretty well to a point.
Over the years she went into at least 20 plus rehabs. Each time either failing or coming out and saying she was going to stay clean…but nothing worked for her. It was a revolving door.
She went to good schools,,grew up with a younger brother (who is clean and sober) and lots of close family ties. Still, she made a choice that became a fatal disease.
We were out of town when we got the call that she had swiped a vial of liquid fentanyl at the new veterinary job that was going to be new career…she was happy to be there and after many lost jobs, seemed to be on the right path finally.
I can only guess that she did it because “it was there” and addicts cannot say no when there is an opportunity.
She was found too late and died pretty much immediately after the overdose…but her heart was started and although she was declared brain dead, she was able to donate 3 life saving organs to three different people. In our deepest sorrow it was some one else’s greatest miracle gift of life.
She was an artist, a beautiful beautiful young woman and had a spark that resonated with hundreds of people who mourned her —she had no idea how many peoples lives she touched.
I am left now with the unanswerable questions…the “WHY??” And then I hear a silent voice that tells me that because it was there and she didn’t mean it.
I will never be the same person ever again and walk through these days feeling distant and apart from the world.
Thank you for reading this. Please pray for us and Lacey.
Thank you for sharing your beautiful pain in such an eloquent way. You have inspired me to research/read more on this subject. My son died alone, fallen back on his bed, with a needle still in his arm this past New Year’s Eve. His body was discovered January 3. I feel my broken heart will bleed forever.l
My 30-year-old daughter died December 15, 2014 of a fentanyl overdose. Her story echoes so many heard here. It has gotten easier but the pain is still there. I have found comfort through a group called GRASP (Grief Recovery After a Substance Passing), grasphelp.org. They have local chapters and a Facebook presence. Those meetings have helped me deal with the guilt and stigma that come with a death to substance abuse. Others I know have found comfort in continued attendance at al-anon meetings or other grief support groups. My heart goes out to all parents, children, brothers, sisters, family and friends of those who die in addiction.
First my condolences and thank you for sharing, and to each of you that commented also help relate to each other. My beautiful daughter 39 years old died 8/28/16 the results are not back yet after two + months, but she was smoking crack. Last xmas she ran her car into a telephone poll, she was so depressed and hooked on the crap. That’s when I found out. I never believe this girl would do this she wasn’t the type, she was a mom of two and had goals and went on a strict schedule so in, she had been eoring at a high level job for the VA hospital for 14 years her and her brother were my shinning stars, I was a single parent since he was born, same dad we were too young so st 19 I learned how to grow up. My daughter had been married for 18 years, her son was not her husbands, things were coming out about the marriage and him, like abuse, my grandson left at 17.5 due to abuse by this guy, but he had my daughter scared, about losing her and his 14 year old daughter. Finally when even my granddaughter wanted out they ran for it. He was crazy he had threatening my daughter with every sick harm you can image a sick mind would think of. Then one day she was found by her daughter uresonsive, I got that call that you pray to never happen. We went to tell hospital.I was told they where sorry, than I heard this and that something about drugs. The next day my husband I went to the house to ensure the kids did not see the emt work, while there we seen a pipe, and also could tell my daughter had been cleaning doing Landry vacuuming all the chores were very easy to see. But she was found face down in her bed, also signs of bruises on neck and face. While I was in her room something caught my eye and I seen papers that belonged to him under her bed in a pastic sandwich bag, what the hell, she had just vacuum that room she would of caught them also she had two beds since he moved out. My mind is so full of grief but I font want anyone getting away with this. Expecially a man that drove her to the drugs to began with by his continues verbal control and abuse, how did I not see how weak she had gotten? I read where a comment said some about feelingerie like she couldn’t breath, that was and sometimes still is how I feel. One day short of 2 months of my daughter death a little over 2 weeks ago I lost my mom, they were my friends since my kids were younger than them having kids we continued going on Saturday shopping trips breakfast out usu7not returning to late afternoon, my mom died on a Saturday and now I don’t even think I could shop anther Saturday again. Thanks
My condolences to all the parents who’ve lost their children. My heart breaks for every one of you. My question is a little different. My life long friend of 40 years just lost her son 2 weeks ago. I need advice on how to be the best help to her that I can. Both of our sons are 27, exactly 3 months apart. My son is doing well. He’s very successful, and that makes me feel guilty. My friend is my son’s godmother, so we’re all very close. I’m not sure if I should go to her house every day, or would that smother her. Should I get her out of the house, or let her take the lead and let me know when she’s ready? I want to take away her pain, but I can’t. Any words of advice are greatly appreciated.
I am living in fear everyday because of my sons alchohol addiction. He has liver desease and I’m already grieving for him. My life is over. I am obsessed with his death. I need help and can’t find any joy.
Thank you for this.
It the middle of the night and I cannot sleep for dread of my son’s almost certain death in the near future. Paul is suffering from alcoholism. He has been to rehab 4 or 5 times, refuses to follow up with treatment, and has now become a skeleton covered with skin. He can barely walk across a room, his apartment is indescribably filthy, he is suffering and there is nothing anyone can do.
Al-Anon helps, as does my husband.
I rationally accept I have already lost the son I once had, and almost wish for him to find peace, in death if necessary, my heart is breaking.
your comments touch a open break in my heart my first loss came in 2005 my second lost in 2011 and i am waiting for a heart ache coming this month.all the condolences have never helped but you have open my heart thank you so very much
Omg!, Thank you for this. I am struggling because my daughter od last night on heroin such a bad nasty drug. She was 31,However her addiction began slowly when she was 18,and in a car accident and the good doctor started her with oxytocin, Roxy and Opana she was fine for a long time because I held her meds and made sure they were properly taken. Move ahead 6,years and momma has no control any longer so she had to make sure which she did to safely control her meds. She became pregnant and slowly withdrew all meds. She worked for a pediatrician doing medical billing and her fiancé worked nights and so after my grandson came along while he was in his dads care an accident happened he rolled off the bed and his dad while asleep awoke quickly and grabbed him by his upper leg extremities. To make a long story short he had a broken femur bone and dad went to jail and DCF stepped in and revoked parental rights of my grandson. My daughter was charged with a failure to provide a safe home, bs… The dad would never intentionally hurt his son but he was charged with child abuse and this when my daughter lost her mind and her great doctor upped her prescription and added Xanax to the extreme and she became a walking zombie!!! Anyway their relationship ended and my daughter was arrested for doctor shopping ended up in drug court, rehab which didn’t unfortunately you have to really want to get over it but her addiction overpowered her mind. When she got out she went right back to it. Speed up the years and she was stuck with many people in the pill mills one doctor prescribed her enough to kill a horse as her lawyer proclaimed! Sadly as it was then they arrested the doctor and cut down on getting pain meds which in all craziness led her to heroin it was so much cheaper and she could still get Xanax and afford her heroin habit! What a mess Jess the mess was her Facebook name. So she was so far gone from any help from us and we refused to enable her. The only thing that was real to her is I and fiancé mom had custody of our grandson. She and he were so far gone at that point it seemed fruitless as if the heroin won… So to end this tragic babbling because I am still raw from last night finding her lifeless body in my bathroom in our house after many attempts of Cpr while waiting for rescue and by the way they were quick and with narcon to help but it was too late!!, Too all parents out there and there are way too many these days I just pray you have faith that they are free from their addiction and they leave a hole inside of your soul that takes a part of you away. It’s too raw for me now but I am praying that I too and you can heal somehow!!
Thank you all for your stories. My son died dec 18 2017 after being on life supports a week prior. He was an addict. So many questions. Even wondering if he recd adequate treatment when he went to the ER a few days prior not feeling well. So many losses so many tears. Such a change in who I am. So sad.
I just lost my 29yo son to addiction. I am feeling lost, confused, like a failure. Why didn’t he trust me to get help? What could I have done differently? Why didn’t God perform a miracle for him? My son also had a mild do of aspergers which made his addiction a response to not fitting in in this world…he had few friends…little support…he was so isolated. I tried to help him but he rejected me.
On Feb 5, 2017 my son, my baby( the youngest of 5) OD’d, on what they thought was Heroin, but was later discovered to be Fentanyl Toxicity. I don’t know how or when he was introduced to Heroin, he hid it quite well..
He was a quiet, kind hearted, young man, usually had a smile on his face, loved his family and animals, great with kids(nieces/nephews) worked side by side with his dad doing auto body repair, worked on and rode dirt bikes, 4 wheelers, snowmobiles. Loved going to Colorado to visit his oldest sister. . He wasn’t a gang member, drug dealer, bank robber, murderer, yet that’s how we were treated. And people I once considered friends, just disappeared.
I stayed with my son the whole week he was in the hospital on life support. The first few days, he responded to my touch/voice. Doctors said he’s posturing, that’s normal for the type of brain injury he sustained. I don’t believe it!!!! if that’s all it was, why didn’t he respond to others, not even his dad or closest sister.
We tried to get the local police involved but they showed very little interest.. They did take a report, but we definitely got a negative vibe like we were wasting their time. We gave them cell phones(with text messages, phone numbers, etc), the vehicle it happened in, another person(an eye witness), video surveillance where it happened.
The comment my daughter got from police was: “Do you have any idea how many heroin OD’s we get a day? And if they investigated every one of them they’d have no time for anything else”. I’m curious as to how many people OD’d in that time frame, in that area, from the same “bad” batch?
We made arrangements for my son to be buried in May as I lived out of state at the time but would be returning May 7th. I stopped at the cemetery the day before the burial to make sure he was being placed next to my dad. I asked to see my son so they took me to the storage unit. My sons body was naked.! An autopsy had to be done a couple weeks after the funeral. They didn’t even have enough respect to put his clothing back on!
..Its been just over a year, My heart aches, I feel sick and alone. I’m still in shock and disbelief, yet I know its happened, I saw it. I watched them take the ventilator off, I felt his last heart beat. I cry and have panic attacks everyday sometimes so bad I cant catch my breath.
Thank you for your story. My only son, Austin (24) died of an overdose on 4th of July and I am constantly waiting for him to walk into the house as if it’s all been a bad nightmare. I am a high school teacher & only by the grace of God did I make it through the school year (having a few panic attacks along the way).
Have you ever found yourself unable to move & feel like you have fallen in a hole and can’t climb out?
Beautiful and Inspiring!
My heart goes out to every single person who commented on this post. I’m afraid there will be a spot on here for me one day in the future if God doesn’t perform a miracle. My 24 year old son is addicted to alcohol and meth. Possibly other things I am unaware of. How do our cute giggly funny sweet loving little boys grow up to become addicts??? Why would anyone start putting a substance in their body that they KNOW kills people?? I don’t understand it!!! It’s torture! I don’t know how to save him! He is slipping through my fingers and I feel panicked and terrified! He won’t get help! He says he can quit himself, but he hasn’t. And the LIES! I just wish I knew what to do.
I lost my 24 year old son, Wyatt, on June 18, 2020 to addiction. He had been addicted to herione for some time and had started using fentenyl in the last few months. Before his passing he had overdosed twice and I found him in time for him to get treatment and survive. This last time, I was too late. I came home from work and found him in his room. I keep thinking “if I had left work earlier and got to him sooner, I could’ve saved him again.” I too struggle with “why couldn’t I help him?” and “what more could I have done to help him get clean and sober for good?”. He hated his disease and wanted so badly to live a better, healthy, happy life. My heart is broken. I have lost my son, and now I have a huge hole in my life that I don’t know how to fill. He was such a smart, kind, caring, giving person. Always helping others. I like to remember that part of him, not the addiction part.
I just found out my son was found alone in his apartment out west … and I can’t believe it. It doesn’t feel real .. so I’m going to identify the body officially , I’m breaking now and don’t know how to deal with it