Where to begin? Is the beginning really at the end? I got a phone call at work from my youngest son, Joe. “Mom, Ryan’s dead.” Oh, God. Really, my worst nightmare. I drove home, but do not remember the drive. I opened my front door, went inside and slid down the door. I remember screaming, “No!” over and over. It sounded like an animal, not me at all. Then Joe met me at the house and we got in the car to drive to Miami. Plenty of time to talk, plenty of time to plan my son’s funeral. Joe’s dad was in the hospital in Miami, we had to go to tell him his oldest son was dead. It was the most difficult thing I think I have ever had to do. Ever! Although we were divorced years ago, we co parented the boys and always had an amicable relationship. The look in his eyes…wounded. Like I had just broken his heart, literally. That is what it looked like, just wounded.
Ryan was my oldest, just 30 years old. He is on the right in the picture above. That’s Joe, his little brother on the left. Picture was taken 30 days before he died. Last time I saw him was on that day. I asked Joe about this picture. What was so funny that he was smiling about? He said he could not remember. I imagine Ryan may have said something a little off color. That would be our Ryan! He has that certain little grin on his face when he is being mischievous. And yes, that was the smile you see in the picture. Yeah, a mom can always tell!
He lived in Miami, loved the ocean. I live in Tennessee. He would visit me and say, “it is just too slow here, Mom.” He loved the hustle and bustle of South Florida. He struggled for years, but was clean and had just been best man for Joe’s wedding one month to the day before he died, June 23, 2015. I later learned many deaths come after a relapse. They tend to go back to the dose that they used before, only now it is too much for their system to handle. I have learned a lot since he died. It’s always, “just one more time” that does it.
Back story? Probably predictable. Ryan was an incredibly bright, outgoing guy. Beautiful smile, and he had his Grandpa Bill’s Irish blue eyes. The kind that are so blue that are almost translucent, you know? You could almost lose yourself in those eyes! He also inherited the Irish love of drink and/or the addictive gene. It skipped my sister, brother and myself and hit my boys. Like I said, I have learned a lot. They say he had ADHD and I listened to the “experts” at the time and they recommended medication to treat it. Full disclosure, I am an RN by trade….looking back I think it was a BAD decision. The easy route. I have to admit that now. I wish I could go back and change it. Anyway, I think it opened the pathways in his brain to “crave” drugs later. Just my opinion…Regret number one of many. He seemed to have anxiety and throughout his youth he self medicated it with drink and pot. It escalated from there. Again, I think I did not discipline hard enough for these teenage transgressions and so now we have regret number two…
As a parent, the guilt has been the worse for me. I look at my younger, remaining son Joe and I am reminded that he now has no brother. Did I do enough so Joe would not grow older without a big brother? I should have tried harder, I should have done this or tried that. I know he had free will, but I am his mom! If love could have saved him he would be here today. On the other hand, did I love him to death? There were times that I did. I enabled him before I really knew what was going on. He was very good at hiding how bad he was using. He did not want me to know. I NEVER saw him high. Never. Shame. I think shame is what partly killed my son. He was so ashamed. I wish he knew there was NOTHING he could do or not do that would make me not love him. I may be disappointed, sure. But lose my love for him. Never! Don’t kids know that? Some of the questions I struggle with daily.
So, I work on forgiveness, putting down the baggage I drag around with me. I know Ryan would forgive me. No doubt in my mind at all. I can hear him in my head. “It’s not your fault, mom!” I am sure God forgives me. Just not sure I can forgive myself? I am trying. I feel like I watched him drift away, like a balloon. Slowly drifting away with the breeze.
The roller coaster of having an addicted child is hard for those not struggling with it to understand. It is a constant fear of “that” phone call. When it comes, it is almost like it was expected. Was I shocked? Yes, I still can not believe he is really, truly gone. Like forever, gone? Never, ever bouncing up the steps to my front door again? No! No way. But in a weird way, I knew it might happen someday. That being said. I never, ever gave up the hope of full recovery. I knew it could happen. It had happened for others, why couldn’t happen for my son too? I have a mixture of feelings. I miss him horribly. Beyond words, really. I still cry everyday and probably always will. Not the all day long crying I did over the first few weeks, but I still tear up everyday. I also am relieved he is not struggling anymore. And yes, he did struggle. He battled demons that I can not even begin to understand. So I am glad he is at peace, I just wish he had won the WAR. That’s what it is, right? A WAR and we don’t get the weapons until it is too late.
So, I find being honest helps me. At first, I was hesitant to admit to others he died of an overdose. You get that “look” you know what I am talking about. It is subtle, but it is there. Like you were a bad parent, or you had a “junkie” kid. blah…blah….blah…I have gotten over that, believe me. I have learned that another mother gets a phone call every 13 minutes in this country. The year Ryan died, 20,000 people also died of an overdose. So, I am not alone by any means. Most likely, someone you know has lost someone to an overdose. Like your loved one, Ryan was more than his addiction. He was a funny, sensitive, handsome, outgoing likeable guy. He had a smile that could light up a room. No enemies at all. Loved kids. Loved his little brother, Joe and his niece, Charlotte. Loved the ocean, his nick name was “Miami”. We all have a story….
Love each other, hug each other, forgive each other. Everyday!
Just a mom
PS: picture is of Joe’s wedding day, May 2015, Nashville, Tennessee. Last day we were all together. Joe (L) and Ryan (R).