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October 27, 2008

Substance Abuse - Not A Personal Choice

The call came in at 1:35 AM.   

There was a time not so many years ago that a call at this hour would have brought a chill to my heart as I tentatively reached for the phone with both fear and desperation rising in my throat.  Emotions that any parent of a young person struggling with addiction knows all too well.  But since David's death from substance abuse some seven years ago I no longer fear these nocturnal disturbances to my slumber because they hold no power over me.  I have had the worst from life in losing a child and so I gladly let the call go to voicemail to be retrieved in the light and the hope of a new day.

The next morning, as I sat on the edge of the bed listening to the message from the night before, I knew from the first halting words that heartache and suffering were at the core of the call.  It was the voice of a close friend of Dave's calling to tell us that the 16 year old younger brother of a mutual friend had been killed in a car accident the day before.  And while the scope of this tragedy was considerable for Dave's friend it was really more the painful memories it conjured up within him, goodbyes left unsaid, self-recriminations over lost chances, unspoken words that haunted him still ...all these had prompted his call. 

Now after seven years they all came cascading out...dislodged by a new grief that caught him unawares and took him back to a time and a place that he had kept from everyone and especially from himself.  He reminded me of the day at Dave's "calling" when he kept getting in and out of the receiving line, afraid to face us because he would not know what to say.  He recalled that I had finally chided him by saying that he could not just keep getting in and out of the line and that I finally took him into my arms and said simply "don't worry...there are no words" and walked him to the casket so he could say his good-bye.  He shared that he had never been able to express how deeply David's death had affected him and that he thought of him every morning when he looked at the tattoo he'd had done in his memory.  We talked for an hour and at the end agreed that it was only the beginning of many more conversations.   

I often speak of the many truths I have learned from David's death. One of them is that people who suffer from the disease of addiction often defend their actions by proclaiming over and over that it is a personal choice they make to abuse drugs and alcohol, that it their right to do so and that their actions affect no one other than themselves.  Of course they are wrong..their choices affect those they are closet to and who they love the most.  And when they run out of time, like Dave did, it affects their friends and loved ones forever.   

When I hung up the phone that morning not so long ago I also marveled at one of the other unspoken truths which I have known in my heart for a long time, that so many of David's friends still hold his memory as a great treasure just as we do. 

October 27, 2008 at 10:50 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

October 14, 2008

Hawk Walk 2008 First Steps For Recovery

This past weekend was our 3rd Annual Hawk Walk First Steps For Recovery 5K family fun walk the proceeds of which go to support The 24 Group, a not for profit foundation that provides support to families whose children struggle with addiction.  To promote participation in the event my sister-in-law Sheila sent the following email to her colleagues at the Community North Emergency Room where she has worked for many years and where ironically our son (her nephew) died in June of 2001.

She has given me permission to share with you her note which not only allows me to thank publicly many of the staff who tried so valiantly to save David's life that bright warm day but at the same time share a few intimate details of David's last days that his mother and I were not aware of until we read this note.

From: Sheila 
Sent: Saturday, October 04, 2008
To: Emergency Room Staff
Subject: Please take a moment to read

Hi.  I am not one who normally asks for donations or anyone to help with school fund-raisers, but I am involved in a project that is near and dear to my heart.  I am asking you to take a moment to read this.

On June 9, 2001 my nephew David was with friends at a backyard pool.  As many teens often times do, David thought he was invincible and able to try anything and still be ok.  David and his friends were huffing a can of aerosol keyboard cleaner.  He went into cardiac arrest and drowned.  The medics were called and he was brought into Community Hospital North ER.   Two of Lawrence Townships best medics (Jeff Wayne and Steve Stanley) were at the scene.  The ER staff that day were the best the department had to offer (Dr Hale, Dr Eshelman, Kathy Guise, Pat Myers, Rose Emerson, Kelly Jenkins and many more that my mind just can't remember).  Still David was too far gone and pronounced dead at 3pm. 

Ironically  David was supposed to be a summer volunteer in the ER that year.  One week earlier I brought David to ER with me to take a tour.  He was so excited to start working here and was particularly intrigued by the shock rooms.  In fact, when we stopped in Shock Room 1, he said he could tell he wanted to spend a lot of time in there.  One week later, he died in that room. 

David came from a loving home, parents were supportive, educated and very involved in their son's lives and friends.  Still, he made choices that were risky and took his life.  Needless to say, this was very devastating to my sister, to me and my entire family. 

Since his death, my sister and brother in law have become very active in educating other parents about drug abuse and warning signs.  They have formed a group called The 24 Group which supports families whose children struggle with addiction and funds drug education and awareness programs.  One of the fund raising projects is a Hawk Walk which takes place on Saturday Oct 11. 

I have posters in the break room and locker rooms in ER as well as flyers in a few mailboxes about the annual HawkWallk.  If you are free on the morning of the 11th, please come join us for a 5K.  If not and you are able to make a small contribution to The 24 Group, that would be awesome.  Mostly, please remember my family in your prayers.  I would like to think that David's death did not occur uselessly.  Hopefully his story will benefit others who face the dilemma of teenage drug abuse. 

Thank you,  Sheila

If you are interested, you can log onto www.The24Group.org and read about what the group does.  There is also a blog written by my brother in law Kim Manlove about his struggles to cope after his son's death.  Warning - have a box of Kleenex by your side - it's quite the tear jerker.  Also if you are in Chicago and at Navy Pier, there is a display about drugs and my nephew is one of the featured stories.

October 14, 2008 at 03:12 PM in The Odyssey | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack