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November 20, 2010

A Gift of Purpose

By most standards I was living the best life.  I had two beautiful children, a wife I loved very much, and Kim_manlove_family[1] a secure and rewarding career.  I was an academic dean at the largest public urban university in the Midwest in a high profile position that suited me perfectly.  I had grown up a university brat, my father was a college professor.  So I liked the culture and I knew how to navigate it.  I loved my job.  It paid well.  It was safe.  It was well within my comfort zone and I had every intention to retire an academic.

Then on a beautiful day in June, nine years ago, my life changed forever.  My 16 year old son David, got up early that Saturday morning, mowed the yard, then asked if he could go swimming at a friends pool Images[9] not far from our home.  After swimming a while, David and his friend went a drugstore and brought an aerosol can of computer duster.  They returned to the pool and began to do what’s called “huffing,” inhaling the propellant from the can while underwater to intensify the high.  On the fourth try, David went into cardiac arrest and drowned in spite of the immediate efforts of his friends at the pool, the EMT’s who responded, and the doctors and nurses in the E.R.

 That day I became members of a club no parent ever wants to join.  I had suffered a violation of natural law – the one that says your kids are not supposed to die before you do.

 As a parent we tend to mark our children's lives by certain milestones.  High school graduation.  College.... marriage amd perhaps grandchildren.  Then many more, mostly joyful ones, follow.  But the Dave Brosuis death of my son became a defining moment in such a way that I now divide my and his life between the days before he died and after the days after.  And I can’t see anything from here on out eclipsing that division. I think all parents at some point, either consciously or unconsciously flirt with the thought of, What would I do if something happened to my child?  Often it’s brought on by someone else’s story.  And I did think about that before David died, because we had been dealing with his substance abuse for some time.  We had gotten him into to treatment for his drug and alcohol addiction and hoped that we had caught it "in time."

The day David died, the coroner took possession of his body and did an autopsy.  It revealed he was the picture of health.  There were no signs of alcohol or drugs in his body; that’s one of the attributes of death from huffing.  So I could easily have written it off as an accident.  But I knew he had died of inhalant abuse.  His addiction killed him in spite of all that his parents, his friends, and the treatment center-tried to do to prevent it.  I chose not to be silent about what had happened to him, and to make his death a lesson for others.  Since then, I’ve become deeply involved in substance abuse education, honoring David’s struggle with addiction by telling his story through presentations at schools, as well as through the Partnership at DrugFree.org

Another change:  Six years ago at age 52, I began to feel an internal struggle between my job at the university and my advocacy work, which was quickly becoming my passion.  I found that when I made a presentation, people would come up to me and say, “This happened to my daughter or son.  Somebody has to put a personal face on the disease of addiction.  Thank you for doing it.”  But I feared the risk of leaving the safety of academia.  I was torn between what I knew as a university administrator and what I felt as a father who lost a son to the powerful disease of addiction.  But in the end, I did it.  I left higher education after 26 years, and joined the treatment center where David had gotten help and now my passion is my life’s work.

 Also, over the past nine year, I have developed friendships with people who’ve suffered similar losses.  These are deep, abiding relationships that I never had before.  So David’s death has led me down paths I never wanted to be on, but now that I’m here, I want to travel them more than anything - anything – else.  I am where I am supposed to be, and that is an incredible feeling.  It’s a gift of a life of satisfaction and purpose. 

 A gift directly from my son. 

November 20, 2010 at 01:11 PM | Permalink


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