August 06, 2010

How Does a Parent Feel When They Discover Their Child is Using Drugs?

When I first discoverd that our 16 year old son had a serious problem with alcohol and marijuana I suddenly could not breathe, my chest ached as I felt waves of anguish wash over my heart.  I sought refuge in my wife's arms and as we held each other tightly tears welled up then leaked from the corners of my eyes.  My mind raced.  HOW DID THIS HAPPEN TO HIM...HOW COULD THIS HAPPEN TO US...AND WHO DO WE TURN TO FOR HELP?

August 6, 2010 at 12:44 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0)

April 29, 2008

A Parent Support Group

She opened the door tentatively and shuffled softly into the room, slipped quietly into the chair moving in seeming slow motion as if her lack of haste would somehow disguise her tardiness. The parent support group meeting had started some fifteen minutes before but no one took much notice of when she had arrived, they were simply glad that she was here.

We had started the group a year after David died of addiction, barely 3 months after he had been in treatment…barely 6 months after he got into recovery and barely 7 months after he turned sixteen. When David got out of the adolescent intensive out-patient program he entered the Treatment Center’s “aftercare” program that was to help him make the transition from treatment to recovery.  But there was no “aftercare” program for parents to help us make a similar transition…and soon realized, much to our regret, how ill prepared we were.

So we started this Parent Support Group and some six years later here we are every Thursday night at 7:30 PM, a group of parents whose children have been in treatment for substance abuse.  Some a little farther down the path than others with no magic bullet, no answers, only suggestions based upon our experience.  No experts in the disease of addiction just parents who are survivors from it, on our own odyssey of recovery. 

She settled into the chair crossing her legs and entwining them around one of the chair legs.  She held one hand to her mouth and wound her other arm around herself so tightly I was afraid she would suffocate. She looked so frail and small wearing her countenance of fear and worry like a dark veil. 

When it came her turn to speak her story rushed from her lips in a torrent of words and emotions.  Her 18 year old son had relapsed, he’d been dismissed from the treatment program and when he had returned home she handed him a small bag, clean underwear and socks, a few essentials and told him that he could not continue live in her house while he was still using.  Her words turned to sobs as she spoke of the grief she felt as he walked out the door, the plea for him not to go that choked in her throat, the haunting feeling of not being a good parent and then the unspeakable fear of what would happen if he dies of his addiction alone and without her arms to protect him.


April 29, 2008 at 09:50 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

August 02, 2006

I Was Away When My Son Died

It sounds so weak and pathetic to say that…I was “away on business” or “taking time off or something”, when this horrific event occurred changing our lives irrevocably.  It’s not like you’ve miss your child’s birthday, or first step or first date.  To not be there when your 16 year old son dies is beyond imagining and unforgivable.  Five years have gone by and I still cannot find the words that begin to reach the depth of regret that I was not there to endure with Marissa and Josh those unspeakable moments when Dave left us.

I was away when my son died.

I am not so arrogant to think that I could have altered the outcome by being there or could have eased anyone’s suffering in even the smallest of ways….but GOD I wasn’t there at all when my beautiful boy thought his last thought, looked at the sky for the last time and took his last breath.

Marissa got the call that something had happened, she and Josh rushed over to the house and saw David on a gurney being rushed to the ambulance which took him to the ER.  As they sped to the hospital behind the ambulance Marissa told Josh that Dave was already dead.

I was away when my son died.

Almost from the beginning I have had this desire to visit the place…the swimming pool where he died.  Yet I do not wish to inflict any more pain and suffering on the family who lives there.  They did not want this…how can life be so cruel as to steal their joy of owning a pool by having one of their daughter’s best friends die there.  A boy they had known since childhood, who they cherished and loved.

And yet I want to go there…to stand where he stood, listen to the wind as he heard it, as he felt it on his face, to hear the birds and cicadas singing in the trees as he did…before the drugs took his life.

And maybe, just maybe…if I listen hard enough…I might hear in the wind the sound of laughter from that day and feel his spirit near me which I think must visit there too sometimes.  I want to visit the pool where he died because….

I was away when my son died.

August 2, 2006 at 11:16 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 19, 2006


"There is nothing unimaginable that cannot be endured."

Imre Kertesz

February 19, 2006 at 11:04 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 17, 2006

Part Three…The Day That Would Never End

The Phoenix airport was alive with the usual frenetic activity at one o’clock in the afternoon but as I walked up to the ticket counter I felt as if I were wrapped tightly in a cocoon of pain and grief from which there was no escape.  The agent listened intently to my story and accepted my plight immediately, re-booking me on the most direct route home she could, expressed her condolences and sent me on my way.  As I walked to the gate I heard my name announced on the public address system directing me to a courtesy phone.  It was Marissa, her voice clear but strained, asking if I had any qualms about donating David’s organs.  “Of course” I said, “let them take whatever they want,” and then went on to relate my flight details.  It struck me later that I had been too quick and too casual about my son’s body and yet I suppose, in my grief, I grasped desperately at anything that would bring me some good from this tragedy. 

I don’t remember much about the flight home; it was a blur of faceless people in nameless airports, walking down cavernous concourses, aimlessly wandering from gate to gate.  Changing planes but doing so as if I were a traveler in time, disconnected from the people and reality around me and yet powerless to turn back the hand of time.  I spoke to no one, the unspeakable had me by the throat and I was defenseless to the grim hold it had over me.  I changed planes for the last leg home as the sun began to set, somehow found my row and fell into my seat by a window, the weight of my world crushing down on me.  I stared blankly out at the runway afraid to make eye contact with anyone for fear that the torrent of tears would again burst forth and overwhelm me.  A young man about nineteen took the seat next to me and immediately put his head phones on, turned on his CD player and began to play the “gangster” rap that Dave loved so much, and for the first time I wondered would this pain ever stop?

I found myself in a hopelessly confused state, my mind unable to focus on even the tiniest detail.  I decided that I had to focus on something even if it were the most inane topic…and so I started a list of things that I had to do, who to call, who to email, where to go, and most of all what to say!  And then a fearful thought entered my mind, what if there were media present when I got off the plane, not that this tragedy was particularly noteworthy.  What if it were a slow news day, so slow that suddenly the story of a nice kid from a nice side of town who dies from addiction in the swimming pool of a friend, this story gets elevated to page two status.  And so I began to write a “statement” that I would read or give to the “media” as I stepped off the plane, something that would talk about David’s struggle with addiction while asking for the prayers of family, friends and strangers alike.

There was no media, only Marissa and Josh.  Where there had once been a family of four now there were only three, the awareness painfully acute to each of us as we cried together at the gate.  We wrapped ourselves together against our grief and headed to the car.  Marissa’s sister and brother-in-law drove us home, the three of us huddled together in the backseat, no words remembered, the unspeakable holding sway. 

As we turned onto our street I remember thinking our house was ablaze with light and activity.  Every lamp appeared to be lit, cars parked up and down the street on both sides and young people milling about or sitting in the front yard in clusters of two and three.  They held each other, crying softly or talked in hushed reverent tones in the warm June night.  One after another, David and Josh’s friends came to me, hugged me and then made way for the next…it was like the day would never end

February 17, 2006 at 10:16 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 10, 2006

Part Two ….. The Limo Preacher

After I hung up the phone the hotel room became a scene of emotional chaos. In my minds eye I recall my brother, who rarely sheds a tear, crying softly while standing in a corner near a closet. My father wailed, wrung his hands and slowly staggered drunkenly back and forth across the room, his body wracked with anguish as he sobbed “David, my beautiful David” over and over again. I sat on the edge of the bed, in the eye of this maelstrom of grief, dumbstruck, silent…my mind a wall, desperately trying to comprehend what I had just been told…and failing miserably.

All that took place seemed to be surreal, everything around me moved in slow motion as if I were the one who was dead…a detached observer of events. Suddenly it seemed that reality rushed back in and overwhelmed me. I felt like a bomb had been detonated next to me and the concussion had temporarily robbed me of sight and sound only to have them both return to me like a thunder clap. And in that thunder was one thought and only one thought…I had to get back home….now!!

I rose slowly from the bed and looked around the room taking stock of what belongings I had with me, gathered them up and then quietly began to turn what little control I had, into action. The thought occurred to me that I had to get to the airport and catch the first flight back home I could…so I headed to the lobby. When I reached the concierge desk and said who I was and what I needed it was clear that the word of the tragedy had already spread throughout the entire hotel staff. Instead of a taxi they had ordered a limo which was on its way. I didn’t understand or care what the concierge told me at the time but she said, “we have requested a special driver for you who is on his way.” I frankly didn’t care who the driver was or what arrangements had been made and even acquiesced to the concierge’s request to allow another hotel guest to ride to the airport with me in the same vehicle. As I waited in the lobby the dimension of time took on a dreamlike quality that defied natural law. Minutes did seem like hours as friends and colleagues who had heard the news of the tragedy drifted past me like phantoms in a nightmare.

Finally a dark Lincoln Towne Car slid slowly under the portico of the hotel, and a tall thin elderly black man emerged from the driver’s side. He motioned me into the front passenger seat and conducted the young woman to the vehicles backseat. My father and brother mumbled unintelligible good-byes…there were really no words for us…and the Towne Car pulled away. The driver pulled onto the interstate, eased into traffic and the scenery raced by as my own mind raced with random thoughts that had no focus or direction. I was feeling sorry for the other passenger who sat mute in the back seat. The thought crossed my mind how unlucky she was to be riding to the airport with this me on this sorrowful journey when the old man reached across the console and took my hand. “I am sorry son,” he began, “I know your grief is profound and that light has gone out of your life this day.” I had not shed a tear until he spoke and his words finally unleashed the torrent of tears I had kept at bay until then. My body now was wracked with the pain of grief and I began to gasp for air between sobs. “Cry” he said, “Cry my son, it is good for your soul and for the soul of your boy.” He said no more for a long time and just held my hand as he effortlessly guided the Limo through heavy traffic, onward to the airport. After a while the tears subsided, he squeezed my hand and ask our other companion to put her hands on my shoulder and on his as well, to forming what he called a “circle of hope.” And then something extraordinary happened, something I never expected a Limo driver to do, he began a prayer.

“Lord,” he said, “look kindly on this young man, his family and his boy who is with you now in your grace. Help them through the coming days to know your presence as pain rules their lives, Help them in the days and weeks to come as they learn to live with the memory of their son who will be with them always. And help them in the years to come to find the strength I know they will find to take up the cause and do battle with the scourge that has taken their son from them… that other families will not suffer as they have.”

The Limo Preacher finished his prayer as we pulled into the Phoenix Airport and we broke our “circle of hope”. I climbed out and we embraced, two strangers brought together by tragedy. I had started a journey two hours before, a journey no parent ever wants, yet along the way there have been many miracles and this kind old man with his soft words of wisdom had been only the first of those miracles.

February 10, 2006 at 10:37 AM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 04, 2006

Part One ..... The Call

The call came to my hotel room that Saturday but I wasn't’t there.  I had been in the room moments before putting the finishing touches on a speech I was to give later in the day with my older brother and my father. We had just left the room to get some lunch and picked a secluded spot in the back of the restaurant that overlooked the golf course whose lushness was in stark contrast to the Arizona desert that surrounded it.  We had a wonderful lunch we laughed, joked and made fun of one another the way only fathers and son’s can.  It was the last occasion I would laugh for a very long time.

I returned to the room with the intention of preparing for the presentation when I noticed the red message light flashing on the phone.   At first I thought it was a mistake…no one knew we were in this room, we were only using it temporarily.  I accessed the messages and was surprised that there were 5!!!!  How could there be 5 I thought, we were only gone for a short while?  I played the first message and it was the voice of a young lady from the front desk asking to speak with Mr. Manlove.  There were three Mr. Manloves in the room at that moment, my father, my older brother and me, so I was sure that the call could not be for me.  “Mr. Manlove” she began…haltingly at first her voice struggling to maintain composure, “I am sorry so sorry but you must call home right away, please…please let us help,” she pleaded, “We’re so sorry.”  Confused I deleted the message and went on to the next convinced that the calls were for my father… that something had happened to my step-mother.  But the next message was from my step- mother which perplexed me even more until I heard her say.  “Kim, you have to call Marissa on her cell, something has happened I am sooo sorry.”

I never listened to the rest of the messages, I dialed my wife’s cell phone as the fear rose in my chest and gripped my throat.  It was my older son that answered the phone, “Josh, its Dad, what’s going on, what’s happened.”   “It’s Dave” he sobbed into the phone his voice coming in waves at me, his words assaulting every fiber of my being, “It’s Dave Dad…Dave's dead.”

February 4, 2006 at 02:24 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack

February 03, 2006

The Unspeakable

To my everlasting regret I was 1500 miles away from home the day that David died. 

Powerless, hopeless, impotent, helpless, and forsaken are words that just begin to lift the fabric of despair that blanketed me when I first got the call that he was dead. I am grateful, however, that my son Josh was at his mother’s side on that tragic day.  Together they faced the first unspeakable moments of a mother and a brother’s worst nightmare.  It took me almost nine hours to fly back from Phoenix to Indianapolis.  Nine hours of desolation, the longest and loneliest trip of my life.

For the first few days we had no words for each other, the unspeakable had rendered us mute in the midst of our tears.  Slowly and painfully we regained our voice yet the unspeakable only allowed us to murmur pat and empty phrases that were more for the comfort of others than ourselves…since there was no comforting us. 

Several months passed before Marissa first broached the unspeakable with me.  “When you are ready,” she said, “I will tell you what happened that day.”  But the unspeakable still possessed me, still gripped my heart…and I declined.  “Thank you but no,” I whispered quietly, “but soon…I will let you know when.” 

In the end it was more than a year before I was able to hear the story of the unspeakable and when she was finished, we cried together as we have countless times in the years since…and will in the years to come.

You see the unspeakable and the grief are like addiction…you never get over it…it simply becomes a part of who you are. 

February 3, 2006 at 10:53 PM in The Unspeakable | Permalink | Comments (0) | TrackBack