Matt, It’s been four days since you died and my world spun off its axis. I’m unbalanced now. Walking around in a fog. Disbelief and reality take turns playing games with my heart. Trying to bring you home has been a challenge. I was told it would be easier to cremate you in Florida. Quicker and cheaper. This mother needs to see you again. A part of me remains in denial. This is a horrific mix up. You are alive and this is the son of another mother.
They tell me your flight finally arrived in Philly late last night. The last time you were in Philly it was to fly into a new life. You were so full of hope and dreams. I never expected you to return home in a box. Flights have been off schedule due to back to back snowstorms. Was that you Matt? You always loved the snow.
I’m told I can see you today just for a bit as we now have a schedule to keep. I need to see your handsome face. A face that is now frozen in time. There will be no wrinkles or gray hair for you my beautiful boy. We will never dance together as you wed the love of your life. I will never hold your child in my arms. My dreams about your future torn to shreds, blowing away in the January wind.
I feel like an actress in a role I never wanted to play. What does a mother wear to go view the body of her son. My mind is foggy and my body feels like I’m walking through quick sand. Eyes swollen beyond help. Face puffy and red. I can’t even look at my reflection. I don’t care anymore. I don’t talk to Jesus. There is nothing to talk about. He didn’t protect you and neither did I. I’ve read that Jesus only gives you what you can handle. He doesn’t know me like I thought he did. I always told him I could never survive losing you. You are gone.
I was able to spend two hours with you. It was the shortest two hours my life. I needed to see you alone before anyone else. I needed it to be just you and me. Like it used to be. A mother and her son hanging out sharing life except now your life was gone and I was left behind. Ray dropped me off and went to park his car. I walked inside and tried to catch my breath. I asked you to give me strength to see you today. To walk into a funeral home and say goodbye to my beautiful son.
The rooms eerily quiet. I walked through my fog and felt that familiar throat tightening, heart racing envelope my body. I closed my eyes and prayed it would not be your face my eyes would see. I would shout for joy, it’s not Matt, it’s not Matt. My fantasy was short lived. You looked like you were sleeping. Quiet but so cold. I could see the bluish color under the layer of makeup applied to your face. I grabbed your hand and ran my fingers through your hair. I lay my head on your chest praying to hear the beat of your heart. Oh God this can not be. My brain is silently screaming. Slowly Ray and Mike approach. I will not move from holding you. My body frozen with yours. They ask why you were wet. I didn’t realize that my flood of tears was falling onto you face. I wondered if you were looking down on your broken family. Your brother once so strong crying like a baby. Our time is up. I want to stay forever. I want to sit with you until I am no more. In my fog there are voices. Mom, we need to go. Mom, please let go. I’m surrounded by what’s left of us. Mike and Ray giving me their strength to walk away. The slap of reality hits my face. A blast of icy wind on this most brutal of days.
I spend the next days planning your memorial. Denial is a wonderful thing. In all the years we battled your addiction I never thought I would be planning your funeral. I felt betrayed. In all the books I read written by parents like me the addict lived. Everyone had a happy ending. Beautiful Boy, An Addict In The Family, and Stay Close all gave me the misconception that no matter how sick the addict was they lived. Those books would be burned with the next fire. Where were the books to shatter my illusion? Where were the books to let parents know that addicts die? Addiction is no fairy tale. There is no happy ending.
Writing your obituary was brutal. I remember pacing around the kitchen while Ray sat at the computer. I was sobbing and shaking as I tried to find the words to honor your life. A life cut too short by your demons. We kept the service private. Family and close friends would be the only one’s sharing my grief. I feared your drug buddies would come and I couldn’t risk the reaction of your brother. I lost one son, I could not lose another.
The day I foolishly thought would never be part of our journey is here. I always thought it would be you and Mike saying a final goodbye to me. Never the other way around. It’s snowing. I run outside and look at the sky. Is that you, Matt? I want to grab each falling flake and hold it to my heart. Matt, Matt, how will I survive this day? I stand outside closing my eyes and remember coming home one night crying after losing a baby in the NICU. “Mom, I don’t know how you do that”. You gave me a hug and said,”It must be so hard when a baby dies”. Now it’s my baby who died. My soul is broken and I want to stay here watching the flakes fall from the sky not go to say goodbye.
The day was cloudy and dark. The weather mimicking my soul. The snow continued to fall. I stood in my bedroom staring at the borrowed black dress. My brain not able to allow my heart to feel. I am numb. My body in survival mode. I will need the strength of an army of angels to get through this day. There is nothing that can be done to ease my pain. I am weighted down by grief. My limbs have turned to lead. My movements slow. I remember once again feeling like an actress. Getting ready to play a role she didn’t want to win. My face shows years of stress and days of profound grief. My eyes have no shine. Shark eyes. No life. I am the walking dead. I don’t waste time with makeup. My tears continue to fall. I remember being in Ray’s car. He is driving to our church. The same church we attended together will be the place we will say our last goodbye.
I walk in alone. I need to prepare myself for this moment. Picture boards are placed next to your urn. I can not look. I walk to your urn and give you a hug. Sobs are racking my body. This is what’s left of you my precious child. Once again it’s just you and me. My brain screaming, this can’t be. My heart breaking as the reality of our life washes over me like the waves we used to run through. I close my eyes and we are laughing and running. So full of joy and life. I’m so lost in my fantasy that I don’t realize that friends have lined up to pay their respects.
I am hugged over and over. Boys you grew up with, now men telling me how much you were loved. Their parents shocked faces afraid to look me in the eye. How does a mother bury her child. The line seemed to go on forever. Muffled voices mixed with tears all coming to show support. I feel like a robot. Shaking hands and allowing people to hug me. The only hug I want to feel is from you. I have put on my mask. Pretending to listen to words when all I hear is the roar of the ocean. I’ve been offered pills to help me get through this. I am angry. I felt the pain of giving you life. I need to feel this pain of saying goodbye. Finally the line is over. The service is starting. I hear the songs I chose fill the church with beautiful music. Songs you started to listen to by Casting Crowns and Mercy Me. The words gave you hope and increased your faith in Jesus. I sit between Mike and Ray. Holding on for dear life as Mike, our minister tearfully talks about your life. He became your friend and tried so hard to help during your dark days. He is overcome with emotion. Your brother is shaking as tears spill down his face. Oh God, my boys were supposed to grow old together. To hang onto each other when I was gone. Your brother struggling so hard to be strong has become a sobbing little boy. His only brother, his partner in crime now gone forever.
I don’t know how I did it. I’d written another letter to you and wanted it read at your service. It was my final tribute to my son, my hero. You struggled for so long to get clean. Your struggle now over, mine was just beginning.
I took a deep breath and stood up. I walked to the podium where minutes before our Pastor was speaking. My vision blurry and my voice cracking with emotion. I held on for dear life as I started to share our story with those who loved you the most.
You said this day would never come. You told me you loved me too much and could never hurt me this bad. Yet here we are gathered today to honor your life. A life cut too short by your demons.
Now I stand here sharing my last words about you with the people who loved you so much.
My son was an addict. I am not ashamed. I will shout it from the rooftops, my son was an addict.
Oh Matt, we were both so foolish to think you had the power to keep that promise. The demons were stronger than both of us. Now you are gone and I am forever broken. These last seven years have been a horrific struggle. Ray, Mike and I watched you slowly destroy yourself day by day. There were endless night of worry and torment, not knowing where you were or if you were alive or dead. Nights when I would call out for help and your brother would drop everything and come. Together Mike, Ray and I would devise our next plan and get you to safety.
I thought bringing you home would save you. There I could watch you and protect you from your demons. I am your mother and that’s what mothers do. Oh Matt, we tried so hard to get you to see that drugs were not the answer. So many rehabs, programs and counselors. We thought we were on the right track. Now I stand here and look at your brothers face and realize how foolish we were to think we could outwit the demons.
There were so many times we had hope. Spring came and the old Matt was coming back. You told me you wanted that monkey off your back. A new rehab, the start of a new life. Mike, Ray and I could only see you on Sunday for one hour due to the rules. I remember us sitting together looking out over the water thinking we finally did it, we beat your demons.
You looked so good. Your face and eyes so clear. You said you were done with drugs and looked so forward to a new life. Now where to go as the demons lived in Delaware.
Your new life in Florida was supposed to be a fresh start from the demons that followed you most of your life. You and I are beach people. We shared a feeling of peace with God by the sea. We talked everyday. You told me you loved it near the ocean. You felt so blessed at the chance for a new life. Finally there was joy, hope, peace and sleep for Mike, Ray and I. I deceived myself into thinking our nightmare was finally over. Little did I know it was just getting ready to destroy us.
The last time we spoke was Friday night, January 2nd at 6:23 p.m. You sounded normal. My trained ears hearing nothing to prepare me for what was to come. We ended our call as we always did. I love you, Matt. I love you, Mom. I’ll talk to you soon. That next call never came.
For reasons I will never understand. Reasons that will haunt my heart for the rest of my life you used and overdosed, being left in a motel room by the man I trusted with your life. You died at 4:50 a.m. Saturday morning. I remember waking at that exact moment feeling like something was horribly wrong. A cool breath surrounded my body at the same time your spirit was leaving yours. Was that you Matt giving me one last hug?
I am so proud of the man you were. You were loving and giving. You who had nothing would give it away to someone in need. If you could only read what your friends are posting on your Facebook page. How much you were loved. How you were looked up to and how devastated everyone is by your death. I wish you had loved yourself enough.
I’ve read that losing a child doesn’t just change you it destroys you. Matt I am destroyed. Pieces of my shattered heart still beat in my chest. I have become the walking dead. Feeling nothing but the profound sadness that has taken up residence in my soul. I would gladly ride the rollercoaster of chaos with you again. I would gladly exchange my life for yours. I will never understand.
Your nightmare is over while mine has just begun. I am going through a withdraw from your addiction. You see, Matt you were not the only addict in our family. I was addicted to saving you. Now I must find a way to make it through the rest of my life. I’m told I must go on. My toughest struggles are ahead of me as I navigate this life. Knowing that I will never hear your voice or look into your beautiful eyes again is just too much to bear. There will be no more birthdays, no wedding, no children. Everything is gone with you.
There is a saying that ‘Life’s a Beach’. I pray heaven is your beach and you are free. Playing in the ocean like you did as a boy. When I can breathe again I will free you and your beloved Kahlua into the sea you both loved so much. Until then you are coming home with me. Even though you were a man you will always be my tow-headed beautiful boy. I will love you forever. I pray you will meet me when I take my last breath. Wait for me by the sea we both love. I want to open my eyes and see your handsome face. I want to look into your eyes and know that I am home. I want to grab your hand and run laughing into the surf that we both so love.
Godspeed my precious son. My wingman. Until we meet again.