I had the amazing experience of attending The Fed Up Rally and the Unite to Face Addiction concert in Washington DC this weekend. When I was in the midst of the battle to find you help I felt so alone. I felt isolated. I felt that no one cared. I had no idea how many other mother’s knew my heartbreak.
I was having second thoughts about attending. Every weather report dampened my spirits and made me think of staying home and staying dry. Then I looked at your picture and felt that gut punch of knowing you were really gone. The broken system failed us both and you paid with your life. As I continued to stare into your beautiful eyes, I felt a power in my soul like I’d never experienced before. I’d walked through hell during your active addiction, why would I let the threat of heavy rain and wind keep me away.
I read about the Rally in the paper. They were asking for stories of recovery and hope. I had written a piece telling our story and included your picture. To my surprise, It was published and I was humbled. I also sent your picture to be included in The Addicts Mom’s quilt. There was no way I was going to miss seeing your face being remembered at this amazing event.
I took a bus early Saturday morning with a small group from Delaware. We knew each other’s grief, each of us losing a child. Saturday was an emotional day for me. It was the nine month anniversary of your death and here I was riding a bus in the rain to attend a rally for drug addiction. My tears fell along with the rain drops as I remembered the struggle to find you help. Unfortunately, Delaware had no rehabs. We have one detox unit that never had any beds when you finally agreed to get clean. I remembered conversations begging your insurance company to approve treatment only to be told that you had no days left. How could they treat your disease like you were not worth the time or money spent to save your life? Never in my wildest dreams did I ever think you would die and I would be on a bus heading to Washington participating in a march to The White House.
The bus dropped our group off at the hotel. We grabbed our rain gear and headed to the memorial. The sky was grey with a light rain falling mimicking my mood. The closer I got the more I could feel the atmosphere changing. When we reached the mall, I was shocked at the size of the crowd. People just like me. Strangers who knew my grief and walked in my shoes. Strangers whose faces looked just like mine. Shock and disbelief marked us as those left behind. Eyes swollen and empty as we wiped tears away with the sleeve of our shirt.
The stage held a memorial filled with names of those who lost their battle. I was brought to my knees when I saw your name. My precious son surrounded by hundreds of those who like you are gone forever. I felt that too familiar gut punch as my tears started to fall. I wore your picture on a lanyard around my neck. I grabbed it and started to sob. A complete stranger came and wrapped me in her arms. Whispering that she understood my pain. Here we were two mothers, strangers, holding each other up as the rain mixed with our tears. Sharing stories of children lost. I witnessed the kindness of strangers forever bonded by a common grief.
I was waiting outside The Addicts Mom’s tent. They were preparing to unveil the quilt. I remember the wind blowing and the rain hitting my face. My eyes searching the many squares until I saw your face. Your beautiful smile right in the center of this beautiful handmade creation. The sound of a wounded animal came from my lips as I stood letting the rain mix with my tears hugging myself against the heartbreaking pain. Arms reached for me. Another mother who got it. We rocked each other in the rain and wind as we shared our heart breaking grief. Another mother living my life, knowing my pain. Angels walking among the crowd comforting strangers.
We formed groups as we prepared to walk to the White House. I looked around in awe. Thousands of people all here for the same reason. The broken system failed their loved ones. I was no longer alone. We marched together. We hugged each other. We shed tears together as we shouted out against a system that must be changed. We were empowered by the numbers. We were heard. I walked back to the hotel with a couple who lost their son. We now call each other friend. This event formed a bond never to be broken.
Sunday morning came with my familiar face in the mirror. Puffy eyes staring back at me. My face changed by grief. The price of addiction is what I now call my new look. I have forgotten how to smile. I attended a breakfast in Arlington hosted by The Addicts Mom group. A group no mother wants to belong to but the circumstances of life have left us no choice. It was emotional to meet all the mothers I’ve supported and who have supported me on Facebook. These women have walked through the same hell and get it. Again I came face to face with the quilt. Your smiling face staring back at me and again another mother held me as I shattered into pieces.
There really are no words to describe Sunday’s event. The crowd tripled from Saturday. The weather cold, and dreary. I stood on the hill by The Monument. In awe at the number of people from all parts of the country coming together to demand better care for the disease of addiction. Many holding pictures and banners with names and dates. All here to honor the ones they loved and lost. Those in recovery were celebrating a new sober life. Everyone had a story to tell. Strangers sharing their souls with strangers. Sharing the bonds of love, loss and hope.
Sunday evening Joe Walsh and his fellow musicians held a concert to honor those lost and those struggling to survive. A tribute to this deadly disease. The crowd came alive. When the music started the atmosphere became one of happiness and hope. Rich and famous artists coming out and admitting they were once addicts. Speeches by people who care and will fight to make changes. Hope. I could feel it in the air, at last there was hope. Our new Surgeon General gets it. Lawmakers now ready to join our fight providing equal treatment for the disease of addiction. Hope. I stood with a crowd of strangers and danced to the music. Joy I hadn’t felt for so long coursed through my soul. We held onto each other when a song hit a nerve and tears returned. We sang out loud. We were empowered. Too many people fighting for the same cause. Everyone remembering loved ones. Honoring them by speaking out against the stigma.
I still get chills when I look at my pictures of all the faces lost. Pictures of people coming together and lifting each other up in spirit. Strangers becoming friends. Promises of keeping in touch. Of working together for the greater good. I’m humbled by this experience and I know I will never be the same. I no longer feel alone as I remember the beauty of seeing thousands of people coming together demanding change.
There is a saying, If God closes one door he opens another. My new door has opened and I know I have thousands of people fighting the same fight. I will be your voice. I will remember your smiling face on that quilt surrounded by a hundred others. No longer alone but humbled by the compassion of strangers.