By Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb
It’s been 10 months since I wrote “He’s Gone: A Mother’s Nightmare,” ever closer to that one-year mark. Some people call it an “angelversary.”
How do you celebrate the anniversary of the death of the person you loved most in this world?
I watched my son spiral out of control with marijuana, acid, alcohol, and finally heroin. He couldn’t battle the demon addiction on his own, and so it swept him away. It didn’t happen quickly. It was a slow, painful death. I watched him go from sloppy drunkenness to irretrievably nodded out. I simply could not reach him. My love could not reach him.
I’m still trying to wrap my head around his absence in this world. He has ceased to be, and I am still in shock, 10 months later, after I left my son at the hospital to be taken by the coroner to prepare him for his cremation. He was young, so I know what happened in those in-between moments. I have no illusions. I try to not think about it.
I was in a death fog for the first few months. I couldn’t remember what my son’s face looked like. I stared at his picture for hours trying to memorize it. I was scared to death that I would forget his face.
Forgetting the love of your life is an impossibility. A rational mind knows that, but grief is not rational.
Other grievers have told me that the fog is our brain’s way of protecting us from the full impact of the loss. Our brains remain in a fog until we are strong enough to handle the memory of the exact moment of the loss. I have pushed aside much about that night.
He fell asleep, never to awaken again. I think the moment he left his body was peaceful, even as the medical team tried to resuscitate him, twice. I made the final decision to not continue with resuscitation the second time he died. His body had taken more self-abuse than any one person should have to take. He was sick from years of drug use and addiction. He had been dying for a very long time.
His death certificate says that he died from congestive heart failure. Death certificates are just pieces of paper that exist for bureaucratic purposes. They don’t tell the whole story. They don’t carry the weight of the loss, the heartbreak, the years-long journey of sadness and grief of the deceased’s family members, the years-long journey an addict’s body endured, or the attack addiction wreaked on his soul.
I’ve spoken to many parents at grief sites for those who’ve lost their children to addiction and drug related deaths, and many of them are anxious to receive the toxicology reports to find out what it was exactly that killed their children. I wasn’t sure if it would help or hurt. In the end, it helped and hurt. I was surprised that heroin was not in his system, but that methamphetamine and marijuana were. He had heart disease, and meth was like a bullet to his head, self-imposed. He knew that, I believe, in his rational moments, which there were fewer of toward the end of his life.
It was meth after years of other drugs that killed my son. It was not an “accident” that he died, as the death certificate states. It was a willful ending to a sad life, an end to a beautiful, tortured person. It was the beginning of a mother’s grief journey. His heart had been broken by many things during his 32 years of life, and no, addiction is not always circumstantial, but circumstances do, in my opinion, play a part in that first decision to use.
My son was really hurting, and drugs stopped the pain, just as assuredly as they stopped his heart.
I have both immersed myself into my own pain, and on occasion withdrawn from the world. Grief is a windy road. It is rocky. It is messy. It is unpredictable. I am muddling through, and there are days when I feel as strong as steel, and other days when I feel crushed beyond repair. Grief is a cruel vacillation between strength and brokenness. It is navigable, of course, but when the fog lifts and the full impact of the loss is felt, the waves heave me against the jagged jetty, and I am left battered and bruised.
In two months, it will be one year that I said goodbye to my beautiful son. I’ve had nearly one year to begin the grieving process, and trust me, it is truly only the beginning of a lifetime of pain and epiphany. I am still in the ashes of the aftermath of my son’s death. I am revving up the strength to continue to move forward. I have lost myself in the process. I have lost my purpose.
People look at me and they tell me that I am so strong and confident. They mistake the image I project to the world and miss the numbness that I feel on most days. I don’t know how long it will take for my Phoenix to rise.
So, I ride out the storm, still carrying my son, just as I did when he was alive. I work through the process, but, nearly one year later, I am still wrestling with his demons.
Sherrie Gonzales-Kolb is a freelance writer and psychology major at a university in San Diego. She manages a grief site for parents who’ve lost a child to addiction on Facebook called After the Storm, and a writer’s page on https://www.facebook.com/MusingsofIntrospection/?fref=ts. She lives in San Diego with her husband, Ben Cassel, a high school theatre arts teacher.