“Don’t be sorry, Help us”: The Best Response I’ve Ever Heard From a Grieving Parent

This is personal. 

And if you’re a human, living on this planet, it should be personal for you too.

It has to be.

On June 30th I read this facebook post from a friend: 

To my dear sweet beautiful boy:  

How in the world do we move on without you in our lives? There has not been a day in 20 years that your dad and I have not loved you more than life itself. I am only sorry that our love for you was not enough to fix this or stop this from happening. I know in the last 3 or 4 years you have been through some incredibly dark places and I know you are no longer filled with that darkness but the light of Jesus Christ and his salvation. My arms ache to hold you one more time or tell you all the things I want you to hear. I fought with everything I had to save you from whatever had a hold on you. In truth we were the most hopeful we had been in years, I could see a path right in front of you. I need you to wrap your arms around us all in the days ahead. I know that we won’t make it any other way. I need you to give me a sign that you aren’t suffering and that you are whole once again. I cannot bear to tell you goodbye my beautiful boy. So until we meet again know how much you are loved. There really are not words…but I will try to “just keep doing the next right thing”… whatever that might be.”

And then I wept. 

How does any parent survive this? How would I? How would you?

It may feel like a far away crisis, a Tsunami on the other side of the world, but it isn’t. Addiction is right here, in our neighborhoods, schools and homes, threatening to drown us all. An average of 130 Americans die every day from an opioid overdose.1

Every. Day. 

Drug overdose is now the leading cause of accidental death in the U.S.  Did you know that?

I didn’t.

The statistics surrounding the drug crisis in our country are heart breaking and staggering. Each one of those statistics is somebody’s beautiful someone.

I promise you know either an alcoholic/addict or someone who loves them. And if you think it couldn’t possibly happen to your kids, your friends or your loved ones, you’re oh so wrong. 

Addiction knows no bounds. Those living with the disease describe it as cunning, baffling, powerful and worst of all patient, waiting until they breathe a sigh of hope, and feel the confidence of  ‘I’ve-got-this’ and then striking; often with deadly speed and force. It can destroy families, lives, finances, and futures; a chronic disease, that left untreated is fatal. 

And it is steeped in shame. 

Shame causes addicts and families to hide their disease. We don’t start meal and errand calendars for parents with addicted children. We don’t start fundraisers to help offset the tremendous financial burden this disease brings. There are no addiction cards or flowers. No one knows what to say, so most often nothing is said. Avoidance is huge, and the resulting silence deafening. It is a lonely, isolating, debilitating, soul-crushing disease with a stigma larger than life. 

We can and should do better. 

We must. 

My friend Kerri, her husband Taylor and their daughter Blair are asking us to do better. And I am committed to stepping into the arena and fighting beside them (fellow warriors welcome). 

“Share ALL your broken pieces.” 

Mental illness and addiction run through my family tree like Christmas lights. Literally.

In a small group session at Hazelden rehab center we were asked to draw our family trees and then shade in the names of anyone in the tree with mental illness or addiction issues — different colors for different addictions/illnesses. I looked at mine and before I realized it said out loud “Jesus Christ…mine looks like a f#cking Christmas tree.”

I know I shouldn’t have said it, and should never have prefaced it with JC, but I’m so glad I did, because when I looked up everyone in that group was silently holding up their tree. They were all brightly colored, a rainbow spanning the room.

I’ve never felt more at ease.

There are addicts in my circle of family and friends who are in recovery, for which I am SO grateful, and addicts in my circle who have not sought treatment, for whom I am so worried. 

I’ve been through the family program at the Hazelden Betty Ford Foundation (a remarkable treatment facility) in Minnesota twice. Once as a 13-year-old, and again decades later after I had children of my own.

I was terrified the first time with no idea what to expect. I learned more in those short weeks than I had in my entire life. Back at school in January I listened to talk about Christmas ski trips, extravagant gifts, New Year’s Eve parties, and all the normal, post-vacation high school chatter. 13-year-old me didn’t tell a soul where’d I’d been or how I spent my winter break.

51-one-year-old me wonders why the hell not.

Odds are I had peers living with this disease too, but I never sought them out. What a giant loss.

Twenty-five(ish) years later I went back through that program (not with the same family member) and was terrified because I knew what was coming this time: hard work, deep, honest soul reckoning and excruciating openness and vulnerability, the emotional equivalent of climbing Everest every day (adult children of alcoholics tend to suck at this, and I’m no exception). 

Going into Hazelden 2.0, I thought I knew it all. Well, maybe not all of it, but most of it.

I didn’t. 

Twenty-five years later, I was handed the exact same goal I was given at age 13: learn to admit you cannot do everything alone and ask for help when you need it. My 2nd counselor added “YOU. ARE. NOT. AN. ISLAND.” in huge letters across the top of my paperwork.

Addiction is a humbling disease.  

And a damaging one. I have been damaged by people I love, in ways that threaten me still. I struggle with emotional intimacy, trusting others, being vulnerable and asking for help, but every counselor I’ve met said I am self aware and resilient, so that’s something.

I’m also super calm in a crisis…the hidden gifts of addiction; as are compassion and forgiveness. Without those gifts, who would I be? Who would my brothers and I be if we didn’t live what we did?

I am so proud of the men and parents they’ve become, and appreciate every single experience we had. Even the ugly, terrible ones we had at ages when we were ill equipped to handle them.

“The most beautiful people we have known are those who have known defeat, known suffering, known struggle, known loss, and have found their way out of the depths. These persons have an appreciation, a sensitivity, and an understanding of life that fills them with compassion, gentleness, and a deep loving concern. Beautiful people do not just happen.”

~Elizabeth Kubler-Ross

I know this to be true. 

So does the Rhodes family. 

They lost their 20-year-old beautiful boy to an accidental heroin overdose on June 29th 2019. Please watch this incredible celebration of his life (click the small white down arrow to expand the drop down menu. Scroll down; the picture on the clip shows 6 little boys in blue blazers & the video is 2 hours 9 minutes long). Watch it with your family, your friends. Listen to it in the car. Keep watching it, and keep talking about it. Show it at your schools, churches, book clubs, meetings. It’s the most important message you need to hear today, and the definition of grace.

This part of Kerri’s brave message struck me most (somewhere around 1:25 on the video):

“Do NOT feel sorry for us or for Taylor. 

Help us.

Get in the arena and fight to change how mental health and addiction are dealt with in this country. What we’re doing is not enough, and it’s not acceptable. 

What can you do for us?

  • be kind to people; everybody has a story that will bring you to your knees
  • less technology; more face to face relationships
  • demand better care for people who struggle with mental illness and addiction
  • have compassion
  • laugh
  • remember
  • stop being unplugged from the crazy in this world, and do something about it
  • vote; and not for hate
  • stand up for what is right and good in the world
  • be a loyal friend
  • help people less fortunate than you
  • say what you think
  • cry
  • be brave enough to be vulnerable and show ALL your broken pieces
  • be honest
  • love people at their worst
  • forgive
  • make mistakes
  • do what you love with who you love
  • feel ALL your emotions
  • be accepting of people no matter their race, religion or sexual orientation
  • help people when no one else will
  • say no when you need to, and love yourself
  • pray, or mediate, and connect to something bigger than you every single day
  • be willing to step in the arena and fight
  • demand that we deal with the drug crisis in this country so that every 14 hours a family doesn’t have to endure this hell
  • when you ride a roller coaster in an amusement park or in your life, think of my beautiful boy and put your hands up (watch or listen to the service to hear the beautiful reason for this request)
  • wake up and try to walk in the right direction every day and do the next right thing, just like Taylor, but most of all, LOVE

That’s our list, do any one of these for us or for Taylor. 

We as a family have been placed on this mountain for a reason, and it’s to show other people that it can be moved.”

If anyone can move this mountain, it’s this family and this beautiful boy, but they need all of us to step into the arena and fight. 

the arena
“Man in the Arena” was given to Taylor by his parents, and hung above his bed.

 

Click here to visit Taylor’s Facebook page: In Loving Memory of Taylor Rhodes to join us in the arena and learn more about his beautiful family. And then please share the hell out of this. That’s how we change the way mental health and addiction are treated in this country. And it needs to be changed. Now. Before one more family loses one more beautiful soul. 

If you are so moved, you may make a contribution here to honor Taylor and help other families  who struggle with addiction and the cost of treatment.

Taylor was a huge light in this world, please help us keep it shining.

**If you or someone you love is struggling with addiction, please reach out for help now. You are not alone. If you need that help in a public place, get to anyone who can make an announcement and ask for the friends of Bill W’s to report to wherever you are. You have a tribe, and they will drop what they are doing and come stand with you until you’re able to stand, walk, and do the next right thing on your own.

There is no way to weave SAT prep into this topic, other than to say everyone needs help, and if you need help you should always, always ask for it. ACUMEN Test Prep strives to help kids be as comfortable with and as prepared as possible for college entrance exams and the college search process. Please reach out if we can help. 

¹Wide-ranging online data for epidemiologic research (WONDER). Atlanta, GA: CDC, National Center for Health Statistics; 2017. Available at http://wonder.cdc.gov.

One Comment Add yours

  1. Kathy Bell says:

    What a powerful and beautifully open post Sheila. I learned about you and have fallen for this family and their mission. We are all in this journey of addiction and mental health issues as your journey is my journey is our journey. Thank you for sharing!

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