It’s Me. I can’t believe it’s been almost 7 months since I heard your voice, held your hand, kissed your face. But I remember it just like it was yesterday. You told me you loved me and how happy you were. We were planning a vacation and talking about the kind of wedding we would like to have one day. Recovery looked good on you, but then again everything did. I’ll never know why only a few short hours later, you chose to go back to her instead, go on a trip with her, spend the rest of your short life with her… your mistress Heroin.
When you packed your bags and took off with her, you forever changed the trajectory of so many lives, not just your own. You knew the risk of relapse, but the day your struggle ended, ours began in a way you could have never imagined or ever would have wanted. I feel the shock your coworker must have felt when he found you unresponsive. When your boss called me to get your medical history for the paramedics, I only hesitated a second before sharing the secret I feared would cost you your job.
“He has a history of opiate addiction,” I said, my voice shaking.
Your boss called your mom, your mom called the hospital, then the rest of your family. It was agony, all of us being in different states. We waited and we prayed and we bargained with God, but it did not matter. Your mom got the call she had feared for years, you were gone.
When she told me, I let a 4-letter word slip into her sweet ears, followed by the 3-letter word I ask on repeat every single day…”WHY?” For a son who loved his mother more than anyone in the world, how could you leave her with the task of telling this news to your father, your sister, your best friend, your girlfriend?
Who would explain this to your young nephew now that he will only have pictures and stories to remember you by? The phone chain continued as we all reached out for support, unable to accept this new reality, this life without you in it.
For days, I couldn’t eat, I couldn’t sleep, I couldn’t breathe, I couldn’t live. I had family and friends in my home, cooking and cleaning, talking and listening, hugging and crying, but it was all a blur. A thousand miles away, your family gathered too, trying to comfort each other’s pain. Another 376 miles in the other direction, your body lay cold and lifeless, known now by a number on a toe tag, awaiting the medical examiner’s knife. We were all so alone. We said goodbye.
Your wish that your mom and I would get to spend more time together came true when a week later she flew to my home and we drove 5 hours to clean out your room, car, and office. Everything remained just as you left it, not knowing it would be our eyes to see it next. The package store receipts and hidden liquor bottles told the story of your last days that you could not tell us yourself.
I tried to imagine you as you made your bed that morning, showered and dressed, then left for work promising yourself today would be the day you stopped the relapse cycle, never imagining you would not see the end of the it. How unreal that we were going through every single thing you owned, deciding what to keep and what to donate. What would you consider special, what held a particularly sweet memory for us? The shirts you wore when we met, on our cherished dates, on your last birthday, when you brought me home to meet your family, they were all there hanging lifeless in your closet, never again to be filled by your broad chest and strong arms. We found your most personal and cherished belongings, things meant to be kept private but you were not there to protect them or protect us.
We tried to handle legal matters of accounts, bills, and other affairs that drag on unresolved to this day. We shared stories and memories as a particular item reminded us of something. We laughed, and we cried, and we worked tirelessly to get as much done as possible in the short time we had. When we finally packed up my car, the one we used to take on adventures together, I was deeply saddened by how easily all that was left of you fit inside such a small space. We drove to the bad part of an unfamiliar town to bring your clothes and shoes to a halfway house, the side of the tracks you would never want to see your mother and girlfriend on alone. The guys were nice as they helped us unload the boxes and had already begun to look through your things. I don’t know if they understood why we were there, but I’m sure they did. I wanted to scream at them, “Don’t ever make your loved ones go through what we just did!” but in my exhaustion I just cried instead. In the rear view mirror, we left behind the town that was supposed to be your new beginning, the link to our new life together. We said goodbye again.
Discussions began about what your final wishes would have been. Your parents went to the funeral home, they picked out your urn, carefully worded your obituary, designed your prayer card, selected the picture that would be used. Could you ever have imagined the photo you took in the winter would be the one I happily showed off to my friends in the summer and finally the one chosen to memorialize you in the fall?
After weeks of waiting for your remains to be returned home so the arrangements could be made, my family joined yours for your wake and funeral. Pictures were gathered and memories were shared as I heard many new stories, learned of all the lives you touched, met all the most important people in your short life. But this was all wrong. I was supposed to be meeting your extended family and friends at our wedding, not like this. Your best friend was supposed to be giving a toast, not a eulogy. I was wearing black not white as I carried your ashes down the aisle at church with only your picture waiting for me at the end. My tears were of deep pain not joy, our story had ended. The day of your funeral remains the worst day of my life. We said goodbye yet again.
Since then I’ve trudged along, putting one foot in front of the other, unable to answer the common question of “How are you?” with anything but “I’m ok.” I’m not bad, I’m not good, I’m just ok most days.
Don’t get me wrong, I cry every day, I get angry every day, I miss you every single second of every single day. The world kept on going, and there was nothing any of us could do about it. Someone else moved into your room, took your job, bought your car, even got your old phone number. The guys at a halfway house divided up your clothes, wore them on interviews, reunited with their families in them, walked back into the world wearing them. Your mom changed your bedroom at home and made your clothes into a beautiful quilt.
I ended up going on that vacation, alone. I do a lot of things alone now. I try to be social, but people who know our story are hesitant to talk to me because grief is awkward, unpredictable, and feared. I have a hard time celebrating happy times with friends while I struggle with the unfairness of life and loss. When I have a bad day, it’s you I want to talk to. When I have a good day, it’s you I want to share it with. I sleep in your shirts. I talk to inanimate objects because they have your face or handwriting on them. I wait for signs that you are still with me.
I read articles on opiates and addiction that I never did before because I ignorantly thought recovery meant it was over.
As the numbers come out for 2015 overdose deaths, I wonder which one you are.
I drive over an hour once a month to the only overdose loss grief group I could find. I’m not alone in there. I count the months since you’ve been gone, and note they now surpass the months that we were together. Your mom’s first Mother’s Day just came up, but instead of opening two cards, this year there was only one. Our anniversary that never saw the first year is quickly approaching. Then it’s your birthday, but you won’t get any older. When the anniversary of your passing comes around, I will lose you all over again, wonder for the thousandth time what I could have done differently to save you, though I know the answer is nothing.
Maybe someday another man will come along and try to fill the giant hole you left in my heart, and I just might let him take me on that dream vacation and one day down the aisle. Though our lives are moving forward, you are moving along with us, part of our identity, our very essence of being. So it is never goodbye for us, just good night, and rest peacefully until we meet again. Thank you for loving me with all your heart and soul and allowing me to know and love you back.
Love always, Me…