I wrote this nearly a week ago, and have wrestled with whether to post it or not. I wasn’t able to answer my own questions of myself, but I decided to go ahead.
Sara Buttenweiser, who I have recently come to know in this writing/virtual world, is the mother of four– the eldest of whom is a young teen. She has posted on her blog a couple of times recently about another mother, blogger and writer, Katie Granju, who is a very active blogger in many different places, and who has written a book and many articles about parenting and whose work is widely known by others, but only very, very recently by me. Katie, also a mother of four and expecting a new baby in about a month, has just– and I mean just– lost her very beautiful 18-year-old son. Beautiful because he was, because all 18-year-old sons are. He died May 31st.
Her son died from a drug overdose coupled with a brutal assault that was done to him as he was overdosing, but whatever the specifics it is fair to say that addiction is what killed him. (Hopefully there will be a careful, proper police investigation, although the difficulties the family is having on that is another terrible, related story.)
I spent over an hour Friday morning reading her blog. She had blogged for a long time on parenting, absent any indication that her family members were struggling over many years, as was her son, with his addiction. She “came out” about his addiction, in late April after he had been found overdosed and badly beaten and was hospitalized in very serious condition. She is a widely read blogger, and apparently all of this has been widely read and commented upon for many weeks. Some were apparently critical of her or of her decision to share this story. I definitely am not.
Over the past month and a half, she has been recording this story on her blog. On Friday morning I took a lot of it in. It is sadly, far from the first time I have known close-in, a true-life story with some of these threads starting– with a close college friend of mine who died of what I believe was an intentional drug overdose of prescribed drugs, when we were 22. I read and thought, read and thought, put my head in my hands and cried, read and thought some more. It’s an excruciating story. They don’t all end badly, but this one ends with enormous heartbreak.
This is the kind of story that sends every parent to a very difficult place. Some place. It certainly sends me. We go to the place of quietly, secretly clinging to/ reviewing the differences between the situations and trying to hope it would never be our child. We go to the place of plain cold, raw terror that maybe this will be our child. For some it calls up grief and resignation about how the odds are not stacked in our child or children’s favor. And for some it calls up familiar grief, because this or something like it already did happen or is happening to their child or to a loved one– a senseless death, addiction, a child in prison, a tragedy already unfolded. We are spin into motion to stop these things, or we are stopped in our tracks and paralyzed with a feeling of terror that we cannot stop these things. Or both.
After I read I wondered, what could I or should I say?
There is so much to say and figure out about drugs, addiction, violence in the world, and about how can we end all that. There is much to figure out in our families and our schools and in groups of young people, and other places, about what are or are not good ideas, workable ways to protect our children in this time before we have ended the circumstances that give rise to addiction and violence. When I wrote about Mother’s Day I was working on one fragment of my thoughts about a world that is increasingly organized to have us use material things; consumer goods and other diversions–as well as substances to not feel and face hard things and ultimately the isolation from one another that is created in that paradigm.
For now, I have only three things to add to the conversation. One is simply, Katie, my heart goes out, out, out to you– I am so sorry for your loss and for this world’s useless loss of your son. I am sorry that we lose any of our sons and daughters needlessly. For many terribly wrong reasons. For many reasons that are not our fault, as parents. I hate that addiction is increasingly faced by younger and younger people. I am sorry.
Second, is that this particular tragedy highlights for me the imperative that as parents, we must change things across the board. I passionately believe these things are not our fault as parents. But I also know there is no one but us to work to change the circumstances in our world and communities– the circumstances that we and our children live in. This change cannot be mostly done in isolation one family at a time, to protect only our children, in whatever community we happen to live– though we have to deal with each hard issue at that intimate level too. It’s a lot. We have to think and fight for our own children, but not only our own.
The third thing is I remembered was not what to say, but was about the very profound power of listening. That often it is not what we have to say that will be valuable, but our ability to listen.
This loss is a reminder to me of how much young people need to be listened to– carefully, thoughtfully, often, with lots and lots of time and interest and respect. Often without argument or rebuttal– even if we think we want or need to rebut later. Just listened to. Not only by their parents, but by many people; other adults, relatives, friends of the family, teachers, counselors, the world as a whole. This is true for all of us–and true for us parents, that we need to be listened to well. But today I am thinking about young people– my own special young people; my daughter and my two nephews in particular, but all young people.
I am not saying that Katie didn’t listen to her son, or that listening alone would have fixed his addiction, or that listening without action will fix the circumstances in this world that led to his death, or anything of the sort, so if anyone is reading this as a direct or veiled criticism of her or her parenting, you can give that up right now.
But I am thinking about the profound nature of listening. Closely. With love and genuine interest and respect. So Katie, again, I am sorry for your loss. If our paths cross, and even if they don’t, as you write, I am listening. And to my own daughter and nephews and other young people, I am listening.