“My child died too, but it wasn’t from drugs.” I have heard that statement from well-meaning mothers dozens of times over the last four years. I always reply, “Loss is loss and it doesn’t matter how your child died.” However, deep down I know these mothers would be somehow ashamed or embarrassed if I thought their child died in the same manner as mine. Perhaps they feel as if the way their child’s died is somehow a reflection of their mothering. They obviously want me to know that their child did not use drugs. Are they in fear of me judging them or judging their child? Certainly, I am in no position to do either.
Overdose or fentanyl poisoning deaths, along with suicides, are the most stigmatized way to die, and the surviving family is always faced with a choice. They can tell the truth about the circumstances surrounding their child’s death and deal with others’ disapproval, or even worse, pity. I am not talking about empathy. No one wants to be pitied. Or families can be vague about the cause of their loved one’s death, always skirting around the truth afraid of the shame and humiliation it undoubtedly will bring.
My last Mother’s Day card from Emily on May 13, 2018
Of all the ways to die, addiction and mental health are seen as character flaws or moral failings either on the part of the victim or the people who parented them. Just as I think our society is starting to understand that these are diseases of the brain, in the same way, that diabetes and hypertension are diseases of the body, someone says to me, “My child died too, but…”
When that mother looks me in the eyes, our hearts are immediately joined because I have been there. I am there. I don’t care how her child died and I would never ask because it simply doesn’t matter. I may ask their age to give me perspective on how many years they had with their child, but how they died is irrelevant! The pain in my heart isn’t more or less than hers because my child suffered from addiction and hers from cancer. My tears don’t flow more or less because my child died of fentanyl poisoning and her child died in a car crash.
I spent this Mother’s Day visiting my daughter at the cemetery, mostly because my other children are in the middle of college finals out of state. The last day I saw my daughter alive was on Mother’s Day, May 13, 2018, just three days before she died. Our last words to one another were, “I love you.” We were just days away from holding an intervention to hopefully get her into treatment. We didn’t get that chance. Now, all of my Mother’s Days will be bittersweet; grateful for the love of my children whom I still have by my side; yet always thinking of the last time I saw my oldest child.
Emily’s sister and I have a tattoo of my daughter’s signature from my last Mother’s Day card on our wrists. I have heard it said time and time again that grief is love with nowhere to go. I pour my love into my other children, but there will always be that piece that is missing. That’s the same for everyone who has lost a child no matter how they died.
Faith, Hope & Courage,