Wednesday, November 30, 2005

The Before Times And The After Times

In order for me to share my experiences with you I must first return to a place in time that I do not wish to go. Indeed, I return there in flashbacks many times through out my days and nights but only for brief seconds. I have learned to grab hold of those memories and place them in the back of my mind where the mausoleum lies. Once laid to rest in the mausoleum I can revisit them at a time of my own choosing. So I begin...

February 28th, 1998 was a beautiful warm day. It was winter still but the weather was warm and breezy. A day perfect for peeking out of the long winter and venturing outside into the warmth of the sun. I had planned a fishing trip with friends for the day. I looked forward to the outing on this particular Saturday afternoon. Fishing has always relaxed me, and I was looking forward to letting go of the stress and just simply being for the day.

For the last year an half I had been watching my son Jason battle with recovery from his addictions. After five long and terrible years of the disease he had finally come to me 16 months earlier asking for help. I remember it as clearly as it was only last night.

It was November of 1996 when Jason came to my house. We stood in the dark dining room together. "I need your help Mom" Jason said to me. "I am addicted to cocaine and I can't stop!" I put my arms around his thin, sickly body and hugged him as I cried. "Please don't die Jason!" I begged him. "I don't want you to die".

We clung to each other crying in the dark. "I won't die Mom. I promise but I need help" my son told me. I asked him how I could help him. Jason told me he needed to go into treatment. Words can not express the rush of relief that flooded through me. I had been preparing myself for Jason's death ever since the murder of his life long best friend Joey Boldreghini.

Joey had been murdered five years earlier by "friends" of both boys. The boys had sold Rick Grady some LSD earlier that day. It turned out that the LSD was fake and so Rick Grady and three other boys came over to Jason and Joey's house in the early morning hours of August 1, 1993 looking to get revenge for being ripped off on their drug transaction.

My son Jason had decided to go to a Rave that night but Joey stayed home with his girlfriend Emily. Joey heard sounds outside the house around 1 or 2am. He told Emily to hide in the bathroom. When Emily was safe in the bathroom Joey opened the door and four boys entered the apartment pointing a gun.

Emily heard loud voices and she cracked open the bathroom door just in time to see one of the boys hit Joey over the head with the butt of a gun. She shut the door quickly and then she heard the gun shot ring out. The four boys fled quickly and Emily opened the door and ran out into the room. There she found Joey slumped back on the couch. He had been shot in the back of the head execution style.

I had been on a vacation with my daughter Mindy. We had gone to the Bahamas for a week and were returning that very night. Jason was staying at my place while I was out of town and when he returned after the party there was a message waiting for him on the answering machine. Joey was in the hospital. He had been shot in the head. Jason needed to come to the hospital.

Joey passed away that morning having suffered an unsurvivable gun shot wound to the head. I can only imagine the pain and rage that surely filled Jason. He and Joey were inseparable and had been since fourth grade. Joey was the person in this world Jason loved most. The only person Jason trusted and shared everything with and now he was gone.

When Jason picked us up at the airport that night I saw him running towards me and I thought to myself he must have missed me. He fell into my arms crying and screaming "They murdered him Mom!" He just kept crying and repeating over and over again "They murdered him!".

People were staring at us and I began shaking and asking Jason who got murdered? I asked again and again and finally through his sobs he got out the words "Joey Mom, they murdered Joey!" I began to cry and people continued to stare. "Lets get our bags Jason and go to the car Jason" I said.

Once we were in the car Jason begin to tell me as much as he knew about the murder at that point. He was devastated. He was destroyed. He was filled with guilt. Filled with guilt because he was not there to stop Joey's murder. Jason thought if he had only stayed and not gone to that Rave he would have been there to stop it. The truth is he would have been dead too most likely...

The guilt ate at Jason the rest of his days. He went from smoking a little pot and doing LSD at raves and parties to consuming almost every drug he could get his hands on. I waited for the day when I would get the call. The call no parent wants to get. Five years passed that were filled with fear, worry and dread on my part. Five years filled with guilt, depression and heartache for Jason who never came to terms with Joey's senseless murder.

The boys who murdered Joey were caught. Rick Grady and Jervaine Bonney showed no remorse. The other two boys we believe did not really know what was going to happen. They thought they were just going to get Rick's money back. They were told to stay outside and guard the door. They found themselves charged as accessories to murder.

One boy's parents hide their son - sent him into hiding instead of making him be responsible for his actions. As far as I know he has still not faced trial for his part in Joey's murder. The other boy who had been waiting outside was charged with voluntary manslaughter as was Rick Grady who had masterminded the whole murder. The trigger man - Jervaine Bonney was only 16 but was tried as an adult for 2nd degree murder.

So on this warm day 5 years later with plans to go fishing, I made my arrangements and preparations to head over to a friend's house and then on to go fishing. As I was preparing to go I got a call from Jason. He had been sober and clean for 16 months as far as I knew. He had not asked me for help since that night he came to me and admitted being an addict. I knew right then he was in trouble but I did not know what kind of trouble. I told him to come on over and we would talk.

Jason arrived at my house around 2pm. We sat down on my bed and began to talk. Since getting out of rehab Jason had gone back to college, was working nights at UPS and was a student teacher in college as well. I was so proud of him. Jason was 6 foot 2 inches tall and had been so skinny but now he was 200 lbs and looked so handsome and healthy.

I had tried to get Jason to move back home when he got out of rehab but he refused. Rehab had us make a family contract where he promised not to ask for my help anymore. I had to promise not to give him money, pay his bills as I had done for the last 5 years, or enable him in any way. Jason stuck by that contract but now he was here to ask for help. I braced myself.

Jason told me that he and his two female roommates were behind on their rent. He told me that the drug dealers he owed money to before he went into rehab were after him for the money he owed. Jason told me he had taken the rent money and bought pot to sell and try to make some money on so they could catch up on their rent but he got ripped off and now he had no money at all.

Jason stared at the ground the whole time he talked. He was ashamed that he was there once again asking for help. I told Jason that I loved him and that I wished he had come to me sooner instead of getting involved with drugs again. I told him in a joking way that he sucked as a drug dealer and he needed to find a new way to make money. Jason still staring at the ground smiled and chuckled a little when I said that to him. I was hoping to break the tension a little for him.

I wrote a check for Jason's rent and told him to come to me in the beginning of problems, not when they had gotten out of control. We hugged each other and I told him I loved him. He thanked me for the rent money and said he loved me too. I walked out the door with him and sat on the steps and watched him drive away. Then I went back inside to grab my gear and go fishing.

I arrived at my friends house and we left to go to a little pond and fish a couple of hours. I was in another area across the state line about 45 minutes away from home. The fish weren't biting and we did not stay long. We returned to my friends house and shortly after returning the phone rang. It was my daughter Mindy. She told me that Jason had just called home looking for me. Mindy said that Jason told her he had eaten too much shit and he was losing his mind.

When she told him I was not home he hung up the phone. They had never really been close since childhood - and especially since Jason became an addict. She was the perfect child and Jason got all the attention and time. If they had been close maybe he would have stayed on the phone and she could have helped him. There it is - the first "if only" in what would become a life of "if onlys" in the Aftertimes.

I hung up the phone and stared into space for a few seconds. Then I said "I have to go home. It's Jason". My friends offered to come with me but I told them no. I did not know yet what the situation was or what I would find. I grabbed my purse and rushed out to the car.

I began the drive back to town. Panic began to take over and it was hard to remember which roads to take or the fastest way to get to Jason's house. My boss had recently given me a cell phone so he could reach me anytime. I hated the idea of that and I never used it. If only I had given Jason the cell phone number he could have called me directly on the cell phone and I could have talked him down from the bad LSD trip he was on. "If only" number two...

About half way into town I thought of the cell phone and I turned it on and called my daughter to ask her where Jason was calling from - had he told her where he was. She said "No", he had not said. He just hung up the phone on her. His phone had been disconnected for non-payment so I didn't know where he could be calling from but I had to go someplace so I headed for his apartment. I told Mindy to look on caller id and give me the number he called from and she did.

I called the number and a young girl answered the phone. I screamed "Where is Jason?". The girl began to cry and said "Something terrible has happened here Sandy!". I screamed "What, where is Jason, what happened?" Her reply... "Jason dove out of the third floor window." I cried "I am almost there" and I hung up.

I raced as fast as I could to Jason's apartment. I pulled into the back of the building and was completely unaware of the 15 squad cars in the front of the building. I got out of the car and a girl was standing there outside waiting for me. I screamed where is Jason and she told me that the ambulance had taken him to The Med. I jumped into my car and raced downtown for the trauma center.

I couldn't remember or think clear and I was unsure how to get to The Med. Downtown is a mass of one way streets and no parking and I tried to slow down so I could think. Finally I arrived at The Med and raced inside the emergency room. I went up to the security desk and said "Where is my son?".

The security guard asked for his name and picked up the phone to call the trauma unit. He hung up the phone and lead me to "The waiting room". Not the waiting room where everyone sits and waits but "THE WAITING ROOM"! The one where you are taken and separated from the normal waiting room full of people waiting for friends and family members brought in with broken arms and survivable injuries.

I entered the waiting room and there was a girl there. It was Kelly - one of Jason's roommates. She was in love with my son but he was not in love with her. He had told me all about how miserable he was living there with her but he would not come back home.

He was only weeks away from college graduation and had already accepted a job with a huge corporation and would soon be moving to Illinois. He was going to stay there till he could leave Memphis. He was anxious to leave Memphis because here he was surrounded by his old friends who were all users. He had told me just hours earlier how much of a hurry he was in to get out of town and away from the scene here. He wanted a fresh start in a new town.

Kelly ran up to me and introduced herself. We hugged each other and began to cry. A Chaplain entered the waiting room and told me that he would go talk with the doctors about Jason's condition and would return shortly.

I used those moments to call my best friend. I told her what happened and asked her to please come. I could not do this all by myself. She arrived in a few minutes with two other friends and we waited for the Chaplain to return.

The Chaplain returned to talk with me and give me a report on Jason's condition. He got down on one knee and took my hand. I began to cry. I didn't want him down on one knee. I didn't want to hold his hand. I wanted him to stand there and tell me that Jason was going to be okay. Why was he bending down and taking my hand?

The Chaplain began to speak. "Your son is in critical condition. His blood pressure is erratic and he needs surgery to control internal bleeding. They can't take him into surgery until they get his blood pressure and heart rate under control". Then he squeezed my hand and continued... "The doctors believe he may have sustained brain damage. They won't know for sure till they can do an MRI but first they have to get him stable and into surgery to control the internal bleeding."

I fell to my knees on the floor and I reached up towards the Heavens and screamed "God, please don't take my baby. God, please don't take him". But in my heart I knew he was leaving me. I had lost him after a 5 year battle to save him. My son was dying. We had lost our battle.

The Chaplain helped me up into a chair and said he would go back and check on Jason and return when he had more information for me. I asked my friends to go outside with me and smoke a cigarette. I was trembling all over. My hands shook as they lit my cigarette. It was night now and the air was cool but I didn't feel it. We smoked and waited.

When we went back into the hospital the Chaplain returned. He had come to take me to speak with the doctor. My friends and I followed him behind the doors and through the trauma unit. I was blind to all the things going on around us. I just saw the back of the Chaplain as he led us to a set of double doors. The doctor came to the door and began to speak.

The doctor was very matter of fact. Very blunt as he began to talk. "Your son had a ruptured spleen. We repaired that and stopped the internal bleeding." He went on, "His right shoulder is broken, his lungs are crushed, and he is on life support. Your son's skull was cracked like an egg dropped on concrete. We believe he is brain dead but won't know for sure until we can run further tests in the morning."

I stood there staring at this doctor. I shook my head... "Yes, I understand. Thank you..." As the doctor had been describing Jason's injuries to me I saw from the corner of my eye my best friends slide down the wall to the floor. Another friend fainted and they were taking him away in a wheelchair to suture his eye. He had busted his brow when he hit the cold, hard floor. I just stood there.

The Chaplain led us to the NICU center waiting room. He introduced me to the person at the desk who would be updating me on my son's condition. I asked if I could see my son. I was led behind doors and down a long hall with trauma patients laying behind little curtained off areas. Curtains were pulled back and there was my only son Jason. Lying lifeless in a hospital bed hooked up to machines that were breathing for him and keeping his heart beating.

I stood there and stared at my son. Jason's head was swollen twice its normal size. He had purple, yellow, and black bruises on the right side of his head, and over his right eye. He had tubes down his throat, and blood trickled from his nose.

I walked over to his bed by his side and I reached up and brushed his cheek. "Please don't leave me Jason". "I love you. You can't leave me!" But I knew he had already gone. I just stood there staring at him lying there broken, bruised, and shattered. They led me back to the waiting room. It was going to be a long night.

I had been with my son at home just hours earlier. I had hugged him and kissed him. I had told him I loved him. Now I was begging him not to leave me. I was begging God not to take him from me. I sat down in a chair in the now dark waiting room. I sat there in silence through the whole night. Waiting... Waiting... Waiting, and then dawn broke.

It was time to make some phone calls. I had raised my children alone having been divorced most all my life. Jason's dad was never a part of his life. Not that Jason hadn't tried to make a relationship with his dad. He had been begging his dad all through out his life be a part of his life, to love him, to spend time with him. But it never happened.

I looked up his dad's phone number and called him. It was about 6 am. It had been a long night. Leslie answered the phone. I told him he needed to come to the hospital. Jason was dying. I hung up the phone and called my mom's house in Texas. My older brother was visiting her. He answered the phone.

I told Rick about Jason and asked him to break the news to my mom. I said I would call back when I knew more. Time passed and slowly the waiting room filled up with Jason's friends as the word hit the street.

I called my mom's house again and this time she answered the phone. I could tell from her upbeat tone that Rick had not told her about Jason. "I'm afraid I have bad news Mom. Jason has had an accident and he is in the hospital." She began to cry and panic. I went on to tell her the situation. "The doctors believe he is brain dead Mom. They will be doing a test this morning to confirm brain death. I will be removing him from life support."

My mom screamed, and cried, and begged me not to remove him from life support till she could get here. She wanted to see him. She wanted to say goodbye to him. I did not want her to see him like this. I did not want her last memories of Jason to be of his broken, lifeless body. I didn't want her to remember him this way as I would have to the rest of my life.

I didn't want to keep him hanging on to life support. My mom had buried two of her son's and now I was calling to tell her that her grandson was dying. She begged but I remained firm about my decision. Jason would never want to be kept on life support. Jason would not want her to have these memories. I wanted to spare her.

Jason's dad arrived at the hospital with his wife and other kids. We asked to see Jason and they led us back to the place where he lay. I don't really know for sure but I don't believe his dad said anything to him. He just stood there and stared. After all he didn't know Jason. He had never bothered to get to know his son. But I knew how much Jason wanted his dad to love him and it was the only reason I bothered to even call him. If he wouldn't be there for Jason in life he would be here for his death.

I began to get impatient. Hours had passed and still the test for brain death had not been done. Why were they waiting. When the hell was it going to take place? You see in my mind I knew he was dying. My subconscious knew already and I was running on blind faith. I began to get excited and demanding that my son be taken off life support because I felt like they were keeping him from entering Heaven. Heaven... where I knew since Joey's murder Jason wanted to be. I had known all along how his life would end though I never imagined him jumping out a window. I thought he would be killed too or overdose. Maybe a car wreck when he was high. But jumping out a third story window. I never imagined that...

You see Jason had since childhood the bad habit of locking himself out all the time and he just developed a routine of climbing in and out the windows. I had yelled at him so many times in his short life to stop tearing up my screens, and breaking windows but it was an ingrained habit by now. Why, I had just dropped him off at home a few months ago and watched him climb in his bedroom window to get in his apartment because he had loaned Kelly his car and she had his keys. Into the window he climbed same as he had all his life.

I knew that Jason had not jumped out a window on purpose. He had not committed suicide. In his terrible hallucinations caused by a bad LSD trip he had climbed out the window to get away from something he was imagining. He did not realize he had wandered up to the third floor of his apartment building. Thinking he was in his first floor apartment he dove head first out the window to escape the nightmare he was hallucinating. His instinctive reaction to go to the window had ended his life.

I began to take Jason's friends back to say goodbye to him. Those that wanted to be with us when life support were welcomed to do so but most chose to say goodbye before the machines were turned off. No one wanted to watch Jason die except Kelly and his former girlfriend who he had always loved, and her father who had been so good to Jason and had treated him like a son. Denetia and her dad Scott chose to be with us when we removed life support.

Several family members were in the room with us. Jason's dad was there. I held Jason's dad's hand as I crawled in bed with Jason. I placed my ear on his chest so I could hear his heartbeat and then I listened to his heart wind down until there was no more beat. He was gone. My son was dead...

I sit here today in tears as I write. Immediately transported back to that precise moment in time. I have relived that horrible night with the full impact of the pain and heartbreak. I have done so for a reason. I have done so many times since Jason's death.

I vowed to myself that horrible day that I would not let Jason's life and death be in vain. I would spend the rest of my life reaching out to others who's lives have been devastated by the disease of addiction. I have spent the last almost eight years now - speaking out about the disease of addiction. Trying to put a face to the statistics of drug related deaths. To show the world that everyone, every family is at risk.

I will continue to share our story. I will tell you about what has happened to my life in the Aftertimes... since Jason's death. You see Jason did not die once. He dies over and over in my head a thousand times a day. There is no closure. There is no "getting over it or pass it". God did not need him more than I do. God did not have a plan that I don't know about yet. It was not all part of God's plan.

My God does not kill children. My God does not punish us with disease and despair. My God gave us the freedom to choose free will. There are consequences that come from free will. We choose our paths and we are responsible for our lives, our pain, our happiness, our sorrows. I find no comfort in the absurd words "He is at peace now". I want my son back. He deserved a better life than the one he got. I get mad at God, and I questioned many things I was taught to believe.

But my God cries with me. My God feels my pain, my grief, my endless heartbreak. My God allows me to speak out to try and save your lives, your children's lives. I could not save my son but if I can save just one life in his memory than Jason did not live and die in vain.

I spend my life now reaching out to other parents who have lost their addicts. Helping them through the nightmare. Guiding them through their grief. Teaching them to learn who their new self is now, here in the Aftertimes. Helping them understand that their child had a deadly disease. Assuring them that there is no shame in the disease of addiction.

I help them slowly get to the place where they can remember some of the Beforetimes. The good memories that in the first few years of our grief we are not able to remember. It is hard work navigating through the Aftertimes. We just want to die and be with our children. We lose sight of everything and everyone else around us.

We are fragile. We struggle with the stages of parental grief. Shock, denial, anger, bargaining, and we take small steps. Sometimes we fall back into earlier stages. Always we will not accept our children's deaths. Always we will continue to love them, grieve for them, and flashback to the horror we lived through but our children did not.

It is my desire to reach out and create a place where we can talk honestly and openly about the disease of addiction. All those affected by the disease are welcome here. It is only through education about the disease that we will save lives.

We must remove the stigma that is attached to addiction. It is a disease. It is as real and as deadly as cancer. It is killing our children and destroying families. Don't be a fool and think it could never happen to your family. None of us ever thought it would happen to us, to our children.

But it did. They are gone. We are left behind in the Aftertimes to try and make some sense out of all of this grief and misery. Eventually, we can learn to remember the Beforetimes when our children were not sick. And we learn to survive in the Aftertimes. Hopefully we can reach out to each other and save lives.

Know that you are all welcome here. Addicts, loved ones, friends. You are welcome to share here. Reach out and help others heal, help parents through their grief. Help save lives. Help change stigmas, untruths about addiction, attitudes about substance abuse, rehab and treatment practices, insurance companies policies, laws, prejudices. The disease of addiction does not discriminate. It effects everyone in all walks of life, economics, race and sexes.