Friday, December 16, 2005

More On The Holidays

Last night I posted about my first Christmas without my son Jason. This will be the eighth without him. I don't feel any different about losing him than I did then. I don't do Christmas anymore for the most part. I still give my loved ones gifts and a couple of times have cooked but for the most part I have not celebrated a holiday since Jason died. There are a lot of things I don't do in the After times that I always did in the Before times.

I have made many dear friends, other moms who lost their child in drug related deaths. I have been reaching out to them for almost eight years now. They are very dear to me as they are the only people who know how I feel and what it is like to lose a child to addiction. Some have been with me all the while and others are newer moms in grief reaching out trying to grab a hold of something or someone to keep them from drowning in this awful grief.

The newer moms are the ones who are facing their "firsts". I can never find the words to begin describing to you what it feels like to face the holidays, birthdays, and Heaven dates. All I can do is tell you that the anticipation of the dates or holidays arriving is always worse then when the day actually arrives. Once that day is over it is a huge weight lifted from us. Till the next special date...

The second year of grief is the hardest without doubt. I can say that for myself and I can say that for all the moms in my support group online at www.angelsofaddiction.com . The luxury of numbness has gone. Only stark reality hits you square in the heart in that second year. Shock has worn off, denial is gone. It is true. It was not a bad dream. Jason really did die.

About three years ago I had the idea of making ornaments with our kids pictures in them. Each one of us sent everyone in the group an ornament of our children. It was a wonderful thing to see the moms excited about Christmas for the first time. Christmas trees went up and on them were all our Angels. I actually went out and bought a new tree. We continued the practice each year as new Angels came into our lives, and their moms became our dearest friends.

I found wooden unpainted Angels at a craft store. The had a place in the middle to insert Jason's picture. I hand painted them, put Jason's name and dates on back and I mailed them out to all the moms who did the same in return. Some used the same kind of Angel while others sent snowflakes or Santa's and such with their child's picture. Some were store bought but most were handpainted and decorated by all the moms. We ran to our mailbox everyday to see which Angel would arrive in the mail that day. They now are a part of all of our lives and we feel certain they must all be good friends up there in Heaven looking down on us. After all, it was the kids that brought us all together.

It is very sobering for people to walk up and look at the tree and see all these beautiful faces of children who all died drug related deaths. It puts faces to the statistics. I know one mom who together with the police department in her city goes to schools and churches to tell our stories and show the kids what drugs do to you and the damage left behind for their parents and siblings. She takes the tree with all the kids ornaments and pictures on it. She told me that it really makes an impact on the kids. They see kids that look just like them. They see that these are beautiful young people who are no longer with us. They are all dead. Drugs killed them.

I guess my point is- there are ways to celebrate the holidays without our kids. Most find it easier to start new traditions. It is hard for some to do the normal Christmas because that child is no longer there and it hurts too much. Find new ways to celebrate. Look for ways to celebrate their lives, not their deaths. Maybe hang a stocking for your child and each member in the family writes a little note to their Angel and puts it in the stocking for them. Sadly most people in the family don't want to acknowledge the empty chair. In those cases it is easier to just find a quiet way yourself to remember your child. Give to St. Jude Children's Hospital or buy gifts for a child in a boy's or girl's home. Ask for one around your child's age and if you like.

Our Angel Trees have given us much comfort and we have peace in knowing that all across the United States our kids are being remembered. Long after friends and relatives have moved on and don't mention our children anymore, we know they are being remembered by us. Moms with Angels of Addiction.

Thursday, December 15, 2005

Coping With Holidays

In the Dickens classic "A Christmas Carol", Tiny Tim was able to look past his own sorrows, disability, and poverty with one wish in his little heart, "God Bless Us Every One". While it is certainly my wish that God bless us all, it is not in my heart to look beyond my own pain as Tim was able to selflessly do. For as much as I have tried, as much as I wish I were able to believe and have faith, I have not been able to do so in the Aftertimes.

I have been late posting on this journal. For one thing, I have been ill for the better part of the last three months. I never use to get sick with colds or the flu. But when a soul is ravaged and has barely any will left it is easy for sickness in all forms to take over. The second reason I have been late posting lies within this time of year itself. How does one celebrate the holidays when there is an empty spot at the table, around the tree, and in my heart?

I remember the first Christmas without Jason. I struggled still with the newness of grief. I could not accept Jason's death. I was not able to turn him over to God. Upon the advice of one of my dearest and most faithful friends I decided it was time accept that Jason was gone.

You keep thinking that nothing could be harder than turning off the life support and letting him go. But every step in the grief process is hard. Each one a mountain so high and I, with no strength to go on must find a way to crawl up that mountain. This is something no parent should ever have to face. No parent should ever be asked to let go of their child. No parent should have so many mountains to cross with little or no spirit left to take even the tiniest step forward. If God were asking me to take those steps to save my son's life I would have the courage and strength of a hundred men but to ask me to let him go... was I capable of doing so?

It was a wintry day on Christmas Eve I remember. Winters are generally warm in the Mid-South by most standards but this year was different. I awoke to sleet, ice and bitter cold. Alone I climbed into my truck. I had purchased a tiny little Christmas tree and decorated it with small ornaments. I took tools and wire to anchor them to the ground and set off for the cemetery. The roads were icy and dangerous but traffic was light and I made my way safely across town.

The cemetery was empty but for me and the dead that lay within its cold, hard, frozen grounds. I pulled over and grabbed my gift for Jason and Joey. The small little tree was all I could offer them this year. I walked up the frozen little hill to the place where Jason and Joey lay together sharing one large monument. I stood there staring at their names. How was this possible? But there it was, right there in front of my eyes. I began to read...

"Best Friends In This Life Together Now Forever In Heaven" were the words engraved at the top of the monument. I read on, "Victor "Joey" Boldreghini, March 18, 1974 to August 1, 1993. Jason Anthony Barganier, October 21, 1974 to March 1, 1998. Below their names and dates is a verse from their favorite Grateful Dead song, "Ripple In Still Water When There Is No Pebble Tossed Nor Wind To Blow. Reach Out Your Hand If Your Cup Be Empty. If Your Cup Is Full May It Be Again. Let It Be Known There Is A Fountain That Was Not Made By The Hands Of Men."

I fell to my knees and began to cry. After a moment I tried with everything I had left in me to pull myself together. I reached for my gift and my tools. I began erecting their little Christmas tree. I used stakes hammered into the ground to make sure it wasn't knocked over by the cold winds or easily taken by the monsters who for no reason I could ever understand take things from the graves.

I stood their and I stared at my little gift with tears rolling down my cheeks. They deserved so much more than this life ever gave them. They were loving, kind, tenderhearted young boys who's lives had become too painful to cope with, too hard to face sober. Drugs gave them the escape they searched for though death was not the end result they sought. Only temporary relief from their fears, their shyness, their inability to relax and have fun. Drugs allowed them to feel like they fit in if only for a little while. Only through drugs did they find some comfort no matter how short lived the high may last. It was their escape. It became their master. Then it became their murderer. Drugs stole their lives from them. Drugs took them from us.

I had come to "Let Go" of my son. To give him over to the Lord. To try because so many had said to me that I had to let him go so he could be at peace. Good God, could that be true? Was it possible I could hold him back from the peace he sought and lost his life to find? If there was the slightest possibility that I was holding him from peace and happiness then I had to find it in myself to "Let Go".

A freezing downpour of sleet and ice began to come down. It stung my face and hands as it pelted me, pelted my boys, and the little Christmas tree. I fell to ground and began to speak out loud to my Lord. "God, you gave me my son to love and now you ask me to give him back to you but I do not want to give him back to you. You gave him to me, why do you take him away? How can you ask this of me?" I hung my head and cried.

When I found my voice again I spoke aloud once more. "God, I give you my only son. Please promise me you will take good care of him and that he will be happy forever joined again with Joey." Then I spoke to the boys. "Jason, you and Joey celebrate the Lord's birthday. I hope it is a big party filled with joy and happiness. Please be happy and at peace. Don't worry about me. I will be fine. Just don't forget me and come to see me once in a while. I love you both. Merry Christmas". I stood up, turned around and walked back to my truck. I sat there for a little while staring up the little hill at the grave with the tiny little Christmas tree. It was time to go home.

I am also reminded again of the Dickens classic tonight as I write this. The Ghost Of The Christmas Present shows himself to Scrooge and opens his robe. Two children are revealed cowering at the spirits feet as they peer up at Scrooge. Dickens introduces these children in A Christmas Carol through as twins, Ignorance and Want. The spirit shows them, wretched and almost animal in appearance, to Scrooge with the warning: "This boy is Ignorance. This girl is Want. Beware them both, and all of their degree, but most of all beware this boy, for on his brow I see that written which is Doom, unless the writing be erased."

The boy is Ignorance the spirit pronounces. The girl is Want but of the two the spirit warns that the boy "Ignorance" means doom unless the hearts and minds of mankind wake up and and seek knowledge. Not only knowledge of the mind, but knowledge of the heart. That is my lesson as well to you today.

Don't let ignorance cost you the lives of your loved ones, your child, maybe yourself. Erase the ignorance by learning about the disease of addiction. Erase the ignorance of thinking it could never happen in your life. "Want" is how drugs enticed our children. They wanted to fit in, to ease their suffering and depression, to erase bad memories. "Ignorance" is how we let it reach out and steal our children from us. No matter how much you think you know about substance abuse and your children - never be ignorant to learning everything you can about the disease.

Please visit http://teens.drugabuse.gov/facts/facts_brain1.asp and educate yourself and your family about the disease, its causes and effects and how to protect your children. Give your children the gift of a long, happy life. Let go of your arrognace and ingnorance. No one is too good or perfect to have their lives stricken by this deadly disease of addiction.

As for me, did I find any peace in letting go. No, I did not find peace in letting go. But I pray to God that the boys found peace in my letting go. It was never about me having peace for I never will know peace in my lifetime. I pray I was successful in setting Jason free. I never asked to be set free myself. I shall carry this grief and pain to my own death. No words could I speak that would remove my pain and loss. My only comfort is that I have learned to a good degree how to carry my pain with grace. Hopefully that grace will reach out and touch you in a way that will change your lives for the better.