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Grief and Why Can't I Get Over My Adult Son's Death

Unfathomable loss and sorrow lead me to write this article in the hopes that I might be able to help someone as well as further heal myself.

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Will I Ever Get Over Losing My Son?

I ask myself this question on a daily basis and multiple times a day. I think the answer is absolutely and unequivocally no. I have suffered the greatest loss that I can imagine, the loss of one of my children. It does not seem right and I don't care how many stages of grief there are to be honest. It is just plain "not fair" but then in life, there are so many things that don't seem fair.

Writing is my coping mechanism when life gets too hard to handle. I write it down. I try to figure it out on paper and somehow that brings me a bit of peace. It doesn't make the angst or sorrow go away, but it helps to be able to say the things that are in my heart. I hope someone else might possibly find comfort or even a little bit of understanding in my relating this personal experience, triumphs and failures going through this difficult phase of my life.

What I Have Learned About Losing My Son

There is no right way or wrong way to grieve. It all comes out in fits and spurts. Even if I think I'm handling it one minute, I'm not the next. I can go for weeks at a time and not cry when I say his name, and then something reminds me of him and I cannot speak his name without crying. I do cry a lot still. I think I am literally blind from crying at times (ironic in his case - see below).

Some of my emotions at the present time (in no particular order):

  • guilt - I cannot escape it - why didn't I do more, why didn't I see more?
  • anger - at myself and at him for not telling me the truth, anger at God for taking him away.
  • sadness/loneliness - I will miss him until the day that I die - he was just such a good person and had accomplished so much in spite of what he had been dealt.
  • confusion - why did this need to happen to us? How did we mess up so bad that we had to lose our son?
  • bitterness/depression - what will the rest of our life look like? It just keeps getting worse and worse. Too many losses. It could be worse, of course, but it feels oppressive.
  • lost - I did not get to ask him all the questions I needed to ask him. What do I do now with all those questions/unsolved mysteries?
  • hopeful/peaceful - but rarely. I hope and pray that he is in a better place as they say and that he can't experience any pain, emotional or otherwise. I want him to be free. I am glad he is not suffering.
  • denial - I was certainly in denial when I thought he would get better and survive. I do sometimes pretend he is at his house and just going through a normal day.
  • bargaining - I did try and bargain with God to take me instead but that never works. Realizing that things are out of our control takes time and even though I no longer bargain, I'm still thinking I got the worst of the deal.
  • acceptance - I believe acceptance is relative. Sure, I accept that he has died but am I content with it? No. I still have so many questions but hoping that time will help me come to terms with those feelings and all that will be left is the sadness I feel at losing him.
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In The Beginning - Our Son Patrick

Most people who know me learn early on that one of my favorite topics has always been our son Patrick. He was born legally blind and has been a source of inspiration to me personally his entire life. I know most of us as parents love to dote and ramble on regarding our kids and how "special" they are, but he, indeed, was one of a kind. I'll admit that when I first met him, I was terrified. Within a few hours of his birth, we knew that his eye problems were severe and the questions arose instantaneously "what else could be wrong?" We were thrown into the abyss that parents of a handicapped child find themselves in. We never did know what he saw until the day that he passed away, much as I tried and tried to decipher that. He also had a few other health problems, though not severe, did require a lot of medical treatments and appointments especially when he was young. He never complained (much) about any of his troubles in life and from day one, steadfastly refused to believe he was different from anyone else.

He was the middle child so he really didn't have a lot of protection so to speak. He was cast into the mix following in the footsteps of a very athletic, charming older brother and a darling younger sister. He was doomed to be "just Patrick" but that suited him just fine. He never wanted people making a fuss over him or trying to help him. He never wanted anyone to single him out for his visual problems (though they certainly did that in spades - all the typical mean children in the world who love to hurt someone who is different than they are). He always handled those insults with humor and shrugged them off.

He was born with one eye that never developed and his "good eye" was horribly deformed so basically 20/200 vision on a good day at best. It was not correctible and added to that, he had a nystagmus (wavering pupil) that was always trying to see around a gaping hole through the middle of his vision. He had no depth perception and the large hole through the parts of his eye gave him the bonus of creating terrible headaches from too much light or too little light. Balance and his place in the world moving about were an issue as well, but he handled it with grace if not laugher. He certainly had his cross to bear.

I spent years working with him as a child because our goal was that he should achieve whatever he possibly could in life. He had such a great attitude and early on showed his strong suit was his sense of humor - that and his incredible intellect. He was whip smart yet had the kindest manner about him, always just trying to be happy with what life had given him. He was the kind of person that just wanted to be loved and to go through life having a good time with family and friends. I got him involved in services for low-vision children and it certainly paid off. Perhaps too much so, as he convinced himself that he wasn't handicapped at all. That remained his mantra through his entire life.

I remember many days just sitting outside playing with the kids and enjoying them for the unique little people they were. I in particular would watch Pat and just laugh out loud at the things he came up with or the things that he would do. Through all the things that we went through with him, it was a pleasure to raise him and see what he was capable of doing. The inspiration started early on because he just had something in him that was special beyond compare.

Seasons of Change

All through school and growing up, Pat had his ups and downs as most kids do, but he continued to thrive and did extremely well for someone who was blind in one eye and couldn't see out of the other as they say. He was always at the top of his class, in fact, went into the gifted program in grade school. When we moved to Washington State from Illinois, we found that they did not provide services for low-vision or legally blind children but with much determination and approaching it at the state level, I was able to convince the school district that it was their obligation to provide those services. He became even more successful with the additional help of large print books, computer help, etc. He aced everything he did in school, even when teachers thought he could not do it because of his lack of sight. Yet, he was the one who never told any of his friends what his report card said or showed anyone except us, even though he should have been bragging his straight A's.

He played sports of every kind, skied, rode bikes, learned to ride horses and tried to be like any normal kid, even though it was frustrating for him at times because he couldn't be as good as the other kids with good vision or he had to make so many adjustments. He never quit though and was always the one who wanted to sign up. He participated in art projects, dance, Boy Scouts, went to blind camps, and then we decided to start him in music. That was his salvation, even though as per his usual manner, he didn't want anyone making a fuss over him, even though he was amazingly talented from the beginning. He played effortlessly. He was one of those people who just played from the heart and soul. He started with piano and then got into trombone and joined the band in high school. Even though he could read music, it was more like read a line of music and then memorize it because he couldn't see it on the page even with glasses or magnifiers. To say that he hid his light under a bucket would be an apt portrayal of who he was. Most often, people accidentally discovered how talented he was and scolded him for not telling them sooner. He always wanted to be more of an athlete and that was his only regret I think growing up. Yet he even found a way to cope with that. He became the most incredible statistician on the planet. We could always count on him to remember ANYTHING that happened in our lives (the exact date and time included). He was a treasure trove for trivia of any kind, but most especially sports. We could ask a question like "who played for Seattle in 1980 and was the best offensive lineman, Pat?" He could answer it in 2 seconds. He had it all locked upstairs in his computer brain.

We probably should have seen his pain in high school or even before and realized that he was struggling with depression or perhaps something else. He was fiercely independent and wanted to be able to stay that way. He wanted to go off to college, and as much as we wanted him to go to a small college where there were less students and less big city life, he insisted on going to the University of Washington. He graduated with an almost perfect GPA and had no trouble getting in. He got help in the form of note takers, recorders, etc. and as usual, was acing his way through as a Business major and a Music minor. Without realizing it, I think his feelings of anxiety were starting to surface more and more and unfortunately, no one knew. He always told us he was "fine" but some of the stories he told us didn't sound "fine" in retrospect. If we questioned him or expressed concern, he always said he was an adult and could handle his own life, thank you very much.

One of many family vacations - Patrick is the far right behind/beside his dad.

One of many family vacations - Patrick is the far right behind/beside his dad.

The Friends and Choices We Make

It became apparent that Pat was hanging around with people who were probably not going to help him in the long run and were setting him up for a lifestyle that could and would destroy him. He ended up not getting his college degree (short by a few credits) because he helped someone out with his debts. He began to associate with people who we felt were taking advantage of him, not helping him at all in ways that were productive. He was dependent, of course, on people for rides or on public transportation, but he was above all, a people pleaser as they say. He always wanted to please everyone, sometimes at his own expense. He began to put himself at terrible risk. We talked to him all the time and of course, were never shy about offering our opinions and parental advice. We wanted him to be successful, but we wanted him to safe most of all. We both have always been such straight arrows that we did not and do not to this day understand the lifestyles and the partying that young people seem to crave. We thought it was dangerous beyond belief, especially with his physical limitations, but he simply wanted to be his own man. We hoped that he would listen to us and decide that life was too short to waste it or take chances, but as it turns out, I guess he realized it too late.

He gravitated toward jobs that his friends could help him get to or that were particularly conducive to their kind of lifestyle I suppose is the best way I can describe it. I know that not all people in the food and beverage business are addicts or alcoholics, but a good number of people adopt a drinking lifestyle in that profession or have had issues with it in their past (again, not stereotyping but it is a problem within the industry). It is an extremely high stress environment and I don't think inherently productive of good mental health. A person with low vision especially was a target for criticism (from his coworkers and patrons, even his so-called friends) and he constantly felt he was trying to be "better" when in fact, there was nothing wrong with him in the first place except that he could not see well enough to do his job or at least struggled with things like having to lean in too close to see. We talked to him about it, offered advice as we could, and kept on being supportive. We tried to just believe that he would see a different path and take it. I in particular constantly gave him "packets" as he called them. These were things I would research for him, print off and give to him at different times, regarding things like pursuing college credits, places he could get help with transportation or housing, counseling, aids he could get for his vision or other concerns. We didn't push it to the extreme, but he knew we had concerns. He just didn't think he had a problem. He thought he could handle it according to what he continued to tell us. He consistently railed against us interfering in his life and didn't want people's pity as he termed it.

We moved to Oregon and felt terrible leaving him in Washington. He seemed though to have decided on a path and we could not deter him from it. Still, he came to visit us and spent every holiday with us. A few years into our move, we eventually told him he should come and live with us for a while until he could figure out what he wanted to do. It was supposed to be a short-term situation but ended up being 3 years. It was a very long 3 years. I loved my son with all my heart, but when someone is making mistakes and you have to live with that person, it is an untenable situation. I got him counseling, I encouraged him to apply for some great computer jobs in our town that offered schooling as well, tried to help him continue on with his music, but none of it helped. His drinking was particularly worrisome and his job (even though at a posh resort) was not conducive to him healing himself. We finally had to ask him to leave as his choices were having an effect on our well-being and sanity. We tried to encourage him as much as we could, but it just became obvious that he wasn't ready to listen.

He has had friends over the years that always remained friends so remarkably when one door closed, another seemed to always open. I would rather that they had not and that he could have found a new door to go through, but it just wasn't in the cards. I will say, however, that during all of this agony that we went through with him, not being able to convince him our help was needed, we still always remained close. There was nothing that he could do to make us run away or not care about him. He was still a good person. He was just a person who drank too much and was making poor life choices as far as his career and sometimes his choices of who he hung around with. For whatever reason he was doing it, he was still kind, he was still one of the smartest people we have ever known, and he was still an incredibly funny person with a wonderful sense of humor. I think in retrospect, he was self-medicating with alcohol or self-destructing with alcohol. We didn't realize how far that was going, however, until it was irreversible.

The Ravages of Alcoholism

He at one point had moved to Wyoming to live with our older son and that was not a situation that helped him. He had a great job but again, in an industry where addiction seems inevitable for many. He was living there when he decided he needed a change and we offered to go and pick him up. He was coming for the Thanksgiving holiday and was going to go back to living with a friend in Washington. We went to pick him up and on the way home, he went into alcohol withdrawal. He had actually tried to stop drinking on his own without telling anyone. We all thought that perhaps this was the wake-up call we were waiting for and that surely, he would never put himself through this again.

Unfortunately, a few years later, when living with his friend back in Washington, he went through something similar but this time, had no one around to help him. We still don't know what happened. In the process of his withdrawal from alcohol, he had gone out on the road at night, presumably to go to the store by himself. We got a call from a hospital ICU. He had been found in a ditch with a broken neck and a head injury. We aren't sure to this day if he was hit by a car, he fell, or what exactly happened to him. He related that demons were chasing him. He was in the hospital for a week and again, we thought certainly, he knows he has a problem now and he will get help. He promised to.

Over the years after that, we had all kinds of tragedies/family ups and downs. My mom had dementia, my stepfather had dementia, then eventually they both needed to go into retirement facilities. We moved back to Washington to help them. Add to that the packing them up, moving them, their health issues, etc., time went by. Pat seemed no better, but no worse, but he had moved on to another resort by himself and had met someone he was in love with. We breathed a sigh of relief. He seemed happy, honest to goodness happier than he had been in such a long time. I felt like he was safe for once in his life with someone other than his parents.

Meanwhile, life went on and both of my parents died. Then my husband's health went south. He was diagnosed with cancer and had to begin radiation and chemotherapy. At the same time, the pandemic hit. Then he was diagnosed with severe spinal stenosis of his cervical and lumbar spines and had to have major surgeries on both, 3 times. In the interim, things started to go badly with Patrick and his girlfriend. I suspect it was the drinking but I will never know. He was so in love with her that I thought there was no way that they would end up apart but after multiple injuries he suffered (probably related to drinking), they split up. His girlfriend's mother was dying and she was taking care of her, and I have a feeling that the last thing she wanted to do was watch Patrick kill himself and/or have to take care of him. He moved back to live with another friend and that was the beginning of the end I think. He was very depressed. In the meantime, before he left her, he had called to say he had to go into the hospital because he had a "gallbladder" problem. It turns out it was actually his liver. He was in the hospital there a few days and was subsequently discharged, promising us that he was fine and that he would be taking better care of himself.

Fast forward through the chemo and radiation to one of the surgeries, and all of a sudden we could not get hold of Pat. He eventually called from a hospital. He was admitted there and was having alcohol withdrawal again. He was incoherent and we could barely understand him. We thought we would never be able to talk to him again. His ammonia levels were sky high and on top of it, he had broken his ankle. He had an ambulance called by a neighbor and no one else had known where he went. He finally came out of his mental blur and was able to be himself again. He said that he was told he had cirrhosis, but that they had caught it early and he just had to have treatments all the time and be on medication. It didn't sound very good, of course, but we thought okay, now he is going to really get his life together and be okay. Added to that, he had found out that he had a cataract in his good eye and that it was inoperable. He was having worsening of his vision (as if that was possible).

The Thing About Addiction

In retrospect now, I can only shout at myself "what planet were you on, Audrey?" How I could have been so blind and so stupid as to believe he would be alright is beyond me. He did get help. At least that one thing will always be there I guess to make me feel a little better. He had counselors after his admission with the broken ankle, and even during the pandemic, he Zoom connected with them several times a week and got to the bottom of what was bothering him. He finally was able to realize that he was depressed and why, that he needed to do something about it rather than drink himself to death. They were helping him. They actually loved working with him and he was doing good things. We saw him as much as we could but with the pandemic (and him refusing to get COVID shots), it was difficult because of his dad's immune compromised state. He came over for Mother's Day and as usual, brought me flowers and we had a wonderful day. I happened to notice that he looked a little yellow and mentioned it to him. He seemed surprised. Probably because of his vision he couldn't tell, but didn't his roommates notice? I gave him lecture 555 on being sure he was going to the doctors and doing what they said, not drinking, taking care of himself, etc. and of course, he assured me that he was. He would become quite angry if I pressed, so always just told him I loved him, gave him my 2 cents' worth or more and let it go. I checked on him as often as I could. Prior to our Mother's Day get-together, we would pick him up if we were going somewhere where we could meet outside or my girlfriend would pick him up to bring him over to our house (we lived about an hour away). Our daughter also picked him up, but I guess in retrospect, we should have been checking on him more often.

Almost every day during his dad's chemo and radiation though, Patrick called to check in, and then he would call me to see if I was okay a couple of times a week. Every time his dad had surgery, he would call to check on us. It was a good feeling knowing that he cared so much. I would give anything for him to call and check on us now. He was scheduled to come and visit us one weekend this past summer and when my girlfriend went to pick him up, he said he was too tired to come over. I pouted about it because I was so angry at him for not coming over. I thought he was just being selfish and didn't talk to him for probably a week after that. Then one night, I had a terrible dream that he was drowning. I woke up the next morning and called him.

He confessed to me that he was in a terrible way. He was having a hard time with swelling in his legs and abdomen. I, of course, told him to call someone or go to the ER, but he refused. He said he had medication and that he was taking it. His dad was scheduled for GI procedures the next day and was in quarantine because of COVID. He was having a terrible time with the prep for the procedures. I didn't feel like I could leave him alone with his spinal issues and I couldn't take him with me either. I called our daughter and asked for her help or if she could go and check on him, but she was leaving to go on a trip so declined to help. I called him repeatedly, telling him I would be there as soon as his dad's procedures were done and I would be taking him to the clinic. In the meantime, I got hold of his counselors, who he had finally given me permission to talk to, and we were all trying to convince him to go to the ER or at the very least, to a clinic for help. We began to have trouble getting hold of him, and the night before I was finally able to go and pick him up, I actually called the police and had them do a well-being check on him. The officer called to tell me that she had "lain eyes on him and he was fine." I'm not sure what planet SHE was on, but by no means was he fine in any respect.

When I finally got over to see him, he would not/could not answer the door. We had no way of entry as no one else was home that lived there. We began calling his phone over and over, and his counselor did the same. I was going to call 911 but we finally got him to answer, and he was able to come downstairs, but it took forever. He was so swollen he could barely get into our car. He was as yellow as a summer squash. I had been angry when this started and was going to give him a very good piece of my mind, but upon seeing him, my heart broke. I knew he was seriously ill and I chastised myself for not going sooner, no matter what the consequences for my husband. He insisted on going to the clinic, not the hospital, but he was barely able to speak. Luckily, we went to the clinic, which was closed because of COVID, and ended up where we should have been all along, at the hospital ER. I was only allowed to stay for 5 minutes and I remember the doctor asking him if he had ever been told he had end-stage liver disease. Patrick answered no. Alarm bells were going off and I was sobbing by the time I left the ER. Pat told me when I left that he would see me later when I picked him up that night, but I knew that he would not be coming home that day. Little did I realize that he would never be coming home.

How Can I Ever Forget My Son's Death?

He lived for 1 month exactly from the day that we took him to the hospital. He lived 1 day shy of 2 weeks after his 43rd birthday. We celebrated his 43rd birthday in his hospital room with family outside the window pretending that it was all okay. It was not okay. Over the ensuing weeks after he was admitted, he received blood transfusions until they felt they had maxed out on them. He received procedures to stop his internal bleeding. He went up and down in terms of coherent speech and tried his best to keep living. The transfusions would buy him a little time and he would come out of his mental state and be himself for a while, then slip back down the hill. He did not want to die, that I know for sure, but it was simply too late. The chaplain later told me that he was angry, but angry at himself.

We were in constant conversations with the doctors on the phone on a daily basis. Could they please try this or do a TIPS procedure, anything to save his life. Could they possibly get him a liver transplant? Of course not, because he was not sober for 6 months. You are not supposed to take your child to the hospital and have them die. They are supposed to get well and come home. Unfortunately, that was not his story. The doctors went up and down. I think they truly did love him as a person. One of them actually cried with us shortly before he died. She said it was such a waste. Truer words were never spoken. How could this wonderfully charming, talented, kind-hearted soul be dying and dying at his own hand? I tried to block out the words, but every time I saw him, I heard the words "the wages of sin are death" and could not get them out of my mind.

We sat with him while the GI doctor told him what was going to happen to him and watched tears roll down his cheek. He kept saying "so there is no hope? That doesn't sound right." He called me later and told me to think outside the box and save him. He was angry at me when I started to cry and said that I had and there was nothing that they could do. His ammonia and bilirubin kept climbing and he would go in and out sometimes for a day, especially if they gave him anesthetic for procedures. Every time, we thought this was the last day we would be able to talk to him. The doctors went up and down in terms of we can try this or that, but inevitably, they just felt that there was nothing else they could do as now his kidneys were failing as well. He basically had no liver and you can't live without a liver.

On the Wednesday before he died, he called and asked us to go over "nostalgia" with him as he called it. He wanted to talk about all the things we had done in our life together and all the times we loved. We did that for hours. We had to sit outside because we weren't getting a good signal on our cell for some reason. I sat outside until 10 or 11 at night, even though it had grown cold and his dad had gone back inside. We laughed and cried. He said he knew he wasn't going to make it and we made a pact of sorts (as I had with my mother) that if one of us died, we would come back and let the other one know it was okay on the other side. I am still waiting for both of them to assure me of that.

On Thursday, the hospital called saying he was demanding to be sent to rehab or hospice. There were no beds available at hospice so they were going to send him to a rehab center at his insistence because he said he was not dying. They felt he was not "actively dying" either. They claimed that they didn't want to release him but they were going to transfer him the next day per his wishes. They wanted us to come and see him though and try and calm him down. When we went to see him, he was in complete and utter agitation. He was not making sense and said some very mean and antagonist things because he thought we were there to pick him up and take him home for dinner. We tried explaining to him that he could not leave the hospital, let alone last for a car ride of an hour, etc. but finally just tried to be supportive as we realized that he was not himself. That was the last time that we were actually able to see him when he was able to talk and it is horrible to remember him that way.

Friday, they transferred him and we were told we could not visit until Saturday because of COVID restrictions. However, they called by afternoon Friday when he arrived and said that we needed to come immediately because he was unable to speak, drink or even open his eyes. We drove frantically to the rehab center. I had listened to all the doctor had told him there in his hospital room, but for some reason, I was in denial. I did not believe that he was going to die. I believed that he was going to somehow get better because he so desperately wanted to live. Hadn't the hospital just said he was not "actively dying?" Alas, I was surely fooling myself. When we arrived at the rehab center, he was sleeping and never woke up except once or twice. He opened his eyes, saw us, and then went back to sleep. He seemed somewhat uncomfortable with all the swelling, but he was not in extreme pain. He just looked like he was 20 years older. We sat with him for hours, in full COVID PPE gear sweltering in his heated room, hoping and praying that this was not how our son's life would end.

We went back the next day and this time, he was on oxygen. I assumed that was because he was having trouble breathing because of the pressure on his heart from the swelling. Again, we sat with him, trying to find music on the television to play for him, settling for football which he loved, talking to him, just being there. He never woke up. We couldn't get him to eat or drink anything. We left in tears as I was overwhelmed by the fact that he had requested to be sent to a rehab center thinking that he was going to get better and here he was in his bed, unable to do anything, let alone wake up.

I was awakened at 5:45 in the morning on Sunday by the nurse telling me that he had passed away. She was sorry that she had not called us sooner but that it had happened suddenly. I was devastated and had to break the news to his father. His girlfriend had been scheduled to come and see him later that day and we had been going to see him later that morning. The nurse mentioned something about blood everywhere, and I just thought I would drop dead on the spot because my heart was absolutely broken. How could this happen to my beautiful son? He literally had bled to death. The strange thing was that his girlfriend and Pat had communicated almost daily since their breakup. I hope that at least was some comfort to Pat.

Since his death in September, I begin to feel an oppressive weight every Wednesday through Sunday. I remember every detail and how hard each of those days were. I especially remember Thursdays. We had to go to his house and get all of his things on a Thursday early in his hospitalization and I was overwhelmed by how sick he must have been. His room was a disaster. He had pills everywhere and I have no idea how he could possibly have been taking them correctly or even if he was. He had needed help so badly and no one was there for him. Until the day that I die, I will never forgive myself for not somehow knowing what state he was in sooner. I don't know if it would have made a difference, but too late I found out all the details and could not help him. I would have gone and taken him to all of his appointments had I known that he was missing them (which I also found out later). I think he simply could not remember what he was doing by that point because of the encephalopathy. I would have made sure that his medications were managed correctly. Despite the COVID risks, I would have done anything in the world for him if only he would have lived a bit longer. He also was supposed to be going to a doctor for some sort of connective tissue disease, but he never made it. It is just another example of someone falling through the cracks in some respects, but then on the other hand, had he asked for help, it would have been gladly given. However, I feel like the blame is on us for not protecting him more, for not insisting that we put him in a bubble of sorts. The words "if only" just echo and echo. Hindsight indeed is always 20/20.

How Do You Go On After Losing Your Son?

I plod through each day. It does get a little easier, though it is never forgotten or out of my mind. I find myself waking up at night ruminating on it, how I could have done things differently, how I dropped the ball. Then I flip to anger as in why didn't he tell me? Why wasn't he honest with us? Did he commit suicide slowly? I think he did, perhaps without knowing it. I think he just had things he was trying to escape from and used alcohol to drown them out. How did that happen? When did it start? I will never know the answers, because I can't talk to him! That is the most frustrating thing of all. I want to ask him why. I want him to explain to me why he did this terrible thing and not let us help him. I sometimes talk to him and ask him the questions, but no answers come. I feel like I have gone mad most days over the unfairness of it all.

I tear myself to pieces with guilt over it. I realize that I did not cause it, I could not control it, and I could not cure it as they say. Yes, that is all true. But somehow, I could have helped or I wish I could have helped. I am afraid of what people think. Do they think oh my God, they killed him or they let him die without helping him. What a tragedy. How could a smart boy like Patrick end up dead of alcoholism at the age of 43? Can you believe it? I should not care a fig about what they think, only that he is dead. It is hard to talk about the fact that your son died of an addiction, but I realize that it happens to people in nearly every family. My grandfather, who I never met, died of alcoholism alone in his basement, drinking wine. My husband's brother died in his 50s alone, found dead in his home, of alcoholism. My brother-in-law died the same way. When I think of their families, I know in my head that they all tried to get the person to stop drowning their sorrows in alcohol, but for some reason, I can't let myself off the hook. What kind of a mother lets her son die of alcoholism? Rationally, I realize that is not truth, but my heart only registers the loss of this wonderful person from my life. He was too young to die. I do know that had we not gone that day to pick him up, he probably would have been found dead or unconscious in his room and we would never have gotten to say goodbye at all.

I think that God is punishing me. I had just written a series of chapters about child abuse that I suffered growing up and I am convinced that God took that out on me by taking Patrick from me. How dare I write about my family that way? They loved me and they made mistakes. Did the whole world need to hear about them? I'm convinced that if we never drank a drink in front of him that he would not have decided to use alcohol or drugs. If we had been religious, none of this would have happened.

I am convinced that people want me to move on and get over this. I have heard things like "it's a lifestyle choice" or "he did it to himself." Those further drive the dagger into my heart and soul. I guess while that is true, he did it for a reason and it is unfair of us to judge what his reasons were or realize the pain that he must have been in to do that. My favorite would be "maybe it's a blessing since he won't have to try and fit in anymore." That statement has sent me into fits of sobbing. I do not think some people knew him at all.

The only conclusions that I have been able to draw from this is that this is an unbelievable pain to endure. We were not supposed to have our son cremated and have his urn sitting here reminding us every day of our loss. We were going to scatter his ashes but cannot bring ourselves to let go of him. Perhaps it is too early but we want him here, safe with us because he was not safe before by himself. We should have known that, but that is now beside the point.

Pat's Wind Chime

Pat's Wind Chime

Trying To Cope With His Death

As the time has passed, at least I can do my job and do most of the things I am supposed to do, though with less enthusiasm than before. Sometimes I just do not see the point anymore and opt out. I check every so often on how many weeks it has been since he died. Today it is 19 weeks and 2 days. Nothing makes sense to me. I am not a believer in heaven so it is hard for me to believe that I will see him again someday. I would like to believe he went somewhere and is in no pain. I would like to believe that he is somewhere and is whole - he can see and do all the things he so badly wanted to do that he couldn't do the way he wanted to.

I know I should be grateful for the time that I had him in my life as when it all started, I was never sure if he would be able to live a normal life or not. He could not even get life insurance when he was a child because he was at a high risk of dying. That was comforting. Even though it was the most challenging thing I have ever faced in raising him, it was a pleasure and a priceless gift. I do hope he knew that. I think he did but when you go to that place of self-doubt and despair, it is hard to know what is reality and what is not. His counselors all told us that he spoke of us with the highest regard and when they asked him why he drank (was it because of his horrible childhood?) he laughed and said "oh my God, no. I had the best childhood and parents in the world." I know though that there were other parts that were not so good though and I feel now that he must have suffered terrible losses having to deal with all that he did.

I will forever miss his sweetness, his kindness, his wit and humor. I will miss playing games with him and miss his interactions with his nephew, who thought the world of him. I will miss all the things that he did for his dad and all the times he cared about us, truly cared. I will miss him sitting at my table and laughing and talking, cooking with me in the kitchen, playing the piano so beautifully, playing the music he wrote for us. I will miss him loving my dogs and them loving him right back because they adored him (malamutes are picky about who they trust). He had a way about him that made people smile and that hopefully will always come to mind when we think of him.

I found a remarkable pencil sketch that he drew or traced of a tree when he was in grade school. I call it the Tree of Life. It was amazing and intricate in detail beyond belief considering his vision. I also found a water color of his in the things that I was saving for him when he someday settled down and had his own place. I made a canvas of both of those and have printed greeting cards with his tree in multiple colors. I look at his pictures every day and remember what a wonderful son he was. We were kindly given a beautiful wind chime with his name on it by my husband's family. I have one of my mother's as well. They both "speak" to me at times when I need it most, maybe a little reassurance that they are somewhere and are safe and sound. Maybe that is the sign that they are okay somewhere. I tend to discount that but I will take what I can get at this point.

I hope the pain and the awful way he died will eventually fade, though I suspect it will always linger. I will miss him until the day I die. I had thought losing my favorite dog a few years back was the undoing of me because he died so young but in retrospect, I guess it was preparing me for losing my mom and stepfather, and now losing Patrick. Nothing comes close to the pain that this has caused, the regret, the woulda/coulda/shoulda that I go through every day. My goal is to forgive myself and to also forgive Pat. I think he was truly not capable of realizing what he had done or when he did realize it, it was far too late. I have to forgive that because as much as it is a lifestyle choice, I do believe it is a disease or at least a mental coping mechanism for some. I think in his case, he couldn't deal with how his life had gone or was going and for some reason, didn't know how to ask for help.

He told me before he died that we needed to have the "big conservations" but we never did. I assume that was about his death and what he wanted. He wanted to write everyone (friends and family) personal letters telling them what they meant to him. He never finished those. Remarkably, his cornea was viable enough to be donated and I received a certificate that Patrick had given the gift of sight in his passing. I could hear him laughing and saying something like "now isn't that just ironic, Mom?" Maybe his organ donations can help unlock some of the mysteries of this horrible disease or other medical illnesses, mental and physical. He would have wanted that because he cared about everyone, usually more than himself.

As that saying goes, you never know what you've got 'til it's gone. I did know long before but it just makes it so much more painful not being able to see him or speak to him. Friends and family try and make you feel better. Cards, flowers, calls, social media "likes and hearts." I have found though that most people just say they're sorry and hope that you will go on and they certainly do. You'll resurface as if nothing happened and be who you were before. Unfortunately, I've found that to be impossible. I have lost interest in a great many things and truthfully, in a great many people, especially those who could not bother to say a word and just "like" or put a heart on something as tragic as me losing my son via social media. I think people forget that you are now in a club you didn't want to join, the "I Lost My Child Club" and the membership price is exorbitant.

My best friend got me through this. She also got my husband through it too. She adored Patrick and has been there for us since his ordeal began until the present, though long before. She knows because she had to join another club a year before, the "I Lost My Dearly Loved Husband" club. She totally gets it. She didn't have to do anything except just listen when I called to cry on the phone after I spoke with the doctors or Pat, or come over with a pot of spaghetti (and countless other meals) and sit with us, talk about our son after he passed away. She checks on me all the time and I do the same for her. That's true friendship. I could not have lived through it without my best friend, nor could Bob.

My husband and I were there for it through thick and thin. We didn't argue, we only cried...again and again. We still cry about him at least once a week, sometimes multiple times. We talk about him all the time. Our hearts are heavy with the burden of his loss.

Maybe someday, when there is no more COVID and we have had more time to heal, we will have a memorial. I simply couldn't after he died, mostly because of COVID concerns, but also because I don't think I could stand in a group of people and talk about him without collapsing. He meant the world to me and it is the hardest thing I have ever had to face. I get better at talking about him without crying, which is a big step, but until I can rid myself of the guilt and remorse/regret, I don't think I'd be doing anyone any favors trying to remember him the way I should.

We have heard so much about the "new normal" since COVID began and I suppose on some levels this is the "new normal" for me, daily sorrow and memories of my son who is no longer with us. I keep plodding on, trying to make some sense of it and hoping I can just learn to cope with it. I realize that healing is a process and it takes time. In the meantime, we try and keep him alive in our thoughts with good memories as well as dealing with the reality of the last days of his life and the loss we have suffered.

I listen to Andrea Bocelli and his son's song Fall On Me and take to heart the words. They break my heart but they are exquisitely expressive about a parent and the deep love for a child. They make me think of our Patrick every time.

Fall on me
With open arms
Fall on me
From where you are
Fall on me
With all your light
With all your light

I close my eyes
And I'm seeing you everywhere
I step outside
It's like I'm breathing you in the air
I can feel you're there

Rest in peace, my precious son. You will be forever missed but always in our hearts and souls. We will carry you there until we both pass from this earth.

I'm also starting to read the book Saved By The Light, a story about a man who died twice and the experiences he had in an effort to think of Patrick's death with hope rather than heartache.

Fall On Me (Andrea and Matteo Bocelli)

© 2022 Audrey Kirchner

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