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I’m in Recovery From Losing my Son

If Jake were still alive, I would tell you ….
He is the sweetest child. He is humble and kind.

If Jake were still alive, I would tell you …
He loves animals and people.  He walks into a room and lights it up.

If Jake were still alive, I would tell you …
He sticks up for people who can’t stick up for themselves.

If Jake were still alive, I would tell you …
He wouldn’t do that. Not my child. 

But it was my child. My child died from a heroin overdose in 2013.

—–

Jake was 15 years old when he was injured riding his bike. His injury was so severe, he had to be homeschooled for a while following surgery. Of course, he got pain medicine.

Ginger Rosela is a Family Peer Support Specialist for Maryland Coalition of Families. She advocates and fights for individuals and families suffering from substance use disorders.

And I gave it to him as prescribed.

I gave him the prescribed medication.

And I believed him when we went back to the doctor, and he said everything was fine, that he was feeling good.

I didn’t realize he was buying pain pills out on the street.

When I found out, I did what any parent would do: I sent him to treatment. And he did well. He recovered.

Until another injury. Until another dose of pain pills the doctor promised would be fine.

It’s an expensive habit, one my young son couldn’t afford. A friend suggested switching to heroin. And why not? It’s cheaper, it’s stronger, it’s easily accessible. So that’s what he did.

I got wind of it, and asked him point-blank: Are you using heroin? And he denied it. I believed him at first. I thought, he’s doing so well. I just don’t see it.

Slowly but surely, I noticed the weight dropping off him, the bruises on his arms. I asked him again: Are you using? We will get you into treatment. I promise you can get better.

He denied it again.

He denied it even after a urine test tested positive.

I finally had my answer.

Now what?

He held my hands in his and looked me in the eyes.

Mom. I’ve got this. I’ve only done it a couple of times.

Now what?

My mom-brain thought, He beat pills. He can beat this, too.

Now what?

I didn’t want to believe it. So I believed him instead.

On July 19, 2013, my phone rang at 6 a.m.

“I just found him dead in the bathroom,” Jake’s father said.

He was gone. Jake was dead.

I was six hours away, and all I wanted to do was get home. I spent my frantic drive home letting friends and family know what happened: Jake died from a heroin overdose.

I asked my mom to go over and be with my family. When she arrived at my house, there were friends, family, neighbors, police – everyone, except for me.

Please, don’t let them take him until I can say goodbye, I begged her.

They have to, she said. The funeral home is here, and they have to take him.

Let me say goodbye, I begged.

My mom asked the funeral home to unzip my son’s body bag down to his chest, exposing him to everyone there. Then, she held up her phone to his ear as I said goodbye.

I’m so sorry. I wish I understood this better, and I’m so sorry I let you down. I will do whatever I can to make sure no one else has to go through this.

Since then, my life has been divided into two parts: Before and After.

Before: A happy, full family. One with normal problems and general life headaches. But at the end of the day, we had each other.

After: A broken family. One full of heartbreak and longing and missing. But also, a mission.

My new mission is to save as many families as I can from this hell.

I haven’t put up a Christmas tree since he died. I haven’t decorated for Halloween – his favorite holiday. There are still times I can’t get out of bed. No matter how much I try to trick myself – He’s on vacation, he’s staying at a friend’s house, he’s away for work – I know he isn’t coming back. But it doesn’t feel like six years; it feels like six minutes.

I will never be over this. I will never be the same. But I give myself no deadline for my grief. Grief knows no rules or timelines. I feel what I need to feel for the day and focus on getting through the next few moments without him. Without my Jake.

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