Our journey began almost six years ago, when we discovered that our younger son David was using drugs and alcohol at a level far surpassing what we had initially excused as “adolescent experimenting.” David was a loving, charming, and thoroughly convincing young man and we believed him when he promised he would stop. For a time we thought we could handle the problem with home drug testing and closer monitoring of his activities. But we were wrong. At the urging of David’s older brother Josh, we finally brought David to Fairbanks, a treatment center in Indianapolis, and enrolled him in their adolescent Intensive Outpatient Program.
Although initially reluctant, it didn’t take long for David to begin embracing the concepts he was learning and Marissa and I began to learn about the disease of addiction. Like many parents we were scared and anxious, then gradually cautiously hopeful that David was taking this seriously and wanted to make changes in his life. After months of counseling support and attendance at 12 step recovery meetings for David and participation in family counseling and education for us, we finally felt that it was safe to let David have a little more freedom.
So on a warm sunny Saturday in early June, 2001 David got up, mowed the lawn without our having to remind him, and asked if he could go swimming with friends. We agreed, and we made plans to meet later that afternoon to go to a movie together. Marissa was sitting out on the deck enjoying the lovely weather when Josh came out holding the portable phone and saying something was wrong. It was the mother of one of David’s friends. She said David had been swimming in their pool, had inhaled the propellant in a can of computer duster, dove under water, and didn’t come up. The paramedics were there administering CPR but they had yet not been able to revive him. I was out of town visiting my father, so Josh and Marissa jumped in the car and rushed to the house only to be greeted by a nightmare scene…David being rolled down the driveway on a gurney, a paramedic on top of him administering CPR and another walking beside him bagging him. The first thing she noticed was that David’s feet were blue.
David was rushed to the Hospital, but after 30 minutes of continued efforts and the doctors’ assurance that all that could be had been done, Marissa and Josh stood next to David’s lifeless body, holding hands, tears streaming down their faces, and asked the team to stop..
David’s death changed our lives forever. We found ourselves members of a club that no parent ever wants to join. Instead of marking the milestones of our lives in terms of our wedding day and the birth of our sons we now divided our life together into the days before David’s death and the days since. But David’s death also placed our feet on a path that has enriched our lives and brought hope and joy to us in ways that we could never have envisioned in those first dark days when grief cloaked us in a veil of tears.
When we brought David to Fairbanks for treatment, we received treatment as well in the form of parent education and support. We learned of the power of the disease of addiction and we also learned that a consequence of our son’s continued substance abuse could be… that he would die. The knowledge and the tools we gained at Fairbanks have helped us deal with David’s death and understand that even when you do all the right things bad things can still happen.
In the years since David’s death we have continued to educate ourselves about the perils of inhalants and addiction and help others understand the cunning, powerful and baffling nature of this disease. It is a story of tragedy but also of triumph, of loss and of recovery... of grief and of hope.
Two weeks before David died, we had a suspicion that he was using inhalants to get high. When Marissa confronted him about it, he denied it vehemently, declared that he knew how dangerous it was, and vowed that he would never do something so stupid. Exasperated, she asked “David, where are you going with all this, what are you doing with your life!” With all the earnestness of his 16 years, he replied “I WANT to do something with my life Mom. I WANT to make a difference.” We have come to believe that in death David has given us the gifts of hope and recovery that have enabled us to help him make that difference for him.