☼ Sometimes A Mom Grieves The Loss Of A Son Who’s Still Alive

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I only see Joey once a year for a couple of hours. If I’m lucky. On one of my annual trips to Florida he had just been nearly choked to death in a drug deal gone bad and was on the run, so I missed seeing him that year. But this year Joey and I had lunch together out on the terrace of a restaurant in Palm Beach. Gesturing to the nearby shaded park, the fountain with kids scampering around trying to sit on the randomly erupting shoots of water, and the surrounding open-air restaurants, Joey said,  “A lot of homeless people live here. See? A place to sleep, shower, and eat. When the diners leave, the guys just grab the leftovers before the tables are cleared.”

I didn’t ask if he knew this from experience; I know Joey has been homeless many times. I’m haunted by the images I carry in my mind of his unshaven cheek pressed into the sandy beach or littered curb, sprawled out there but not there. Passed out. Alone. Sometimes I can’t take my next breath.  But over the years of enabling I learned where I begin and Joey ends. And so I don’t ask questions that aren’t my business, with answers I can do nothing about.

Joey ordered a Reuben, I ordered a roast beef sandwich with sweet potato fries. We talked about the most recent job he was fired from, his most recent arrest, my going’s-on, and the weather. I no longer give motherly advice or lectures. This is how our mother-son-addict relationship has evolved.

Thin but not emaciated, clean but tired looking, Joey was wearing jeans and a green shirt that made his blue eyes look greenish. I wondered if he was wearing colored contacts. (Such a silly question in retrospect, as though colored contacts would be something he’d even think about given his fringe lifestyle; I still have trouble processing the reality of his existence.) Joey has eyes like mine, ones that can’t see blades of grass, just a blurry mass of blurry green, from 2 feet away without glasses. But he wasn’t wearing contacts.  “Too expensive,” he said, as he lit a cigarette.

We sipped on our sodas, chatting for a while longer after we cleaned our plates, but I know from experience it’s best to keep our rare visits brief. I know that ‘brief’ hurts less than ‘one sentence too long.’  So I savor the moments, the smile, the hug, and tuck the memories into a safe place. Joey knows I love him. He knows I want the addict to give him back.

I will grieve for the loss of my son until the next time I see him. If there is a next time.

The Joey Song: A Mother’s Story of Her Son’s Addiction  is available in bookstores and libraries.

27 thoughts on “☼ Sometimes A Mom Grieves The Loss Of A Son Who’s Still Alive

  1. christina wildey (vaughn)

    I appreciate your candid realness in sharing your thoughts as the mom of an addict and how even though our children are adults that protective want to fix it nature kicks in. It’s something I couldn’t imagine going through until I got there and realized I had to get through it for myself and my other children. I grieve the loss of two sons to addiction to heroin. I love(d) my sons, I hate HERoin. My oldest was in recovery and didn’t share the same dangerous reckless abandon of his younger brother of two years,. He wanted/tried to get his brother into recovery and had plans for the future. The last thing I expected when I woke up 8/30/13 was to find him dead with a needle in his arm locked behind the bathroom door. I grieve for the loss of my first born son but I know where he was and where he is. Since then his brother has recovered, relapsed and currently “out there” somewhere running away. I grieve that my son is lost but I have hope that he will find his way. I am OK today because of support found in parent groups and encouragement from stories like yours that are the same only different. Thank you!

    Reply
  2. Kim Palmer

    Thank you Sandy for this posting. Although it broke my heart, I understand it (as well as live it). My son is “out there” somewhere in our large metropolitan city. His birthday is in 5 days of this post.. I grieve the loss of my boy everyday that he chooses to use, but especially since it is so close to his birthday. I too hope to be able to hug him someday.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Oh, Kim, I’m so sorry. I hope you will be able to hug your boy again someday, too. Sending hugs.

      Reply
  3. Kimberly Barone

    This really is a heart breaking post. I grieve for my younger sister, an addict for most of her life. I miss the days of the two of us as little girls, giggling as we played. Laughing at the same things as we got a bit older. She had a beautiful face. Green eyes that I was jealous of. Last time I saw her there was nothing behind those eyes; maybe sadness. We sat and talked a little about her going back into treatment. It was not to be. I know that it must be her choice. There is not a day that goes by that I don’t miss the person she was. I want the addict to give me back my sister, for whom I grieve, with her out there somewhere.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Hi Kimberly, I’m so sorry addiction has stolen away your sister. It is heartbreaking. I know how you grieve. Hang onto those special memories, and hang onto hope. As long as she is alive, there is hope. Hugs to you.

      Reply
    2. Merci

      I feel so sad after reading about your son. I am the mother of 2 young sons whom are addicts. Every day I watch them disappear more and more, the reality of addiction and the powerlessness that I feel is overwhelming. I feel myself withdrawing more and more from them. I cannot help them, I cannot direct them…. I have to find that space within that will keep me centred before I loose myself.
      I am grieving for the loss of my boys to addiction and the loss of my family as the effect it has on all of us is painful.
      A Family divided, all experiencing their own effects as the boys are still living at home.

      Reply
  4. Duana Dotinga

    Sandy,

    Once again, you get to the heart of the matter. The love we still have for our addicted children and the knowledge that they are still somewhere inside. How we take in every aspect of their appearance, but are unable to reach the real them. How we grieve for our child who is standing right in front of us, but in fact they are not. there at all.
    For myself, I often see addiction like a hardened egg shell, if only we can only crack that shell and let all the beautiful richness pour out of our child once again.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Duana, so sad. “How we grieve for our child who is standing right in front of us, but in fact they are not there at all.” Even sadder going through this in a world that doesn’t understand. I hope that by talking we can get this world of ours to understand. Hugs.

      Reply
  5. Alex

    I once was much like Joey. The pain in the eyes of my mother was too hard to look into as I’m sure the pain in mine also cut deep. Two people bonded by love and family, staring awkwardly into eachother’s pain ridden eyes. Thankfully, the addiction released its grip. I slowly have been able to witness the pain behind her eyes turn into hope while each sober day returns more of my identity from the prison it held me in for so many years of unwilling incarceration. Pray for the addict who still suffers and never turn your back on them. I owe my sobriety and newfound relationship with my mother to all those who never turned me away when the pleas for help were genuine, no matter how brief. The son that was stolen from my mother has returned and that is the greatest gift I could ever give her.

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Alex, thank so much for writing. Congratulations on the success and hard work of your recovery. You mom must be the happiest in the world. I pray that someday I will receive the same gift. Hugs!

      Reply
  6. Jonathan Barlow

    Oh My! What an image of life with addiction. Thank you for having the courage to write this. More importantly thank you for not giving up on your son. As a father of two children my heart is right there with you. As a professional I sometimes “yell” at my field — the addiction treatment industry — saying “what can’t you figure out a better way???”

    I guess I have two sides and life requires us to live with both. Acceptance of the reality of life and Passion to finding a better way…..

    http://www.recoverymaps.com

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Jonathan, thank you. It’s a tough, tough road, being the parent of an addict. I love my son, and so I will fight addiction the best way I can now. With our story. With my words.

      Reply
  7. Kimberly Garnett

    “… I learned where I begin and Joey ends. And so I don’t ask questions that aren’t my business, with answers I can do nothing about.” How profound but yet a wise truth to live by. It’s good to see him in your dreams as God intended him to be for one day that dream will be reality if not here, than in heaven.

    Reply
      1. roberta

        thank you for all you postings.. i just found this site and have been reading them like i was starving
        my son is and addict. for over 15 years… he was clean for this past year and has relapsed.. and i said no more…you have to do this on your own.. i finally realized mommy cant fix it.. mommy was enabling..thank you again.. im still reading everything!

        Reply
  8. Therina Swart

    How unbelievably sad. My hearts feels like breaking. My son is a heroin-addict. He is 15 months clean and I praise God for that, but I still feel your deep pain and sadness. This is all so terribly wrong!! This disease from the devil, taking our children and loved ones! I will keep you in my prayers!!

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      It is a horrible disease. Thank you for your kind words and prayers. I’m glad your son is in recovery. Hugs.

      Reply
  9. Darlene Dostie

    Thank You for acknowledging that….. sometimes we feel like because we havent physically lost our son yet we are less nurtured, so to speak, by those who have, we feel less deserving of understanding but, from this point of view, it feels the same, except if feels like reliving their death everyday instead of once

    Reply
    1. Sandy Swenson Post author

      Yes, it does feel like we are reliving their death every day, over and over. Sending warm hugs.

      Reply
  10. Cindy-Yahn Lewis

    How perfect in it’s imperfectness. I understand all the love & connectedness between the broken. Your love & devotion has not changed, it’s just gotten smarter with healthier boundaries for both of you…the chance of your “son’s” return are greater because of this~

    Reply

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