I remember calling my cousin on the way to the hospital. To this day I feel so bad that I put that responsibility on her. Avery died. Please tell the others... Can you imagine receiving such a phone call?
My aunt called her children. Except she couldn't get a hold of Little Luke. I used to call him Ducky when he was little. The most perfect child I had ever laid eyes on.
Luke was sweet. Gentle. Loving. He had the best giggle in the world. And I adored the way he said my name in his precious voice, unable to pronounce the "r"... Bwidget.
In the months before she died, Avery started insisting that we write Luke a letter to tell him we were praying for him. I never did that. I didn't know then what I know with every fiber of my being now -- that, whether or not people tell you, they need to hear that you actually do love them. That you actually do care. That you actually do pray for them by name.
You see, somewhere between the towheaded innocence of a toddler and the man he is now, my cousin became addicted to heroin. His face a stranger to me. Eyes bloodshot and unable to focus. Hair stringy and unwashed. A shadow of the man God had intended him to be.
I see him sometimes, at the local cafe downtown or pulling into the gas station. And when I do I always go straight up to him and give him a hug. Sometimes he's alone. Sometimes I walk through the shifty, paranoid eyes of the people he is with. I can imagine what people are thinking as they watch me approach. But I don't care. I know what he looks like on the outside... but I also know his beating heart on the inside.
And that beating heart was one created in love but led astray by hurt, confusion, loneliness and fear into the deceivingly comfortable and accepting arms of addiction.
Avery was dead. An 11-year old who had pushed and pushed trying to get me to reach out to Luke to tell him we were praying. "Mom," she'd say out of the blue with an urgency I didn't understand, "Little Luke needs to know that we pray for him!" She wanted to do good and I made excuses.
While my aunt was trying to reach him - calling, leaving messages, even driving to the flop house he'd been known to stay - Little Luke was driving, driving, driving to nowhere.
And then he pulled over and prayed.
In the days that followed, my cousin endured withdrawals with such extreme nausea, body aches and sweats that most people would have succumbed to them.
While I was laying my daughter to rest, God was pouring new life into my beautiful cousin.
I wish I could say that was the miracle we were all waiting for. I guess it was, for a little while. But not long enough. Heroin is the devil himself dripping from the end of a needle, bullying his way through veins once teaming with joy and laughter with only one goal in mind: complete and utter darkness.
Little Luke relapsed. Then went back to rehab. Then relapsed again.
Fighting back tears my aunt spoke, "sometimes it feels like my child is already dead.... I'm just waiting to be told when I can bury him."
And something snapped inside me.
My aunt has been grieving, grieving hard for her child who comes and goes in fleeting shadows - alone. Alone.
How fair is it that I have a far reaching community of friends and strangers willing to hold me up when my sorrow becomes too much? But who makes themselves seen to hold up the broken hearted mama of the dirty, drug addicted man-child who ought to know better and make the decision to just "be" sober?
There are no casseroles to store in the freezer for that night when the fear and anxiety become too much and there is no energy left for peeling potatoes when the mother of an addict spent all night on her knees begging God one more time to protect her son and deliver him from the grips of his addiction.
There are no cards with words of hope scribbled in love to the mama whose heart has been shattered for so long she can no longer tell you where the splinters fell.
This is a mama, a good mama, who held her newborn baby and was filled with the same ferocious love you had when you held yours - and a fierce strength to protect and love him forever.
This is a mama, a good mama, who looked into her baby's eyes and saw hopes and dreams for him that would rival the ones you had for your own child.
No, this is not a bad mama. This is not a neglectful mama but rather a compassionate woman of love and strength who believes in an Almighty God and angels who walk among us on earth. This is a mama with a big heart and an even bigger love --- and yet neither of those were big enough to stop her son from sliding down the slippery slope that has plunged them both into an unrecognizable place in this world.
What mom dreams of being the mother of an addict?
What child skips around the house and says when he grows up he wants to shoot up heroin?
Neither are where they pictured themselves to be.
And the scary, hard to hear truth is there isn't a fierce mama love strong enough to stop any one of the plethora of diseases, addictions or death that can dig their claws into our sweet, sweet babies.
But you know her.
You know that mama you avoid eye contact with because her kid is the one who smokes or drinks or cuts or swears and thank god you don't have to deal with that. (Guess what? She never thought she would have to deal with that either.)
You know that mama you try not to talk to because her world is so different from yours - what are you going to say to her anyway? So, I hear your son was arrested last week for drunk driving... You don't want that stuff seeping into your life. (Guess what? Maybe she didn't either.)
You know that mama that you ask about some of her kids - the good ones - but not the bad one. It's easier to just pretend that one doesn't exist. (Guess what? She can't pretend.)
I invite you to stop for two minutes. That's all. Just two minutes. And imagine yourself with one of those kinds of kids. The depressed one who was hospitalized again. The addicted one who was fired again. The angry one who was arrested again.
And tell me, would you want to deal with this heavy, hard stuff while feeling all alone?
We're Mamas and we need to help each other stand!
Grab a card and send words of hope in it.
Thinking of your heart today.
Praying for strength and peace.
Not a day goes by when I don't think of you.
Know that you are always in my prayers.
That mama who is setting serious boundaries - unwilling to enable their child's addiction by forbidding them into their home, refusing to allow them to participate in Christmas or Easter gatherings, standing firm by not shelling out a single penny to keep them off the street - that mama is tired. Tired to the inside of her bones.
That mama who flinches every time the phone rings, vacillating between ignoring what could potentially be another venom fueled rant or answering what might end up being the final declaration of her child's life - that mama is tired. Tired in a way that makes her feel 80-years old and unable to see the goodness of a simple sunset anymore.
That mama who worries about meeting new people because inevitably they will ask how many children do you have? and for some reason that simple question pulls her emotions in a way that makes her want to vomit - that mama is tired. Tired to be living this hard mama life she didn't sign up for. Tired of not fitting in with the other mamas. Tired of belonging to a club she never wanted to be a member of.
That mama who sits sometimes at the stoplight wondering if anyone would even show up to her child's funeral, besides, how do you eulogize someone who spent their entire adult life addicted to drugs, finding ways to lie, cheat and steal for more - but yet visions of that beautiful baby and that precocious toddler tells her the truth - that goodness was there and as long as her child breathes on this earth that goodness is still here; it's just being held hostage right now - that mama is tired. So very, very tired. And she doesn't know where to start.
We can change that.
A simple smile. A card. A dinner.
Say to her I am really good at listening.
Say to her I don't understand what you're going through, but know that I am here.
Say to her I see you. You are not invisible to me.
Because, I don't know about you, but sometimes I feel like raising kids is kind of a crap shoot. There's no tried and true formula that ensures a child will never get wrecked in such a way that depression or addiction can't worm its ugly way in. And, while I know we're all doing whatever is in our power to protect our kids, there are just some things beyond our control. And we could all use whatever support we can get.
It's time to stop judging. Stop pretending not to see. Stop fearing that if you show compassion to the addict's mama you somehow ushered addiction into your own children's lives.
It's time to stop making excuses and start showing compassion.
And after you have suffered a little while,
the God of all grace,
who has called you to his eternal glory in Christ,
will himself restore,
and establish you.
1 Peter 5:10