So who killed my son – was it you or me?
Well, we both had something to do with the death of my oldest child, my son Josh, on December 6, 2019.
How you ask?
Because like me, either now or at some point in your life, I bet you passed judgment on someone – or everyone – who used drugs.
And that shame you helped perpetuate? It kills. It prevents the addicted from raising their hand to get help.
Josh, whose life to us was flawed but still so beautiful, died alone in his apartment from an accidental overdose. Remnants of his deadly concoction, booklets about overcoming addiction, phone numbers of sponsors, and an unfinished lunch sat on the coffee table next to the couch where a needle satisfied an uncontrollable craving one final time.
The loss my wife and I and our four remaining children feel cannot be measured by words – it is a loss that weighs on us with every breath we take. Despite the dark times we experienced as a family, he loved and was loved deeply.
You say you didn’t have a hand in Josh’s death; it must be parenting or an underlying mental illness, his environment, or maybe he was just a troublemaker. Bottom line, how could any parent let this happen?
I know many of you reading this are thinking this – because I thought it too. I looked down my nose at addicts, especially at the parents whose kids were experimenting with drugs, kids we would hear about through the rumor mill in our small community.
And I was part of the problem.
When it happened to me, I didn’t know what to do. I was embarrassed, worried about my son and what others in our circle would think. My wife and I thought we knew how to handle our son’s addiction when it appeared halfway through high school – we sent him away to rehab, certain he’d return “fixed,” and kept everything quiet. Four more times we did this, slowly opening up to some trusted relations as time and time again rehab failed, but for the most part keeping the turmoil to ourselves.
Doing so breeds failure. But even though as his parents my wife and I became more comfortable admitting to his situation, Josh remained embarrassed and uncomfortable with the truth that addiction would always be a part of his life.
And then, finally, a period of almost four years of calm. Something changed and Josh was in recovery, holding down various jobs, enjoying a relationship with a special young woman, living on his own and rebuilding relationships with his family which had been frayed by fear and anxiety during the turbulence of his addiction. It was good to have our beautiful boy back.
For reasons we shall never know, Josh relapsed with a vengeance during what seemed to be a promising period of his life. But even in this period of renewal for Josh, he was not ready to speak openly about his disease.
When we acknowledged his addiction in his obituary, my wife and I suddenly became a member of a club no parent wants to join – parents who lost a child to an overdose.
Josh’s story, devastating as it is to us, is not uncommon – in fact, it is far too common and that’s why my wife and I almost immediately set out to do something, anything, to try preventing another young life from ending this way.
We started a nonprofit to break down the barriers of judgment and shame that prevent so many from getting the help they need and deserve. Many others, thankfully, have started similar groups all with the same goal.
There is amazing work going on all over the nation.
Gary Mendell started Shatterproof (www.shatterproof.org) after his son’s untimely death and battle with addiction. Shatterproof is advocating for real change nationally and in the process developing and implementing programs making it easier to access the most effective services and programs to battle the disease of addiction.
Locally, in our New Jersey community, Morris County Sheriff James Gannon has created an incredible, innovative life-saving program, Hope One (https://sheriff.morriscountynj.gov/community/hope-one/), which in a beautiful purple van – the color of overdose awareness - visits all communities in the county on a regular basis with a passionate team dedicated to providing free NARCAN training and navigation services to help anyone and everyone find the help they deserve.
And in our backyard, two incredible moms, Debi Natale and Helen Davis-Carey, who have lived a similar story as ours, started Parent to Parent Addiction Services in Washington, NJ (https://www.parent2parentaddictionservices.com/) to help families cope, navigate and save their children.
Love, compassion, and kindness are alive and well in these organizations and many more.
All of us involved in this work now know one thing: addiction is a disease, and just like we show love and compassion for the cancer patient, we must do the same for the addiction patient. Hope is what both patients need to get through the hard days, to be accountable for their medical care and ultimately to beat their diseases.
August 31 is International Overdose Awareness Day and September is National Recovery Month. How I wish this piece had a better ending for my son. The truth is it can end better for your child if we all put our preconceived notions of drug abuse and addiction aside. Your child has the chance to survive if only we can stop killing them with our narrow minds.
Mark Broadhurst and his wife Maria live in Long Valley, NJ and are the founders of Joshua’s Peace, www.joshuaspeace.org, dedicated to honoring the compassionate heart of their son Josh by helping others struggling with the disease of addiction.