Nothing in the world can prepare you for the day that your child packs a duffle bag and wants your undivided attention to make an extremely unexpected announcement….
“Mom, Dad, you gotta help me.”
“Of course, Alex. What do you need help with?”
“You gotta take me for treatment. We have to go now,” he implored.
“OK, but treatment for what?”
It was then that our son thrust a handful of syringes from his outstretched palm and said, “Heroin, but we gotta go now,” as though, if we didn’t, he would, without hesitation, change his mind.
In unison, my wife and I took one look at each other, with our jaws dropped in total shock. From this moment forward, our family’s lives took a turn down a five-year-long sinuous pathway filled with…
fear…hope…anxiety…hope…anger…hope…despair…hope…shock…hope… horror…hope…sadness…hope…grief…and more hope.
Yet, behind all those turbulent feelings and tragic moments, there was also, without any question…. our unconditional, and undeniable LOVE.
Alex’s addiction grabbed him with all its might when he was 19 years old. For the most part, he “fought the fight” incredibly admirably… through six residential rehabs. He hated his addiction. He hated the grip it had over his life and he hated that it was winning.
To have watched our son literally fight for his life against this unrelenting disease is one of our most tragic family chapters, but because of it, we developed an utmost admiration of his courage and recognized the true testament to the closeness and connectedness of our family and our unconditional love for each other.
I am not saying there were not plenty of moments that an outside observer might have clearly viewed as unloving. There were. There were times of total chaos, disbelief, despair, even destruction. It was all-consuming and exhausting.
Our love for Alex was undeniable. He was compassionate to his core. He possessed an infectious likability. How could you not love someone who loved “old people,” who would stand up against bullies, and who would be a good friend like no other? He was intelligent, warm, funny, polite, and kind. He oozed a deep and admiring genuineness. He was quite simply so endearing that you could never not love him.
On this Father’s Day, I will love him as I have always loved him. Addiction took his life, but I will always remember his loving spirit.
There is always love and love it will always be.
I am going to end with a very brief poem, one that I wrote to end his eulogy in 2016.
Shaken still, we bend the night
Forging forward, a gentle sight
Rainbow skies and white ash say
Rejoice in me, I am okay
To our dear sweet Alex, thank you for the gift of being your father. May your beautiful soul find something you could not find here - a place filled with endless harmony and inner peace.
I love you.
Rick Hoehn is a landscape architect by profession. He attended the University of Wisconsin-Madison and settled in Baltimore in 1986 with his wife Lisa Bertucci, where they raised their two loves, Toni and Alex.
LITT offers support groups for parents of a child who suffers from a substance use disorder and parents who have lost a child to the disease of addiction.