A photo of a lamp with the lyrics to "Ripple" by Grateful dead on it
Michael M drawings
“People need to hear these stories, as uncomfortable as they are. It’s a step in the right direction to have public conversations that make us all more aware.”
Suzanne’s is one of those uncomfortable stories.
“My experience is best told on my son’s behalf. He’s no longer here to tell his story. I myself have been consistently sober for 36 years, however, the majority of alcoholics, including my son, are not as fortunate. Michael was born in 1976, but it wasn’t until he was in his 30’s that I was made aware of his bipolar diagnosis. Up to that point, Michael had been in constant pursuit of something to make him feel balanced and normal. Anything to take away the constant pain. I didn’t consider bipolar a factor at that time, although I was aware that addiction and mental illness often appear hand in hand”
When Michael entered his teens, Suzanne realized the extent of her son’s pain. Because of her years of recovery and her family history of alcoholism, Suzanne knew what was evolving. During this period, Michael went from being an Honor Roll student to not being able to graduate.
“The happy, carefree essence of my little boy no longer existed. Instead, a young man emerged, hell bent on self-destruction. His number one goal in life was to find the next party, the next drink, the escape from this place he was stuck in.”
It was the Friday before Mother’s Day weekend and I was getting ready to leave work. My cell phone rang, and I glanced at a number I didn’t recognize, but my instinct was to pick up.
“Hi,” said a quiet, familiar voice and my heart did a little pirouette.
“Nathan! “I shouted into the phone. “Is that you?”
The response on the other end was a delighted giggle.
“Yup,” he said, “they let me out!”
Nathan, our youngest son, had been struggling with addiction. Each recovery was eventually followed by a relapse, and the last one had been particularly excruciating. While he was still on medication assisted therapy, he had been using methamphetamines and had recently undergone emergency surgery for an infection in his heart. We filed a section 35 in a desperate attempt to save his life. The angry, sullen, agitated person we had been so worried about when we sectioned him seemed to be replaced by this jubilant and sober one. I was relieved.
“So, what’s the plan?” I asked.
“I want to come home,” was his immediate response.
Hello darkness my old friend…..
As with much of the world, I have been exiled to working remotely at home during the COVID pandemic. I do, however, occasionally have the opportunity to venture back into the office from time to time. On this particular day, as with so many countless commutes before, I started my truck, took a sip of coffee, tuned the radio to a classic vinyl station, and backed down the driveway. It wasn’t long before I settled into autopilot mode. The music soon drifted off into the background, and I was once again alone with my thoughts.
My mental wanderings led me to think about Cory, my 30-year-old son who died from an opioid overdose three years ago during a momentary relapse. I started to conjure sweet memories of him growing up and experiences we had together; the laughter, the pranks, the banter, the proud moments, those times of joy that we so often take for granted. As the train of thought went from memories to wondering what his life would be like today, a familiar sadness began to creep in.
As that sadness began to grow, coincidentally (or not), my attention was drawn to the radio as the lyrics coming through the speaker seemed to read my mind. “Hello darkness my old friend. I’ve come to talk to you again….”.
of heavy steps
a pinch of passion,
litters the floor
as night tempts
with the promise
and nothing else
Sally Ponzio was driving to Florida in 2017 when her son, Travis, began talking to her about the disease of addiction and how he wanted her to write a song. Sally was puzzled because, although Travis loved music, she could not sing or read a note herself. When he persisted, Sally pulled over to the side of the road to capture his words, which came tumbling out faster than she could write them. This was even more puzzling since Travis had died of an overdose six months earlier.
I started writing the words that you were saying
On a napkin in my car
I had to pull over, I’ll never get over
Now that you’re gone
You said I’m alive in your broken heart
Let my love lift you, you can start a new start
Travis Ponzio was a bright, sensitive child. His mother says talking to him was like “playing a chess game.” He always seemed to have a plan, a strategy, but she embraced his individuality, and they shared a deep and loving relationship.
My son Brian once shared with me the fact that he had overdosed seventeen times. He said, “Mom, some of my friends have died after the first overdose, but I am still here. God must have a plan for me if I haven’t died.”
I am here to tell you that heroin addiction stole the last ten years of this family’s life. It stole the future away from our beautiful son. It stole the present away from all of us as we waited for a miracle or the next phone call. Would it come from a hospital, a cop, a friend, or Brian with his standard greeting….” I need a huge favor”?
We needed a huge favor, too: A promise, a guarantee, a wish, and a hope that would never materialize. Our favor was never granted as Brian overdosed for the eighteenth and final time on May 3, 2015. He died on a bright, clear, sunny, blue-sky day, in the middle of the afternoon in our own home. Alone.
As the next several days unfolded, I began to find small snippets of gratitude. I am grateful he was home and not in some back alley, some basement, or some random bathroom. I am grateful I was the one to find him, not get a phone call from some other person leaving too many questions unanswered. I was able to backtrack and have a reasonable assumption of how the events unfolded and ultimately ended up fatally.
My son was a casualty of Covid 19. It was not listed as “cause of death” on his Death Certificate, nor will it ever be recognized as being even remotely related. Covid accelerated his beating drum of doom. My son lived on the fringes, a disenfranchised man, incorrectly labeled by the judicial system; he struggled with bipolar and alcoholism his entire adulthood. He surrendered his life on May 15, 2020, coinciding with the first surge of Covid cases.
My son lived his life in the shadows. He was destined to a life on the outside with his mental health label -- always looking in. It was a burden he could not bear, as a loving, big-hearted person who was ostracized from society for a crime he did not commit. The pain exceeded his ability to cope.
With the onset of Covid, his life went from a weak ray of hope for a future to no chance in hell. He plunged into the darkness, not a star or a beam of moonshine on his horizon. Quickly he succumbed, as his life force was already precariously close to the edge. He quickened the pace of his death march with the onset of Covid.
There was no funeral for my beloved son. My husband and I were the only attendees due to the pandemic. There were no shared tears or remembrances; no friends or family to express sympathy or support. Grieving during Covid is a lonely place to be. I found solace amongst strangers online—our new normal world. I am still awaiting a hug.
Morse 4 alt text
Losing my 28 year old son Geoffrey to Substance Use Disorder at the beginning of the pandemic was a heart wrenching and turbulent experience that is still difficult to bear six months later. I didn’t think I could possibly survive the devastation and heartache I felt the day my husband found our son -- deceased.
My greatest need initially was to enter a church and say a prayer for Geoffrey, but (because of COVID) -- the best I could manage was to enter an empty one and say a rosary with my siblings. There could be no service at the funeral home or at our church, so we made arrangements for one at the cemetery, since that was our only option. We then had to wait an additional week for Geoffrey’s burial because our daughter needed to quarantine per travel requirements from California. Our extended family was very supportive during this time, keeping in touch by phone and visiting once during the next week. We all attempted to do our best with the social distancing recommendations.
The maximum number of people allowed at the service was limited so there was not much planning to do. We chose a few songs for the vocalist and guitarist to perform during the ceremony. We were surprised and touched by the presence of our local Learn to Cope support group who stayed at a safe distance away but wanted to be there to support us.
High above the chatter of birds
The wailing of a mourning dove
Mouth closed; chest puffed
Coo- coo coo coo
It haunts the sleepy morning
Something deep within me stirs
A sadness that cannot be spoken
A silent, painful moaning
Mouth closed, hand over my heart
I reverently listen
Sometimes there are no words
As the waves crash
And wind blows
And the ancient carriers of secrets
Console me with their songs