Grief Defines Mother’s Life

It’s easier to judge than to listen.  A friend called Margaret A., still grieves for her deceased son nineteen years following his death. It’s not a passive grief, quiet in its knowledge of the irrevocable. It’s an active wet grief, quickly turning to a stream of tears, as though dying just occurred.

A mother longs for her son. Her longing is a raw pain to know that his life meant something. Her son’s choices led to paths and people who used drugs to feel alive. Earlier and sweeter memories of her son,  decorate her home in photographs hung on the wall.

There’s never closure when questioning why drug use occurs and overcome those we love. The questioning a parent faces when their child becomes an addict is that of identity: who were their departed loved ones, beneath layers of need and dependencies? Do parents cling to the ‘straight’ persona of their child, or does loss of innocence and responsibility become the source of pain?

If attempts at rehabilitation fail, parents are left with defeat and loss of hope that precedes an actual death, the second and final loss. Anyone who has loved an addict knows this pain.

What is a normal timeline of grief? How does someone grief stricken find a way to join the living? My judgement consists of ambivalence. I feel for my friend. Her son was my first boyfriend, and I’ve thought of him and how different life would’ve been had we stayed together. A brief ‘breakup’ in a high school relationship was all it took to form a wedge. That’s how quickly life takes its turns. When I came back, he had already bonded with someone new, someone who took him places I could not. Heroin wasn’t something I ever wanted to try.

Margaret doing kitchen work.

Margaret lives alone and doesn’t socialize much.

During this same period, my sister Frances shot up daily. I’d watch her shoot up sometimes. How anyone could stick a needle into their veins daily astounded me. I’d witness her nodding off into a blissful state of sedation, night after night. Her world revolved around getting the next fix. Prostitution and theft were her go-to modes of financial acquisition and that too, seemed incredibly scary. Our parents held to ‘tough love’ methods involving long stays in rehabilitation facilities. After many attempts to help were unsuccessful, she overdosed.

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Margaret knows what low is. As her friend I try to encourage her to be present in the life she lives today. I brought a fig spread and cinnamon raison bread to tempt her sweet tooth and encourage conversation. Her ‘talk’ is like a broken record, repeating endless cycles of, “What if?” speculations of how maybe, just maybe, things could’ve been different. I suggested she team up with a solitary neighbor and go to a pig roast. I need to call again to know if she forgot about grieving, if only for one day.