“Dad? Can you come and get me?”
Any parent who has a loved one suffering from addiction has received this phone call.
It can come at any hour and originate from anywhere cell phone service is available. On this particular day, my son, Jacob, woke me at 6:30 a.m. I was registered for The Shamrock Run that morning but instead of hoofing it through the neighborhoods of the Old First Ward, I was contacting OnStar for directions to Louisville, Kentucky as I pulled out of my driveway.
Over the course of Jacob’s seven-year battle with Substance Use Disorder, I learned a lot about addiction and what my role was in his recovery. However, I’m quite certain that no professional had ever advised me to drive 16 hours in one day to pick up and bring my son back home. But that ride home was a gift. Three weeks later, Jacob would be dead.
Most people don’t know what to say to you after you’ve lost a child, so the responsibility rests upon us. The night of Jacob’s wake, it was I who was offering comfort to those who were kind enough to show their respects. Which was good, actually. It gave me purpose and strength during the drudgery of the evening. But after the mass, burial and reception the next day, there was nothing left but the loss. Those who were simply present for me from then on were the most helpful. We don’t always need words.
Losing a child is every parent’s greatest fear. When your son or daughter is in active addiction, the worries are magnified. It’s very difficult to have to brace yourself every time your phone rings. When mine rang with that awful news, none of my preparation helped in the least. But through the grieving came greater closeness with my family and an appreciation of the richness of living.
I miss Jacob dearly and often imagine having lunch with the 22-year-old version of him. I also remember that ride home from Kentucky. Between rest stops, where he inhaled Whoppers, licorice and Mountain Dew, Jake sang and played his ukulele, which he had somehow managed to keep possession of. And I just soaked in the incandescence of my boy and reveled in hours that he was safe.
(Jacob died in 2016 by suicide at age 20.)
— Paul Calmes