Archive for March 27th, 2007

I just don’t know how to tell this story.  It is long and complex, and yet much of it is such a common tale that it almost seems trite.  In spite of the regularity with which we hear these stories of broken homes and broken lives, no one is asking whether or not it is a good idea that it is so easy for people with children to get a divorce.  I have read of studies that seem to indicate that children are actually better off psychologically if their parents “make it work,” even if there is conflict going on. The exception to this is homes where actual abuse is occurring.  Then the children are better off if the parents get divorced.

The young man I mentioned yesterday was a child of divorce.   His mother had three children by three different fathers, and he was the middle child.   The early years of the divorce were not good.   There was a lot of anger, the mother said and did manipulative things.   His father lived in a different state because he could get work there and could make his support payments that way.  They saw each other during summer vacation from school.

He had managed to graduate from high school.  He hated school, wanted to drop out, and was miserable for his last two years, but did finally get his diploma.  Once he was out of school, he started working full time for his dad, who is in construction and also does landscaping.   They were building a house for his dad and my friend, and he was very involved in the project and excited and happy about it.  The new house included a room that was going to be his.   My friend says he seemed happy, liked working with his dad, they got along well, and their relationship had never been better.  

They had noticed that he had lost some weight in the past few months, but there was a lot of hard physical labor going on and he had recently grown taller, so it didn’t really concern the adults.   And there were mood swings, but he was a teenager.   They do do that.

The young man had an older half sister.   Last Wednesday, she took an overdose of pills, and he was the one who found her in time to call 911 and save her life.   She is now in a hospital being treated for her overdose, and is scheduled to enter rehab for drug addiction.   She has been using oxycontin and snorting heroin, it turns out.   The fact that this suicide attempt had happened was not reported to my friend and the boy’s father, for some reason.

Saturday morning, they were working on the house.   They were doing roof work, and the boy seemed uncoordinated, out of it.   After he nearly fell, his father told him that he needed to stop working, that whatever was going on, it was too dangerous for him to be up on the roof.   The boy blew up, there were angry words, he called his dad a few names because he would not reconsider and let him continue working that day.   He left the place, screeching his tires on the way out.   A while later, when he got home, he called and apologized, told his dad he wanted his check for that week’s work, and wanted to be back on the job the next day.  Materials for building were not available, so they decided to take Sunday off and get back to work Monday.

Then the sister called from the hospital, told the boy’s father what she had been doing, and confessed that the boy had been doing the same combination of drugs along with her.   She was afraid he would end up like her, and she wanted to notify them so the adults could confront him with his drug use and get help for him.   And so, that is what they did.   A series of three hour-long phone calls ensued.   The first was stormy and full of denial.  The second and third were conciliatory, thoughtful, loving.   Help for getting off the drugs was offered and accepted, plans were made for continuing the work on the house, it seemed like things were on the right track, that they would get through this challenge.

The next morning, they called the boy to check on him.   He was fine, happy, excited to get back to work on Monday.   His mother left to go visit the sister in the hospital, a two hour drive away.   A phone call came to him from a buddy of his who was coming over that afternoon, plans were made by the two for what they were going to do.   One hour later, he walked over to his grandfather’s place, took the deer rifle that was there, went outside and lay down with it, put the muzzle in his mouth and pulled the trigger.   His younger sister found him shortly after he had done this, probably went over to see what the shooting was about.

Who knows what his mother said to him before she left?   Who knows if he was “really” okay when his dad and stepmother called to check on him?  Was he high when he talked to his friend on the phone?  No one will ever really know, he didn’t leave a note.

So what is the lesson here?  Love your children.   Support them.   If they are telling you they are really unhappy in school, believe them.  Get help for them if they have had to go through traumatic events.   I know, many people do not believe they can afford counselling.   I would ask them, can they afford to have their child kill himself or herself?

Make it your business to know the signs of drug use, drug addiction, and depression.  Do not rationalize weight loss, mood swings, lethargy, bad grooming, or sadness that won’t go away.  Hopelessness and boredom; unexplained irritability or crying; loss of interest in usual activities; changes in eating or sleeping habits; alcohol or substance abuse; missed school or poor school performance; threats or attempts to run away from home; outbursts of shouting; complaining; reckless behavior; and aches and pains that don’t get better with treatment are all signs of depression.   Thoughts about death or suicide are also an indication of depression.  If any signs of depression are present and the person threatens suicide, take it very seriously. 

In addition, a teen who has had a close friend or family member attempt suicide or successfully commit suicide are at a high risk for suicide themselves.  I did not know this until just recently.  Maybe if the adults had known this the boy would not have been left alone.

It is better to confront drug users in person rather than on the phone.   It is a whole lot easier to lie to people and get away with it when you are not in the same room with them.  Once you have confronted a person who is using “heavy” drugs like heroin or oxycontin or methamphetamine, and told them they must get treatment, it really is not a good idea to leave them on their own before they get that help.   Detoxification and withdrawal are extremely serious physical issues, and a young drug user should not be left to face them on their own.  

No one knows what sort of despair this boy was going through, alone in his mother’s house as she was off visiting his sister following her suicide attempt.  He probably felt that he had seriously disappointed his hero, his father.   He may have been going through withdrawal pains.  Or, he may have gotten high again and been filled with self-disgust for his own weakness.   He may have felt like it was impossible to learn to be straight.  He may have been having hallucinations. We don’t know, we will never know exactly what he was feeling the morning he decided to take his life.

We do know what his parents are feeling.   Pain, grief, anger, guilt, regret, shock, and grinding eshaustion are just a few of the gamut of emotions they are going through right now.  

I pray you all are well. Thursday morning I have to go to a funeral and help bury the remains of a young soul who had great promise, promise that will never come to fruition.  May you never experience this.

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