Learn from my regrets

Posted by Anne Browning, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Robby's Voice, Support, Talking to kids,

REGRETS, I’VE HAD A FEW….

I was listening to my iPod the other day, and “My Way” by Frank Sinatra played. This verse always grabbed me;regretwoman

“regrets, I’ve had a few, but then again, too few to mention…”

I always wanted to live life that way – going for it. Maybe I swung and missed a few times, but no regrets.  I’d rather swing and miss than not swing at all.  I know Robby lived life that way and his favorite phrase, Carpe Diem, was tattooed from armpit to hip.  He lived his way with very few regrets.  In his short 20 years, he did so much. More importantly, with this short time, he lived his dream which was to be a United States soldier.

Unfortunately, as a parent that has lost a child to an overdose, I am not able to live without regret. Regret is now sewn into the fabric of my life, and as my mind wanders back over the years, I think of every time that I was not the best Dad I could be, and it hurts.  How did I make him feel in that moment?  Did that contribute to his need to use?  Why did I act that way?

As he battled his addiction, I remember those frustrations and times when anger overtook me and things were said. Did that push him to use?  Did that trigger a relapse?  These memories just seem to pop up every now and then, and when they do, they are so hard to shake.

Things that trigger regret many parents understand

There are triggers as well (not exclusive to addicts). There is the bus station where he parked his motorcycle when the engine froze from lack of oil.  Where I let my anger deal with it in a way that was less than how I, as his Dad, should have handled it.  There was the day when we dealt with relapse and I was frustrated and he looked at me and said “don’t give up on me Dad…”  How could I have made him feel like that?  There was the day we spent at Padua this year speaking.  Robby wanted to look at Padua for school, but we discounted that based on a lot of things that as parents you have to consider.  What if he went there?  Would he have avoided the addiction?  Would he still be with us today?  WHY DID WE NOT LET HIM GO THERE?

These are the things that run through my head constantly. These are the inescapable thoughts driven by guilt and loss that cloud my mind constantly.  These are the fears that this disease preys upon when parents are faced with this disease and the difficult decisions that come with the journey through addiction; decisions that are counterintuitive for parents, decisions that hurt us more than they hurt them.

ROBBY’S VOICE exists, in part, because we do not want any parent to live with “this.” It is the ultimate groundhogs day, repeating itself as vividly as it was when it happened.  Only now, there is loss tied to it; a consequence if you will that can’t ever be rectified.  “I’m sorry” is not enough because forgiveness is trumped by the questions and the permanency of death.

The only advice I can give

If you have lost a child, and you struggle with these same thoughts, I have no answers. Just know that you are either not crazy, or we are both crazy, but we can be crazy together.  If you have a child struggling with addiction, don’t hide from it. Face it.  Use every tool there is because there are no guarantees.  Every decision may be right or wrong and that is the quandary.  Find a strong family group and surround yourself with those that will understand and will stand with you.  If you have a child not addicted, learn, be aware, know this can happen in any home, and talk to your kids early, often and right.

REGRETS,  yes, I’ve had a few, and that few are too long to list. My son passed away. We lost him. I use these words because I can’t say the words “my son is dead.”  For some reason, that phrase is a gut punch that covers me in darkness when I even think it.  For me, passed and lost are not as final. They shield me a bit from the reality that my son is dead and I did not do what needed to be done to protect him, to save him.

You don’t want to live with that and all that comes with it. So do something, today.


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Learning to Hope through Cornerstone

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Announcements, Grief, Robby's Voice, Tags:

I don’t like the word hope.hope

To me, when we hope, we give control to someone or something other than ourselves.  It’s a weak word. I prefer faith. Faith means I believe, I know it will happen.  It means I am in control.  It’s a strong word.

Then I learned about grief.  Not just any kind of grief, but the most devastating, heart wrenching, crippling kind of grief that exists.  The kind of grief that makes you wish for the end, your end. The kind of grief that is forever.  I learned about faith and I learned about hope.

I remember it clearly on that late Friday morning, October 21st, 2011.  We just returned from the high school where we told Jaclyn and Nolan about their brother. Where we ripped their world apart.  I stood in my house as it filled with people.  Family and friends. The support was amazing.  But it didn’t matter as nobody could help me.  I was broken, numb, confused.  I had no idea what to do.  How do you move, how do you recover, how do you live?  I had no answers, and worse, I knew in that moment that if I had no answers for myself, I had no capacity to help my family.

My faith in God did not waiver. My faith in myself was gone.  I was helpless.  I was hopeless.

Herein enters Hope

A year earlier, I had been introduced to Cornerstone of Hope  by a friend who did volunteer work for them (This is a story for a different day…a story about how God put all the pieces in place).  But I remembered.  After the funeral and things got quiet and life returned to normal for those that had carried us each day, we were left to face our life.  We would have to face all the firsts, and they were coming fast.  Halloween, Robby’s favorite day, Thanksgiving, Christmas, his birthday. All would be upon us within the first 60 days.  How do we do this?  I looked at my family and they looked to me; I had no answers for them.

Tattered, beaten, humbled, I turned, we turned to Cornerstone, and in that very dark moment, we saw a light.

Carla and I attended counseling together while Cornerstone sent counselors to the high school each week to meet with Nolan and Jaclyn.  We had been given a lifeline, an angel that would help us deal with what we were now in the middle of.  We survived the holidays.  Group counseling followed for all of us, and slowly but surely we started to walk forward, learning how to adapt to our new normal.

Mark and Christi Tripodi are the founders of Cornerstone of Hope.  They are selfless givers.  They are heroes that have built an organization that catches us in our darkest moments.  As we fall into the depths, they say we are here, we will catch you, we will hold you, and we will help you find the light in the absolute darkness.

Cornerstone of Hope saved us.

There is no other way to say it.  We continue to rely on what they taught us, and each year in December, we head back for the candle ceremony where we share tears and memories with others that have been lost in their loss, and saved by this group.

I hate the word hope, but I learned that in loss and in grief, it is all we have.  We are not in control. We don’t have all the answers and we are at our weakest.  My faith in God never wavered, but I needed hope.  I needed to count on someone else to do what I could not. I needed to hand control over to someone else.

At the lowest moment of my life, they were there.  They gave me hope and that hope turned back into faith… the belief that I could move forward. That I could live again…that I could find a new normal.

Cornerstone did for my family what I could not.  They were the rock for Carla, Jaclyn and Nolan.

They saved me, they saved my family, and they continue to be a cornerstone of our ability to move forward each day.  They are THE CORNERSTONE OF HOPE.


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Stigma of Addiction is our Greatest Enemy

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Robby's Voice, Stigma, Tags:

Have you ever had your child look at you and say “I didn’t ask for this. I don’t want this,” with fear and pain in their eyes?  I have, and there how-did-the-stigma-of-addiction-begin-532935_180x180was nothing I could do to save him.  I could be talking about cancer or any diabetes or any other chronic or life threatening disease, and actually, I am.  I am talking about drug addiction.

As a society, we put a stigma on addicts because we believe there is something dirty about them. Maybe it’s because drugs are illegal or we call it their choice.  Maybe it’s because we don’t understand addiction, and why would we.  We don’t get educated on it until after we are impacted.  As a result, we have an epidemic that continues to grow, and a disease that impacts virtually every family in this country in some way.  You say not you. I say you’re either not being honest or you just have not figured out who yet.  I say this because I know.  I have lived this.  I have had to face it.  I have had to witness the pain and devastation. And now, because of my ignorance, I have to live with the loss.

Old stigmas are stealing lives

What we say about addicts we would never think to say to a person with a “real disease.”

  • We say it’s their choice.
  • We say just quit.
  • We say they deserve what they get.
  • We say they know better.

 

We say these things about addicts, but yet we have compassion for cancer patients and diabetics.  We feel badly for them even when maybe their choice to smoke or have poor eating habits led to their diseases.  We have empathy for them because we understand these diseases, we have been educated, and yes, killing yourself through cigarettes or food is perfectly legal.

With addiction, even though we have failed to educate kids and families, we hold them in disdain. Our healthcare system doesn’t want to pay for the proper care, the same care any other chronic disease would get.  There are no fund raisers or national foundations, only the dark black hole of addiction and its stigma.

Learn from parents like us

There was a day, a time in my life when I held many of these beliefs. There was a time in my life I was ignorant.  I did not understand the disease or its impact.  There was a day that I would cast a stigma down upon the addict because they did it to themselves.  Then I learned, and I learned the hard way.  I learned about the disease.  I learned about the pain.  I learned about the desperation and hopelessness.

I learned too late. I learned after my son became an addict, a victim of a disease, that neither he nor we were ever really educated about.  I learned too late.  I learned after my son died and there was nothing I could ever do to fix it.   Because I learned to late, my family will live with a loss that will forever leave a hole in our hearts and souls.

I learned too late, but you don’t have to. I know, it’s never your kid…until it is.  Then what? 

 


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How those grieving work to emotionally survive the holidays

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Robby's Voice, Tags: , ,

griefThis week is another Christmas, and for those of us living with loss, it is always a challenging week.  The emotions of the season wreak havoc with our hearts and emotions.

I think back to 2011 and the complete mental storm we were living in.  We had little desire to go anywhere, and really just wanted to stay in the house.  We, however, chose to try and do normal and that was not easy.  People ask questions like “how are you doing?”  In our heads we said, “how the hell do you think?”  Then there were those that were nothing short of curious.  Easily handled with a verbal ripping and maybe a good punch to the head; but not really options, and because we were so lost in our own heads, just dismissing those conversations and walking away seemed a better option.

Then there was gift giving, and watching younger nephews and nieces, eagerly and happily opening presents.  Not their fault as they were kids. They should have been doing that.  But everywhere we looked, people were happy, people were smiling, people were celebrating Christmas and we were just hoping to survive.

Why wasn’t everyone in the same hell as we were

Simple. Life goes on for everyone else.  And yes, it does go on for us as well, but it just seems stuck during the holidays.  Emotions are high.  I struggled to feel joy and happiness.  How could I?  Wouldn’t that be unfair to Robby.  There was calm and there were tears, and none of it was predictable or controllable.  In short, I was a mess and I think I can say that for all of us.

There are so many that I have met this year that will be entering into this holiday season for the first time, trying to figure it out, trying to get a hold on their emotions, and for the most part, just trying to survive it.  I figured I would help myself a bit and share some thoughts on what we have learned…because I need to prepare every year as well.

Emotional preparation for the holidays

  1. It Is How You Feel – People that are not living it don’t really understand it. That’s OK, we wouldn’t want them too. If you don’t feel like doing something or going somewhere, then don’t. You have to take care of yourself and your family. In short, it is OK to be all about your feelings.
  2. It Is How They Feel – If you choose to go somewhere, understand that people will be celebrating, laughing and enjoying the season. Their lives move forward while ours seem stuck in “that” place.
  3. They will ask “how you are,” and in your head you will say “how do you think I am?” They are either genuinely concerned, being polite or morbidly curious. Prepare yourself in advance for how you will answer that question and stick to it. If you don’t want to talk about it, then let them know you don’t want to talk about it. Hard enough just being there.
  4. Know the magic – Have a word or a look. When things are getting rough, anyone in the family can go to the “word,” and it is a signal that you need to leave the room or the party. Sometimes just using the word is enough to bring some calm back.

In the end, emotions will be uncontrollable, and whatever you decide to do; IT IS OK.  Don’t keep it bottled in; journal, cry, step aside, whatever works for you, but allow the emotion to get out.  Most important, know that you are not alone.  We are all out here together, praying for each other, lifting each other, supporting each other.  Together, we will make it through.


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Losing a child to addiction: The Dreaded Question

Posted by Rob Brandt, With 0 Comments, Category: Grief, Tags: , , , ,

As I sat on a Sunday night at about 10:21pm catching up on news before hitting the hay for a 4:00am alarm when I came across this article which caused me to put pen to paper.

The article addressed “THE QUESTION,” that so many of us that have lost a child struggle with and in a strange paradoxical way, both hope gets asked and does not get asked. The question; “How many kids do you have?”

I personally struggled with this question when Robby passed. It was hard to answer. Do I say two and completely avoid the discussion? Do I say three and act as if he was still alive?

I most often answered three as I refused to add anymore guilt to my plate. I found it to be both honest and accurate until the next question came. “How old are they?” In my mind, the flares went off and that odd confusion set in as I thought to myself “damn, you had to ask that!” I may have used a bit more colorful language mentally, but you get the gist. My mental verbiage got really colorful as I knew the next question would be “how did he pass…”

 How I feel

The article made two really good points:

  1.  It is as uncomfortable to get the answer as it is to give the answer. This is especially true early in the process as trying to gauge just how deep we get and with whom tends to cause the head to spin. While we don’t mean to cause them to be uncomfortable, the mere nature of the answer, “my (pick a child) passed away,” is just uncomfortable.
  2.  The second point is one that I found profound and insightful. By answering honestly, it gives others an opportunity to share if they, or someone close to them, had the same experience.

Like it or not, there is still a stigma surrounding addiction. Many people keep walls built around their families where addiction is concerned, carrying the burden alone, not realizing they don’t have to.

 What I have learned

Here is what I have to pass along to anyone it might help.

  1.  It gets easier to answer as time goes by. Figure out how you want to answer the question(s) and stay with what is comfortable. Over time, your answer becomes “normal” and you will feel better as you give it.
  2. You are not alone. If we tell 10 people that Robby passed of a drug overdose, only one looks at us like we are the worst people in the world. The other nine almost immediately launch into conversation about how addiction has hit their family. It is as if we opened the door for them to discuss because we get it. We understand. Often, they are looking for help for themselves or friends and we are able to engage with them and offer some help. The other “one” that passes judgement probably doesn’t even know addiction has hit someone in their family or is just not ready to face it, but when they are, they now know where to find us.

Easy isn’t in our vocabulary

Truth is, it is still not “easy” when I know that question is coming. There are times when I still fumble and feel like I have betrayed Robby’s memory. But this is what I do know. I know who my son was, and I am proud of whom he was as a person. Yes, he was an addict and as a result, did some things that may have violated a few laws, but that was the drug talking, not Robby. If you choose to pass judgement on him or us as parents, that is on you, I won’t carry that burden.

So, if you ask me how many kids I have, the answer is three. If you want more detail, you will learn that my eldest would have been 25 this year, but he passed almost four years ago. If that makes you uncomfortable, I am not sorry. I am and will always be the father of three amazing young people, and that is how it will always be.


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