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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