Saturday, April 17, 2010


This month I have visited the Valley of Death. I have sat at a hospital bedside and watched a grandson die, my heart pounding as though it were being ripped from my body, the pain inside me so intense it was like a penetrating knife, cold and sharp. It was a big hospital, with corridors as long as city blocks, stretching into another long corridor and another. Sometimes I wandered aimlessly from one long stretch to another, seeking something as simple as a cup of coffee, leaving my bedside post for a moment, trying to clear my thoughts. It was a "trauma hospital," filled with gloom. Each unit had a locked door, with a telephone on a wall where one could communicate with a nurse about your need to enter the premises.

I stayed through the nights, sleeping on little settees made of flimsy wood and thinly padded seats, my purse under my head for a pillow, my legs folded like an origami fan as I tried to balance myself. I would wake up tireder than when I fell asleep, creeping out of the waiting room, hoping not to awaken the group of other sleeping visitors, nestled in various couches and chairs, slumped in slumber, awaiting word on the condition of their loved ones. We were a sad, silent group.

When it was over, when my grandson had drawn his last precious breath, I was strangely composed. I could only think of leaving this hospital, this warehouse of dying people, to get outside into the cold, crisp air and shake the essence of tragedy from my body. To leave my grandson behind in these strange hands, to leave him to be lifted and manipulated and loaded into a black vehicle like a sack of potatoes was almost more than I could bear. I wanted to pick him up and carry him with me, but I couldn't. So I walked outside to the car and we headed homeward, leaving a huge piece of our hearts behind.

Since then, I have been immersed in sorrow. I have wallowed in my grief. I held up for the funeral, with all of its trappings, the flowers that then sit around and threaten to wilt and must be carried to Nursing Homes or Hospitals, the cards, the letters, and that pathetic sack filled with the earthly remnants of the deceased....a ragged pair of jeans, a t-shirt, a scuffed pair of shoes, and five dollars in a wallet.

It was heroin that killed my grandson at the age of 22. Heroin that he became addicted to at a younger age and somehow could not shake away from, despite a stay in ReHab and other efforts to cure him. On the day that he died, he was happy because he had passed a drug test and this meant that he had been a month and a half off the drug. Then a friend called....and called again and again. He decided to go with him, telling me he was just visiting a friend and they would play video games together. I believed him. He was lying.

So, he Overdosed on the streets of Detroit in the parking lot of a Wendy's store....a heartbreaking end for a young man with a bright, ready smile and a truckload of friends, all of whom mourned his passing. The other young man survived and is now trying to cure his own addiction to heroin. We are standing behind him and cheering him on, because my grandson would have been happy to see his friend break free from this habit.

How many young people are falling into this trap? More than I ever knew until I entered the shadows of addiction. In the village where I live, there are more than a hundred young people using the drug. It's cheap and it's a thrill. It will even be given to you free...until you're caught! That's just the number of young people I know about. Heaven knows how many others are out there.

They are here, one there. The Overdoses occur regularly, and many survive. Some don't. The deaths pile up, young people with long lives ahead of them, dead of a vicious poison racing through their veins, stopping their hearts, starving their brains of oxygen.

What do do? When this scourge enters your life, don't hesitate. Try Rehab and, if you can afford it, make it a long stay. Try a doctor. There is medication that helps take away the urge....too late for my grandson, but worth a try for others. Don't hide the addiction, because friends and family can help. Communicate with others, because they can help you pinpoint the source of the drug. Remember, there are thousands of parents in your same predicament today and you want to do all you can before it is your child dead in a faraway hospital bed.

I have emerged from the sodden, mournful, doleful state where all I did was cry and wonder if there is a God and, if so, where was the miracle we needed? I have made my peace with my grandson's death and I am working on making peace with God. There is a huge, empty, black hole in my heart that may never be filled with love and laughter again. I know others have suffered so and survived. I know useless, unnecessary deaths are something many, many of us encounter. So I'll lift up my head and walk forward, one step at a time, and celebrate the fact that our troubled young man is finally free of the hateful scourge that so brutally took his life.