My story is long and has lots of painful components.
My daughter, Kaitlin was born with special needs that were never diagnosed and she lived only thriteen months. I thought her death would be my greatest pain. It was devastating, but my son’s death was even harder.
I am a pastor. My family and I lived in Durham, NC where I served a church for twelve years before I was called to a church near Richmond, VA. At that time my oldest son, Matthew, was beginning his senior year in high school. Our son Blake was in the eleventh grade and our daughter Madison was in the fourth grade.
The decision was made for me and Blake to move and for Anne, Madison & Matthew to remain in NC so Matthew could complete his senior year of high school. It was about a 2.5 hour drive, which I drove often.
Matthew had some setbacks in his life, but the biggest one came that January when his first love broke up with him. He was devastated. I encouraged him to see a counselor, but he wasn’t interested.
He initially said he wasn’t going to turn to alcohol or drugs because he didn’t want that crutch. However, the pain was too much for him, alcohol and drugs too available, so he started drinking and trying a variety of different prescription pills. The last time I saw him alive, he was working at Cici’s pizza and it was obvious he had taken something.
He wasn’t himself and by the way – he had a great fun loving personality. He could connect with most anyone of any age and he was almost always smiling.
I saw him on Saturday. I talked to him on Sunday night. We talked about plans for him to come to Busch Gardens and then visiting some of our friends in Pennsylvania for his upcoming Spring Break. I didn’t think he would make it, but I didn’t expect what would happen. Later that night – I think something happened and he took a handful of methadone. I later learned through his phone who he bought them from – someone that I knew. I had helped him and his family.
The next morning my wife started calling me. Matthew had been staying with a friend and she couldn’t get in touch with him. We were afraid of what was going on. After taking our daughter to school, she went looking for him. Then the police called and told her to come home. She somehow was able to drive home and get the news. She called me – our greatest fear had been realized.
From everything I have learned of Matthew’s death, it was intentional. I read some of his phone texts and he mentioned, “not being a problem to anyone any more.” Some of his communication about buying pills seemed suspicious. I think he bought the pills considering taking them and something happened that night and he just did it. He had only been using hard drugs for a short time – a few weeks.
After I got the news I had to go to the school to pick up his brother. When I went to check him out, they asked why. I told them it was personal. They said they needed to know and I responded his brother died. They didn’t tell him. He came out with a shocked look on his face. I got him outside and said, “Matthew died.” He responded, “you’re shitting me.” I said, “we will get through this.” He said, “I knew he was f****ed up this weekend.” It was a long ride to Durham.
Madison still didn’t know. She attended a small private school (K-12). Matthew had been at that school through the eighth grade. His friends had been texting each other and the word was out. They had worked to shield this from Madison. While Blake sat in the car, I went in to get Madison. She was just numb. That morning she knew there were problems. I went to hug her but she didn’t really respond.
We went home and the house was filled with people. Blake wouldn’t go inside and a friend came to pick him up. He didn’t want to be around people and he couldn’t deal with being in the house and all the memories. Our world was now in total chaos, but there was more.
My mother-in-law went in the hospital the following week. She had ovarian cancer and died exactly six weeks after Matthew died. Blake was his grandmother’s favorite and she didn’t hide it.
It was a few months later before Anne and Madison moved up. The day they came up without Matthew, Blake lost it. He literally destroyed his room- beating holes in the wall and was totally out of control. We called the police and explained the situation, but we needed help. He climbed out a back window, ran through the woods, got to a local grocery store, stole beer and chugged it. Later he allowed his wrestling coach to pick him up and take him to his house where he passed out.
Later that night, we went to pick him up and again he went out of control. The coach and I forcibly took him to a mental health hospital where he stayed for a week. Twice more that summer, he ended up in the hospital for depression and drug use.
Fast forward about a year – I learned I had a genetic heart defect that would require open heart surgery. There were some complications and in a short period of time I had 3 open heart surgeries, a heart attack & a stroke. All of this took place within about 2 ½ years of Matthew’s death. I had a cardiac nurse that told me she thought that grieving made my heart condition worse.
The morning after my 2nd heart surgery when I had just gotten off the ventilator and was still hooked up to lots of machines and could barely move I had a conversation with a nurse. I told her about Matthew and added, “after the death of your son, this is nothing.” She reached down and wiped the tears from my eyes, because I couldn’t.
The following summer my wife and I got separated and have since divorced. There were other factors, but Matthew’s death was an impact. We grieved and reacted different and grew apart.
Blake lives with me. Last year he was back in the hospital because he wasn’t doing well and then spent a month in a rehab facility. He is doing better now, but still struggles to even talk about his brother, his best friend who died over 7 ½ years ago.
An important part of my journey has been my faith. I have felt that God has given me the strength to get to where I am and to remain positive. Even in the darkest of times I have felt God can bring something good from this.