It is heartbreaking when a family member goes down a self-destructive path. After many years of watching our beloved son battle drug addiction and its devastating consequences, our family gathered last summer in the mountains that he cherished to mourn his sudden passing, the result of an accidental overdose.
We do not know why or how our son became addicted to drugs, but we do know that despite his lifelong struggle with addiction, he was so much more than an addict. He was smart, hard-working, and generous. When not in the grip of addiction, he was kind, had a great sense of humor, and a special way with animals. We not only grieve his death; we grieve his life’s tremendous, unfulfilled potential. We love him. We miss him.
Life experiences are wasted if we don’t share the insights gained from them with others. Though we agonized over our son throughout the turbulent teenage years and beyond, our Savior’s love and the Christlike service provided by sensitive, caring friends lightened and lifted our burdens, making them possible to bear. Some of the smallest, simplest things provided the greatest support to our family and to our son.
When others refrained from questioning us, we were grateful for their sensitivity. This allowed us to confide in whomever we chose without feeling that our family was subject to constant scrutiny. Unsolicited advice was offered by some, and while we appreciated their desire to help and comfort us, we were thankful to those who simply offered sincere friendship and a listening ear.
A sister in our ward felt prompted to tell us of the day many years before when her furious, rebellious son threatened to leave home and never return. “Go!” her husband roared as the boy ran from the house, “and don’t ever come back.” True to his word, and to his parents’ unimaginable sorrow and lifelong regret, the young man never did return. This sister’s experience served as a poignant reminder to pray always for strength to stay calm amidst the storm.
One couple told us that because they were unable to trust their wayward child, they mistakenly began mistrusting all their children. “Level with your kids,” they advised. “Your son needs the loyalty and prayers of his entire family, and through the process of hoping, praying, and fasting for their errant brother, your children’s faith will increase, and your family will grow stronger.” They were right.
A profound loss of confidence and emotional stability accompanied the deep sorrow and embarrassment we experienced as we faced the fact that our son’s actions were not only hurting him and his family, but others as well. We felt exposed, constantly wondering if we could hold our emotions in check when we were in public. As he spun out of control, his struggles were there for all to witness, discuss, and judge. Day to day interactions with others that had always felt comfortable, began to feel threatening because some people, as well intentioned as they were, pressed for information.
Thankfully, a close friend noticed our growing sense of self-imposed isolation and stepped in to suggest that we could manage our emotions by coming up with a simple sentence that would suffice when a well-meaning person asked what had become a dreaded, overwhelming question: “And…how is your son?”
“He needs your love and prayers” became our lifesaving reply.
It was clear to us that not only our family was suffering because of our son’s choices; he was suffering. His reckless lifestyle not only drove the Spirit from his life; it drove away his friends as well, a natural, painful, yet sure consequence of drug addiction. However, his Cub Scout leader who had known and seen the light in him since childhood, stepped up. For 40 years, through the peaks and valleys of his life, this dear woman continued to reach out to him, pray for him, visit, and encourage him. He loved and trusted her.
Our family has been sealed together for time and all eternity in the Holy Temple, and we continue to receive hope and comfort from the following words spoken by the prophet Joseph Smith, quoted by Orson F. Whitney, a member of the Quorum of the Twelve Apostles:
“The eternal sealings of faithful parents and the divine promises made to them for valiant service in the Cause of Truth, would save not only themselves but likewise their posterity. Though some of the sheep may wander, the eye of the Shepherd is upon them, and sooner or later they will feel the tentacles of Divine Providence reaching out after them and drawing them back to the fold. Either in this life or the life to come, they will return. They will have to pay their debt to justice; they will suffer for their sins; and may tread a thorny path; but if it leads them at last, like the penitent Prodigal, to a loving and forgiving father’s heart and home, the painful experience will not have been in vain. Pray for your careless and disobedient children; hold on to them with your faith. Hope on, trust on, till you see the salvation of God” (Orson F. Whitney, in Conference Report, Apr. 1929, 110).
We know that our son felt the Savior’s love and the love and support of our family while on this earth. Now that he is gone, we pray that he feels it even more keenly. Our faith in the Savior’s redeeming power and His promise of peace, amazing grace, and tender mercy sustains us.
We share this with the hope that if people in your life are struggling, you will reach out in love and compassion to support them in getting help. As you do, remember to “trust in the Lord with all thine heart; and lean not unto thine own understanding. In all thy ways acknowledge Him, and He shall direct thy paths” (Proverbs 3:5-6).