There is one less teenager at my son's high school. Sadly, he is one more youth taken too soon and without notice.
I didn't know him - I didn't know anything about him. I don't know his parents. But I saw pictures of him, and I read how his friends so emotionally and eloquently mourned his tragic death. I feel their pain, their shock, their grief. And my heart breaks for his parents, because I have a son about his age. And I know there is no way to know what they are going through right now. I think about it being MY son, and I can only imagine. The gut-wrenching sadness. The disbelief. The denial. The guilt. The pain that is beyond all pain. Worst fears realized in one phone call. Never getting to say goodbye in that way because that way was never supposed to happen. Not here. Not to my kid.
His autopsy was inconclusive; toxicology results are pending. However, his death appears to be the result of drugs (this "rumor" pretty much verified by the arrest of a 45-year old man for possession of a controlled substance and a "person of interest" in the boy's case). Apparently, though, people knew. Kids knew. As much as they all loved him, and thought he was such a sweetheart, and a funny, do-anything-for-you-guy, THEY KNEW. Whether his friends toyed with drugs as well - I have no idea and it's not my place to speculate. But the fact that no one was able to get to him in time to let him know that death was imminent is almost more tragic than the death itself.
Facebook posts have clogged the Internet as his friends, past and present, close and not-so-close, pour out their grief with the most amazingly heartfelt and wonderful tributes. Not one mention of drugs. No one daring to taint the memory of this beloved teenager, this boy with the "magnetic sense of humor and beautiful smile". Understandable that his friends are so fiercely protective of his memory, and a part of me tips my hat to them for their solidarity. Yet, it concerns me that we're not discussing this elephant in the room. Celebrate his life, but be honest about his death. Drugs took this vibrant young man, as wonderful as he was. Let's not taboo something that is more prevalent than some of us are willing to believe, as I'm learning. Let's try to save the next life.
I empathize with these kids - their struggle with grief, the denial of these adolescents who have no experience at all with this kind of shock, this kind of pain, so close to them. And in a way I understand - it's too soon to name the "murderer". It's too soon to undermine the memory of this well-liked teen by mentioning the negative hold that drugs had on him. But we need to talk about the killer - the savage Satan that got a hold of this boy and hooked him. This invincible boy. Because as teenagers, we're all invincible, right?
I look at my son. My beautiful, blond haired, blue-eyed son. "My First" I call him. My firstborn. My first mothering experience. My first everything. Tripping over myself and everyone else to try to raise him with good morals and values and self-esteem and compassion and empathy and intelligence and common sense and love. Just as I'm sure these parents raised their son.
But does it matter? In the end, DOES IT MATTER. Someone or something can get a hold of the very foundation you built under your child and sweep it out from under them. And as parents, we may not even know it. We probably don't know it. It won't happen to my kid. It happens to "those kids". "Those kids", we assume, are the bad kids. The kids that grew up without this positive thing or that positive thing in their life. In some cases, I suppose it's true. In many, many others, it's a load of crap.
This is a corrupted, horrible world we live in. We raise our kids in the cocoon of our homes, only to set them free in a world that is chomping at the bit to tear them apart. We try so hard to shelter them from the bad that the world holds that when they finally experience it, they don't know what to do with it. Sadness? Disappointment? Insecurity? Anger? Make it go away. Some way. Any way. I want to feel good all the time. Just like my parents want me to feel. Because when I feel any other way, it tears them apart. And I don't know how to deal with that.
Is that the problem, then? Are we giving too much to our kids and not letting them learn to cope? How can we possibly teach them? It's a far different world than when we were growing up. But we're also raising kids differently - in a way I just can't quite put my finger on.
Somehow, someway, there has to be change. In some ways it can come from the kids, but in some ways it can't. They're looking to us. They don't know any better than what they're taught - and what's talked about. WE need to be the change. And it can't always be the parents. As you well know, an adult friend can say the same thing to a child as his parent and the adult friend will be "right". So expand the network of communication. Aunts. Uncles. Teachers. Clergy. Coaches. Mentors. Any adult that can have a positive influence in a child's life should make it a priority. START talking about it. START making it an issue. START confronting it head-on and doing something about it without worrying about "wounding our child's spirit" or "breaking their trust". WE are the ONLY ones who are going to be able to start this dialogue - to somehow connect with our kids and get them talking - and coping. Because as you know very well, it's not going to get any easier. And in the end, what would you rather have - a child who thinks adults are "so embarrassing" because they want to talk about everything - or no child at all?
Rest in Peace, child of God. May the pain and awareness caused by your death serve to save another child's life.