"I’ve learned through this exercise that I may have lost my son, but I haven’t lost my relationship with him."

I’m 50 years old and am currently a Vice president and CFO of a privately owned company. I grew up in a middle-class family with nine siblings in the Valley Forge area and moved to the West Chester area with my wife about 25 years ago. When we moved we had our first child, Jonathan, and later had two more boys. We had a good life with good kids.

Our son Jonathan liked to be out with friends and was never keen on hanging out at home after he turned 18. Around this time, he began drinking and smoking marijuana. It all seemed harmless when he started but at around 22, he began getting DUI’s and was generally not a responsible person. Around this same time, he met a girl and was becoming close with her. She introduced him to a social scene different from the one he had been involved with. This is probably when Jonathan started using Heroin. Jonathan would eventually have a daughter with her; they named her Kendra. When Kendra was six months old, Jonathan decided to break up with her mother. He felt that she was a bad influence on him and would be for Kendra as well. Jonathan was always trying to get Kendra’s mother into rehab because he wanted them to be a cohesive family. For a 24-year-old, Jonathan did a lot as a father, and I was proud that he was taking ownership of the situation. He was attending AA and other treatment meetings to overcome his addictions and become a better father for Kendra. He appeared to be making progress but around the fall of 2016 his license was un-suspended, and we began noticing erratic behavior. He began staying up all night, and my wife found him passed out in his room next to a needle.

My wife and I differed in how we wanted to approach this situation. She wanted to go through the house and clean anything out that might’ve been facilitating his use and get him into an intensive treatment program. I didn’t think such drastic measures were appropriate. When I was quitting tobacco, I relapsed a few times and believed that was part of the quitting process; I didn’t realize heroin was a different monster. We were both in agreement that Jonathan needed treatment, but he didn’t want to go. We decided to hold an intervention to convince him to get proper help. We ended the intervention by telling him it was either rehab or he was out of the house.

He was in rehab for about a week before dropping out of the program. He wanted to stop but I don’t believe he was ready to commit to a treatment plan. My wife didn’t want to falter on the ultimatum we gave him and told him that he could no longer stay with us; we would still take care of Kendra though. He had a solemn disposition the day he left, I think he felt that he was both being abandoned by us and abandoning Kendra all at once. The whole day was heartbreaking. When he came back the next day to pick up some things, I allowed him to stay with us. I thought it was ridiculous to force our son to sleep outside in the cold.

I find myself crying on the way home from work every day. The only thing that makes life worth living at this point is Kendra, my other two boys, and my wife. I often feel things might have been different if I had engaged with him on a more emotional level before he had passed. Despite this guilt, I’m finding ways to cope with it all through help of others who’ve experienced similar situations. I’ve learned that I need to focus on my current reality instead of focusing on a past or hypothetical one; though it’s incredibly difficult to do. Another method I’ve learned from others is writing letters to Jonathan and then writing back through his perspective. I knew him well enough to figure how he would respond. It’s helped me realize that he wouldn’t want me to blame myself over this even though there was more I could’ve done for him. I’ve learned through this exercise that I may have lost my son, but I haven’t lost my relationship with him.

Jonathan continued to use drugs but was still trying to quit. He was being honest with us and would sometimes hand over his drugs when my wife asked if he was using anything. Somedays he would inform us that he hadn’t used in a while and was going through withdrawals. As hard as he was trying, he was reverting back to using as much as he did in the past. It got to the point where my wife was discovering paraphernalia around the house again. The last straw though, was when my wife discovered money missing from our savings. As a result, she told Jonathan that he had to leave again; I was away on a business trip when this was occurring. He spent that night in a forested area close to our home and texted back and forth with his brother and I.

The next night he stayed in our barn. That morning I got a call from my son that my wife had found Jonathan in the barn unconscious, cold, and not breathing. I headed back home and kept telling myself that he probably had hypothermia and would get through this. By the time I got there, Jonathan was covered up and my worst fear had come true, Jonathan died of an overdose. I was paralyzed and heartbroken and it has been in mind ever since.

From this whole experience, I’ve learned that addiction truly is a disease, even if it doesn’t appear so. Despite their actions, those afflicted by addiction don’t mean to cause harm to themselves or others. Parents need to be involved with their kids, even at the worst times.

This is why I am sharing my story. So that parents know it’s not an easy task to make someone better. You can’t just write a check and fix it. The number one thing, no matter what happens, is to be there for them on a physical and emotional level. I find myself looking back at what I did not do and it will stick with me forever. There’s one thing you can’t get back, and that is not loving your child no matter what.

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