My husband and I could talk all day about our son’s wonderful, sweet, happy childhood. Our story is really no different from the tens of thousands of stories of families who have lost a loved one to an accidental overdose. Our son, Tynan, was a happy child. He was good-looking, smart, funny, athletic, involved in Scouts and other community activities.
The story of his descent into full-blown substance use disorder is also not very different from the thousands of stories from this epidemic.
His relationship with us grew more and more strained, especially with me, his mom. Eventually, I joined a family support group and I gained some perspective on this disease; I also gained tools for responding to our son in a healthier manner.
Meanwhile, Ty began to have more frequent encounters with law enforcement and was in and out of our county’s jail. Although he did not use street drugs in jail, he was prescribed psychiatric meds by the jail’s medical staff, which at times affected his mood and demeanor. The only benefit to his times in custody, and it is no small benefit, is that we had many visits with him during which he and I were able to repair and heal our relationship.
After an overdose in a public bathroom and a trip to the E.R., Ty wanted to go to rehab. (He was discharged, by the hospital, to the streets.) Thus began multiple trips around the state driving Ty to try to get into free or low-cost residential treatment. Alas, there is no walking into rehab. He was rejected multiple times for not having the correct paperwork, for being on psych meds, or for testing dirty at intake. He tried to get into a program near Disneyland, where we spent a night in a motel room. I watched the fireworks that night, tears coming down my face, hoping we would ever get to go to Disneyland together, again.
Eventually, Ty found a program that he was interested in and that would accept him, in yet another county, 150 miles away from home. It took a couple of trips before he was accepted, but he got in. Within a week he had 2 job offers!
After one month, we went to visit Ty for Easter. We went to religious services and spent the afternoon together at the local beach boardwalk riding roller coasters together. It would be the last time we ever saw Ty in person.
Five weeks later he sent me a lovely Mother’s Day card and posted a Happy Mother’s Day to me on Facebook!
Days later, just short of 90 days clean, Ty was discharged by the rehab program for vaping (using e-cigarettes) in the program’s dorm. Vaping inside was against the rules. I was told it was because it could set off the fire sprinklers.
I agreed to pay for one night in a motel room. The next day was payday and he also would be able to talk to a co-worker, who had offered him her couch, should he ever need it.
Indeed, the next day, Ty paid me back. He paid me back! For everything he had taken in the prior two years, he made immediate good on his debt to me. A kind co-worker (who speaks very little English) agreed to let Ty stay on her family’s couch and to take him to work for the next 5 days before he could re-apply to his rehab. He was already working on his re-admittance letter / application.
Sadly, the disorder took over. He apparently thought he could get away with using one more time and used a mix of meth and heroin in his co-worker’s bathroom. She and her husband, who did not use street drugs, found him on their floor around midnight and helped him back to their sofa, unaware of the danger he was in. In the morning they found him on their couch and he was gone.
Our worst nightmare came to pass.
I really don’t know if we would have been more public with our loss if Ty had died, say, in an automobile accident. Knowing Ty died of an overdose felt precarious and we were sensitive to the possible response or reaction. We did not want our son to be judged. It was very difficult to say those words; that he died of an overdose. Over the past year and a half, we have come to realize that many other wonderful, well-loved people, are dying of overdoses. There is nothing to hide.
We believe that ending the stigma will reduce a huge barrier to changing the story. If sharing our family’s story can stop just one family from going what we went through it will be worth it. But what we really hope is that we can change a lot of stories to happier endings.