I still can't believe that Mark is gone. There is no way to explain the pain and devastation of losing a child. Only those who have lost a child can understand. A week before graduating from high school, Mark went to school, played in a student/staff basketball game, lifted weights, and went to work -- a great day! The next day he never woke up. It is a day that lives with us always. I can't tell you what it's like to try to revive your child and then to hear those dreadful words, “I'm sorry, but your son didn't make it." Then to hold your child's lifeless body, plan his funeral, go to graduation to see his cap and gown and a picture on the chair where he should have been sitting. There are no words that can even come close to describing that feeling. Throughout his life, Mark was quiet and an introvert. He didn't let many people into his life; you had to bring him into yours. When people took the time to get to know him they found a wonderful, caring person. Never much for words, he had a terrific sense of humor and could make you laugh just by his expressions and mannerisms. It was devastating to the many people who loved him when he tragically died just one week before his high school graduation. Mark is the younger of our two boys. When our children were born they became the focal point of our lives. Their mom quit work and became a stay-at-home mom. Mark and Brian were less than two years apart in age and were best friends during much of there pre-teen years. They were constant companions and Mark followed Brian everywhere. We did everything as a family. Mark seemed to be very happy growing up. Mark was extremely athletic and loved sports and basketball was his true passion. When he was younger, he would tape every game when Michael Jordan was on TV. We used to tape some movies that came on TV and had a movie “library." Many times we would go to watch one of them only to find that a Bull's game was taped over it. We also had a driveway basketball court and would play all of the time. Packing for vacations was incomplete unless a basketball went with us. Although Mark was only 5'9”, he realized his lifelong dream shortly before he died -- he was able to dunk a basketball. He also played in the student/staff basketball game at school, which is an event that is very significant to us now. That game was played on May 27, 2004. Mark died the next day. Mark's passion for basketball in life has now turned in to a tribute to him. His basketball backboard is now a driveway memorial. His portrait is on the backboard (complete with lights at night) and there is a cross and flowers at the base. His school now plays the annual student/staff basketball game in his memory complete with t-shirts with his name on them and a plaque in the school office. He was also an avid weightlifter from the time he twelve years old until the day before he died. He would sometimes lift seven days a week. Although he only weighed 180 lbs, he could bench-press almost 400 lbs. He sometimes lifted in the middle of the night because he also had trouble sleeping. We can remember the many times during the middle of the night when we would be awakened by the sound of the weights “clanking." Even when he started to have chronic back pain, he would continue to work out. In April of 2004, Mark was experiencing pain in his lower back (a chronic condition), a sore knee (diagnosed as bursitis), and a sprained wrist. His doctor prescribed Naproxen for pain. Early on, Mark told us that the medication was not helping the pain. He never said anything else about the pain after that and did not return to the doctor for a follow-up. Looking back, we sometimes wonder if Mark had found his own method of treating the pain. Perhaps the signs of Mark's addictive personality surfaced early in life. We remember when the boys received candy for Easter or Halloween and Mark's “stash” could disappear the same day. He would tend to go off by himself and all we would find later would be empty candy wrappers in a pile. We started to get concerned when this trait was also exhibited with household medicines when he was in his early teens. Cough medicine and acetaminophen had to be hidden and sometimes even diluted with water. When Mark was a sophomore in high school we received a phone call from his school telling us that they had found marijuana in his possession and that they had called the police. He received probation before trial and also went to drug and alcohol evaluation and counseling. Over the next year or so, there were occasional issues related to marijuana usage or beer consumption. The signs were much more evident to us by then and we could look at his eyes or listen to his speech to tell when he had been “using." In the months preceding his death, Mark seemed to have turned things around. He was happy, talking about the future, and looking forward to his upcoming graduation from high school. His self-confidence was also on the rise. The faculty and staff at his school also noticed this change. From all appearances, he had won his personal battle with addiction. His eyes were clear and his speech was sharp. On May 27, 2004, Mark's day went something like this. He woke up and went school and played in the student/staff basketball game. When he came home from school he lifted weights and ate dinner. He then went to work and got home at about 9:30 that night. When he got home, Mark talked to us about the game that day and we knew what a special day it had been for him. That was the last conversation we ever had with Mark...he never woke up the next day. On Friday May 28, 2004, Mark died from an accidental overdose of prescription drugs. Mark was so strong and seemingly invincible. After he died, we found out that he had taken prescription painkillers for his back pain. There seems to be a stigma attached to those who have died a drug-related death. Many think that they are bad people who probably deserved their fate. Our son and many other kids who have suffered this fate are caring and wonderful people. Mark gave us so much during his short life and we are so thankful that he is our son. This is not just something that happens to others. This can happen to a friend, a neighbor, or your own child. Sometimes the signs of addiction are obvious, and sometimes they're much more subtle. Grief is an emotion that we all have experienced (or are experiencing) many times in our lives. It can actually be a positive emotion in many cases. It's a reminder of just how special and significant the person has been in our lives. It can also give us a stronger appreciation of life and what we have. Unfortunately, for some of us, it can take over our life and we are consumed with sadness and emptiness. Time does not “heal all wounds." The grief due to Mark's death is like no other grief imaginabe. It is not the normal coarse of life. Kids shouldn't die before their parents. There are no words to describe the devastation and emptiness. It's not something that you “get over'; the emptiness will always be there. Mark's time here on earth is over...his story is complete...and life will never be the same without him.
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