John David Ross
John David was my only son. He was 28 years old when he died due to complications from a two to three year addiction to Vicoden. He was young enough to still have his many dreams realized. When I have dreams about him, or think of certain memories, most often he is still a laughing, curious sweet little boy. When John was just a little guy, I knew he was different from many kids. He was exceptionally bright and very independent. He was always so happy! My family and friends always commented on what a good natured baby and little boy he was, always laughing and finding many unique and creative ways to amuse himself. He talked early and it didn't take long for his charming personality to emerge. We had moved to Phoenix, AZ when John was 2 years old. We were flying back to Michigan for a visit and I still have a vivid memory of John, probably about the age of 4, walking up and down the aisle of the airplane saying “Hi!” to the passengers and engaging them in conversation. He was sweet and pleasant and curious and none of the passengers seemed to mind. He was quite entertaining. As a child, and even as he grew older, it was very difficult to get angry at John when he misbehaved, as he always gave that engaging smile or grin and had something funny to say. I can honestly say he was an absolute joy in my life and brought a laugh and smile to me each and every day. We eventually moved back to Michigan when John was about 10 years old, and we settled into a nice, middle class neighborhood with wonderful schools. We had a beautiful home with the dogs and a cat to go with it. Our family consisted of your typical Mom and Dad, John and his older sister, Lisa. John was very much “the boy next door” type – most of the time. He had many friends and was well liked by his teachers and his friend's parents. But he was always distracted in school, and a psychological evaluation revealed that John had an extremely high IQ, and possibly an attention deficit disorder. It was recommended that he should be enrolled in the gifted program in our school district, which ironically was based in the school where I worked. But John did not want to be isolated from his neighborhood friends; they were his life line. So he remained in regular classes, was very popular in school, and had a witty sense of humor well beyond his years. He was very artistic, loved music and played the drums. John also definitely had a “claim to fame” as he was a very talented athlete, both in baseball and basketball. But his true love was baseball, and as the years went on and he played in high school and city leagues and made a name for himself as an all star pitcher. I was so very proud of him, tried to never miss a game, and loved going to the state tournaments to watch him pitch. And when he had a bad game, I made sure to acknowledge his disappointment and tell him how proud I was of him anyway and that we can't always win. Quite sadly, his pitching arm developed a damaged tendon in his last year of high school and his baseball playing years were coming to an end. He appeared to take it well, but I could always sense that he felt a great loss of a big dream. Going back a few years, when John was 14, things began to change.The family dynamic changed as his father and I had divorced. John, his sister, Lisa, and I stayed in the same house and same neighborhood, but John took this change of events very hard. He began acting out quite a bit in school, getting in fights, and I believe this is around the time John first started experimenting with alcohol and smoking pot. As years went on, this behavior started escalating. He was consistently breaking curfew, skipping school, and the middle of the night phone calls from the police began. He was arrested a number of times as a minor in possession, under the influence, and public intoxication. But as I remember that period of time, I can now see there were not any real consequences for John. Any rules or punishments I tried to establish for his behavior were simply ignored by John. He just started doing whatever he wanted, and I sadly watched that happy little boy disappear, and a very unhappy adolescent replacing that little boy. Despite his descent into what was becoming a bit of a wild life style, John got a job, continued to play ball and carry on with his school activities. But I was worried. Even though I had over ten years of ALANON under my belt, I felt lost and helpless when it came to my son. I eventually talked with John and told him that I felt he needed counseling, which he of course did not agree with. Nonetheless I set him up in an adolescent out-patient program. He reluctantly went, but never really participated and took it seriously. His drinking and using pot continued and I decided to take things a step further. John was 17 at this time, and in Michigan a 17 year old can check himself out of an in-patient facility. However, in Ohio a 17 year old cannot do that. St. Vincent's in Toledo has an outstanding adolescent in-patient rehab program and I set things up for John to be admitted. I had the support of his Dad and we both decided not to tell him in advance and simply just get him there. On the morning of his scheduled admittance, John's Dad came to the house to help and drive us there, and he had to literally physically hold John and force him into the truck. This may sound cruel, but it was part of the “tough love” I had been taught. We made it to St. Vincent's without incident, as John somehow conceded. I believe some very helpful input from his Dad was responsible for this. But in a very ironic twist, once we got to St. Vincent's, where a bed and room were already set for John, my insurance decided not to cover his treatment there as he had “failed” in out-patient treatment. What kind of logic is this? I asked the woman at the insurance company who I should blame if John goes out and hurts someone or himself. She had no response. So, back home we went. John actually settled down quite a bit after this incident. I believe that some part of him felt reassured that BOTH of his parents, even though Dad didn't live at the house anymore, loved him enough to do such a difficult thing together. And he also realized this was serious. So, things stayed calm for a year or so, but soon started re-escalating once again. And once again the “tough love” practice came into play. At age 20 I told John it was time for him to go out on his own. I could no longer deal with the constant chaos and his disrespectful behavior. Looking back, I sometimes wonder if that was the right thing for me to do. The never ending parental guilt..... I put John out in a world that he was ill equipped to deal with. He ended up drifting from friend to friend for a place to stay, and eventually ended up homeless and living in his car. He still had his job and never missed a day of work, but did not earn enough money to get a place of his own. Once I discovered this, I went to his father's house and he and his second wife and I had a good, long kitchen table talk. Initially John's Dad was not very receptive or empathetic to John's situation, as John was not keeping contact with his Dad. But in the end, his Dad agreed to take John in under certain conditions. By this time I was living in a small one bedroom apartment, and my daughter, Lisa, had gone to live with her Dad, who was a stay at home parent and cared for his son by his second marriage. I thought this would be a good situation for John, but as years evolved I discovered this was not a positive experience for John. Out of respect for other's privacy I cannot go into details about this, but I can say that John's faith and trust in others virtually disappeared. John became more financially stable, still employed at the same place he started working in high school, and eventually moved out and rented a house with a buddy of his. I was back in regular contact with John by this time and he was doing well. He liked being on his own, he was sober, and he was beginning to feel more like an adult. He had one incident on his 24th birthday when his friends threw a party for him and he drank. John made the mistake of trying to drive home, with home still at his father's at this time. He was arrested and wanted his one phone call to be to me. He did not lose his license but was put on probation and community service. That's when John decided to stop drinking altogether. But, I now know there were demons rumbling around in his head. John was not even close to being as happy as he wanted me and others to believe. After living with his friend for a few years, one day John called me and asked if he could move in with me. I was still living in that little one bedroom apartment, but he explained that he was struggling financially and needed a place to stay so he could catch up. There wasn't any way I could say no. I believe I still felt guilty for kicking him out of the house so young and this was a way to make up for it. So John came to live with me and things went very well. He had matured, we were very close once again and life went on. After a year, John and I moved into my boyfriend's new home, which we had picked out together. John once told me he felt very happy and safe with Greg and I and he loved living with us. And, we loved having him. He worked virtually every day, was helpful around the house, amused us daily with that sense of humor, and we enjoyed those evenings just kicking back and watching baseball or a good movie. But looking back, I can now see the little signs that at the time I ignored and denied. Those little things that are really quite revealing when looked at by an objective eye and not a Mom. John started withdrawing from his other family members, he already had cut off all contact with his father years ago, and he even withdrew from his friends, with the exception of a few. He started spending more time alone in his room, and at various times he almost seemed disoriented, and he was extremely fatigued. His salary at work had significantly increased, and yet he never seemed to have any money to pay his bills, and sometimes even borrowed money from me. Every few evenings he would run out saying he had an errand or had to go to the store and would be back a short time later with nothing in hand. A tiny little voice in my head told me that John was in trouble. He was using something. But I quickly dismissed the thought, thinking of the talks John and I had when he would tell me he wanted to get married and raise a family and start a new life. No way could this very kind and loving young man with all of these hopes and dreams be using. I just couldn't see it. When John came back to live with me he had hurt his back quite seriously, and his damaged arm from baseball was causing him pain, as he was a meat cutter. His back injury sent him to the clinic where he was prescribed Vicoden. He did not hide this from me at this time. A second visit to the clinic provided more Vicoden for his pain, and I believe it was at this time that John became addicted and started hiding it. But I couldn't tell and I didn't even see it. He functioned normally and went about with his daily responsibilities. About two weeks before John died he started becoming ill. He had persistent stomach problems and had trouble keeping food down. He even started missing days of work which was very out of character for John. I made numerous offers to take him to the emergency room on days he was very sick, but he always refused. Finally, early one morning, John started banging on my bedroom door. He was doubled over in pain and asked me to take him to the hospital, which I immediately did. But he asked that I not go back into the treatment area because he had something private to discuss with the doctor. By now I could guess what that was and I respected his wishes. John was diagnosed with pancreatitis and was admitted into the hospital. I went home to get him some belongings that he would need, and while getting those things from his room I discovered dozens and dozens of empty pill baggies hidden everywhere. I have to admit I was somewhat shocked, but reality quickly set in and I could finally say that John was an addict. When I returned to the hospital I spoke with John's doctor privately and asked if they had done a tox screen on John. The doctor said no they had not because John had denied using any narcotics or substances. He still could not face this honestly, despite the severe pain he was in. I shared with the doctor what I had found in his room and a tox screen was then performed. It definitely showed evidence of Vicoden, and when John was confronted with this he finally owned up to the doctor that he was using, but that he wanted to stop. When I visited John the next day I had an opportunity to talk to him about his addiction, that it was in fact a disease that needed treatment. He actually agreed with me and told me that he was tired of being chained to this drug. I felt so hopeful, finally. Little did I know what was in store in the next few days to follow? John was admitted to the hospital on a Tuesday and given strong narcotics for his pain. On Wednesday when I went to see him he was still in a great deal of pain and still receiving narcotics. On Thursday he seemed to be doing a little better. That's when he shared with me his conversation with his doctor the previous day regarding his addiction and told me that a social worker had come to talk to him about various treatment options. He said he wanted treatment, but didn't want to miss any work so he was leaning towards out-patient. I felt he needed in-patient, but John was legally an adult and could make this decision on his own. On Friday, John was looking and feeling much better, but still being administered narcotics for his pain. I believe the narcotics he was receiving were “replacing” the Vicoden to a certain extent. I was also told that on Sunday John was scheduled to be discharged as he was showing signs of improvement. About 3:00am on Saturday morning, October 4, 2008, I received what I now perceive as a somewhat haunting phone call from John. He asked when I was going to be there to visit him. I reminded him that it was 3:00 in the morning but I would be there at my usual time a little later in the morning. He said, “Okay, I'll see you later”. At about 7:30am that same morning, I received a phone call from his doctor informing me that John had been placed in intensive care and was on a ventilator. The doctor believed that John needed a liver transplant and they had made arrangements for John to be transferred to University of Michigan Hospital. I was in complete shock. John was supposed to be coming home the next day! Why didn't his doctor know he needed a liver transplant sooner? What happened to John in those wee hours of that fateful Saturday morning to cause him to be placed in intensive care? I immediately went to the hospital, and when I arrived I started walking in his room. I got a quick glimpse of John, ventilator in his mouth, monitors all over the place. He appeared to be only semi-conscious. A nurse quickly guided me to a chair and told me I could go back in after they were done prepping him for transport to U of M Hospital. As I was waiting, suddenly the “Code Blue” went on over the loudspeaker. It was for John's room. I was told that John had gone into cardiac arrest. I started to panic and get inside his room, and was consistently pushed back outside. But I saw the heart paddles, the attempts to revive him, nurses and doctors literally running down the hall with IV bags of medication to help revive John. Eventually, a nurse took me by the hand and made me sit outside his room. She sat with me and kept holding my hand and tried to help me calm down. I was near hysteria and things began to become very surreal. I was there by myself, but I felt a part of myself just disappear. After about 20 minutes something very strange came over me and I knew John was gone. Maybe it was a mother's instinct about her child; I do not know. But I then quieted down and sat very still. Ten minutes, later John's doctor came and gave me the “We did everything we can, but…..” speech. I was just simply numb. After John had been cleaned up, they let me go in to say good-bye. I walked over to his ever so still and very cold body. How was I supposed to say good-bye? I kissed his forehead, held his hand, and just repeated his name over and over. I was literally in a state of shock and disbelief, but yet I knew my boy was gone, forever. It is coming up on one year since John died. I still deeply grieve. He is in my last thoughts when I try to sleep at night and in my first thoughts in the morning, and literally throughout the day. I believe that a parent losing a child is the most traumatic event that can happen to a parent. I do not have the words to describe the deep ache that is always present. I do know that I became a different person on that day, and I will always be a different person for the rest of my life. I miss my son so very much. And even though I have a beautiful daughter whom I love dearly and the same as I always have, this does not take away the deep void created by John's passing. Nothing will ever fill that void. It doesn't take much to make me cry, hearing a certain song, seeing someone who looks like John. It could be any little thing. I am told this will lessen over time. But for now, the wound is not healed and I still deeply hurt. What I could say to other parents who have lost a child to substance abuse and addiction is that it is not your fault, because we all feel a level of guilt. Addiction is a recognized disease by the American Medical Association. It is often compared with diabetes, it cannot be cured but it can be arrested. There is a proven genetic component involved with the disease of addiction, which is why it is often clustered in families. That certainly was the case for my John, as there is a tangled family tree of addiction from both sides of his parents. Adolescents and young 20 something kids seem to have a sense of invincibility. “I can handle this.” or “That will NEVER happen to me!” This is where intensive education about substance abuse is so crucial and the younger the better. These days it seems to be prescription drugs, like Vicoden or Oxycotin, are the drugs of choice among our young people. They are easy to obtain and easy to hide. But the number of deaths due to prescription drug addiction is now at a staggering all time high. Our kids often believe they have it under control and do not realize that the drug really has control over them. It stops their emotional growth, their bodies are being severely damaged, dreams are often left by the wayside, and eventually their very lives are taken away. I believe that education, especially at an early age and before addiction kicks in, is part of the key that can slow this insidious and tragic trend. We cannot keep losing our kids like this. We must pay attention to that little voice that often tells us something is not right, and be strong enough to take action and hopefully make a difference. Sometimes we just might be saving our child's life, and sometimes we just don't have control. I pray that my John's life, and death, were not in vain. If even one life is saved by his story, or maybe another young person's story, their lives will have eternal meaning. My biggest fear is that John will be forgotten, even though I know that isn't true. At his funeral, his friends literally outnumbered family. Many were friends from childhood that had remained friends into young adulthood. They flew in from all parts of the country and stayed through the entire visitation times and contributed greatly at his funeral. The many memories they shared during this time and at his funeral are precious to me. John wanted life, but he lost it. He will be missed and loved forever.
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