Life Isn't Fair. It's just fairer than death...
- William Goldman, “The Princess Bride”
It’s not the news anyone wants to greet my son with when he gets off the plane this weekend after five months in Iraq… and the guys meeting his plane are looking to me to advise them on this. They know he has been looking forward to seeing them all, kicking back and “chillin’” with his friends and brother… putting the war behind him for a while. But one of their high school friends died two days ago. He was 19.
You always want to protect your children – not just physically, but emotionally. You want to keep them from the pain of that first betrayal, a broken heart, the disappointment of that strikeout that ends the game and the season. You never want them to have anyone close to them die because that’s a pain that’s hard to soften. You eventually recognize at some point that the best you can hope to do as a parent is to teach them to accept those painful moments as a part of life, learn from them and move on… better and stronger.
In our case, when we sent our son off to Iraq, we hoped he would never lose anyone in his company but certainly not a close friend, but we knew it might happen. The first fatality from our son’s battalion had been one of his instructors and he took the loss hard but accepted it as a risk of being a soldier. But how do you tell him that someone he thought of -- thinks of -- the way he last saw him is dead from a heroin overdose? When they last saw each other just before my son deployed to Iraq, he, Rob and the rest of the “buds” were playing cards, telling stories, playing music too loud, laughing and enjoying themselves....
Now he comes back to this…
“A 19-year-old… man found dead yesterday likely overdosed on heroin… police said, a day after authorities warned that a lethal mixture of the drug could be circulating around the region. Six other people have died from heroin overdoses in [New York], New Jersey, and Pennsylvania during the past three weeks. A seventh man… remains on life support… from a heroin overdose. A small bag found near the dead teenager was stamped with lips and the words "Kiss of Death." The teenager was found dead about 2 p.m. in his bedroom.”
His friends are all confused and angered by the death of their friend, “How could this happen? No one we know does H!” While he was not a child of privilege, he was not a child of depravation… Rob was a “good kid” from a middle class family with many friends. Most of his friends went away to college and have been out of touch since the new term started in January, but even those that stayed to attend college locally tell me that they had seen little of Rob in the past few months but assumed that – like them – had just been absorbed with work and school… Maybe the image my son has from last December of a laughing and happy Rob is how he should be remembered... and maybe we'll never know what compelled this boy to snort something marked "Kiss of Death" and think he was immune... and maybe it will serve as a reminder to others that they don't call it "dope" for nothing... I don't know... but I wish I never had to answer when they ask, “When should we tell him?”
We have all agreed that he should be told… but we have also agreed that he should be allowed to revel in the happiness and excitement that will accompany his arrival – he’s earned it and if Rob were alive, he'd want that, too. They were friends. After visiting with Rob’s parents the other night, the “gang” selected our son’s best friend to approach our son in a quieter moment later in the day or evening after he arrives – when things have quieted down a bit. The funeral is Monday and they are all hoping that our son arrives home in time to attend... They want to stand together and I know he'd want to be there, too.
They shall grow not old, as we that are left grow old;
At the going down of the sun and in the morning
We will remember them.
Laurence Binyon (1869-1943), “For the Fallen”
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