I understand the question. It's always asked with sympathy and concern. It's not that I take it the wrong way. It's that there is no right way to take it at all. It seems an outrageous question to me because I still don't know how to answer it.
"How did your son die, Mr. G.?"
After ten years, I still don't know what to say. It is easiest to say he died of a drug overdose. That usually puts an end to the dialogue right then and there. Of course nothing is that simple. He was dying of Hepatitis C. He had a year or two left at best, according to his doctor.
"Were the drugs medication for his condition, for his pain?"
No, it was heroin.
"Did he take his own life?"
I didn't think so at first, but now I'm not so sure. There was an earlier attempt I learned about. It may have been a blessing, of course, a more peaceful death at home, versus a drawn out battle in a hospital. Wouldn't any parent prefer that? Doesn't any parent, in fact, ask these sorts of questions over and over and over again. Did I love him enough, could I have done anything else, during his seventeen year battle with drugs and illness? Second guessing is as fruitless as jealousy. It's a dead end exercise that goes nowhere.
So what’s this all about, anyway? Follow me below the fold, as I reinvent the wheel.
What follows is mostly old news. The books documenting government complicity in drug trafficking have been around in some cases since the 1970’s. My own local investigations in which I “reinvented the wheel” are now ten years old. One primary question I am unable to answer at this point is whether this activity still continues today. Of one thing I am sure however, that no moral qualms ever stood in the way of an opportunity to obtain unaccountable and nearly untraceable funds by a clandestine government organization acting “in the national interest.” I am also sure that the war on drugs is a political charade just like the massive local drug dealer roundups just before elections. Sad to say, my cynicism apparently knows no bounds. Let’s get on with it.
Drug death statistics are available on a variety of government and health websites, such as the FDA and the CDC. The difficulty lies in collating them from mixed categories. Illicit drug deaths, according to the FDA, are comprised of those caused by heroin, crack cocaine, and meth. They claim a figure of a little over 17,000 deaths in 2011. Getting to the exact figure from heroin is probably impossible, but it is easily at least 5,000 a year. Combine illicit drugs with prescription drugs and you get a figure topping 56,000 a year. But statistics don't shed tears, and they don't climb trees, have dogs,mothers, fathers, brothers and friends. They don't have runaway thoughts and nightmares. They certainly don't pray.
This diary is culled from my original journal entries and my more recent thoughts. I think by publishing this here I can finally turn the page on a subject I needed to express myself on but at the same time is so beyond words it is laughable.
Anger is slippery, hard to cling to, as it constantly changes shape. You exhaust yourself chasing it. Anger, revenge, despondency, rage against God... most likely you will at least run aground on the island of anger, but it is dangerous to explore, and you need to cast off again as soon as you are able.The thoughts cling to one another like dust to static. The dealer who sold the fatal dose I learned was someone named Mike, who lived in Atlanta. Would I seek revenge? To what end? He would merely be replaced by another. My son sold guns on the black market to finance his habit. His probation officer, when asked by me whether the local police knew the source of these guns that everyone else in the community seemed to know about, he said they indeed did, but had to step aside to avoid interfering with ongoing TBI (Tennessee Bureau of Investigation) monitoring.
So now this. God says, in case you weren't paying attention the last time, make sense of this. What? My son has to die so I can figure out your plan? I didn't verbalize it quite that way, but the sentiment was there, buried in the coldness that I felt around me. I was not sure where the expression cold as death comes from, but I knew now it was not a reference to the body of the deceased. It described rather how people feel in the presence of death.
I spent months chasing down the Mexican gang connections to major Tennessee cities, and on both TBI and FBI websites found documents showing they had been monitoring drug distribution by these gangs for years. Two trafficking routes; one through one gang in Nashville, another through a gang in Atlanta.
It was at this point that I stumbled upon a book by Alfred McCoy entitled The Politics of Heroin(1972), about government complicity worldwide in the trafficking of heroin. My knowledge deepened upon learning how even the FBI would stand aside to avoid interfering with “ongoing” DEA investigations, and finally DEA agents doing the same to avoid compromising CIA operations. Former undercover DEA agent Michael Levine also chronicled this in Deep Cover(2000).
Up to this point I had been, as I cynically call it, reinventing the wheel; following on my own through talks with our son’s probation officer and a friend who worked for the TBI. Each agency “monitors the small fry” in the hopes of following the trail to the higher ups. The only problem is, the higher ups are U. S. agencies and foreign governments. These conclusions were reached by me after reading the books by McCoy, Levine, and others, which are well documented. Gary Webb, in Dark Alliance(1996), documented the CIA’s complicity in the trafficking of cocaine by inner city gangs in L.A., and how drug profits were channeled to the Nicaraguan contras with the assistance of the CIA.
Dwelling on the cost in wasted lives each time a child dies led me to a feeling of helplessness. What was an appropriate response? Demonizing heroin has as one drawback the postponement of the grief process. But what is more constructive? Healing a shattered heart or channeling anger in an effort to rid ourselves of this scourge? Both? No, these are not rhetorical questions, and they do not elicit easy answers. I have been wrestling with them for ten years, and I'm still no closer to an answer.
Nothing worse than losing a child? I’m not so sure. It’s not a judgement one can make, I don’t believe, unless you’ve experienced the loss of a spouse or a sibling. Our son’s brother rarely talks about the tragedy. I believe he took it harder than us. And for those of you who know someone who has experienced this sort of loss, I beg of you, don’t be afraid or uncomfortable asking them to talk about the child they have lost. From my own experience, we need to talk, and we want to talk. Our son died in 2002. The date is omitted as it is identifiable information. There are some who do not wish me to tell this story, and many others I'd just as soon protect with anonymity.