We met a woman the other day, Maureen, who was so full of love, light, energy and hope you would never have known the grief and sadness she carries in her heart. This is the grief that no mother or anyone should ever have to live with, and that is the grief of burying a child who has died from a substance overdose. A child that had fought to stay clean but the drugs won. A child who appeared to have it all. A successful career, a ton of friends and his entire life ahead of him. There is no suicide note from substance overdose. There is no answer, just days of guilt and what ifs. Today, we are going to read her story.
Substance Overdose – Where Do I Go From Here?
On 2/19/2015, my son Harris died of heroin overdose. He died at home in Los Angeles alone. He was 30. At only 22, he was discovered by Sarah Silverman while doing stand-up comedy. He became a writer on her show and went on to write for television shows Eastbound & Down and Parks & Recreation, where he eventually became a co-executive producer. Just before his death, he helped write and produce Aziz Ansari’s critically acclaimed, Master of None, which is currently streaming on Netflix.
He invented the popular term, humblebrag, a modern expression of false modesty, and eventually wrote a book on the subject. The word is now in the dictionary. He opened for comedians Louis CK, Aziz Ansari, and Sarah Silverman. He became very well known in the podcast community and co-hosted the popular Analyze Phish with Scott Aukerman. He wrote a joke for President Obama. He had it all, including an addiction to heroin.
The day before he died he did a great stand-up set on a Wednesday night, came home and sent me an email about how thrilled he was to have landed the part of Aziz’s best friend in the new show and he was excited to sign a lease on a very cool apartment in Manhattan, where he was going right after he came home to see his precious niece, Iris. He told me he felt very fortunate and that he loved me very much. He had been 60 days clean and sober. He had worked so hard to achieve so many of his dreams and he was gone in an instant that very next day. He had so much more to give.
I can never again hear his infectious laughter, text or talk with him, see his beautiful face, or feel his embrace or kiss. This is my world now. This is my grief.
When I was informed of his death, I felt as if I had died. Each breath became a struggle, and I was not sure how I would survive burying my child. There are times when I am angry and know that anger comes from the knowledge that he will never reach the milestones that boys achieve when they become men. There will be no wife, children or uncle for my daughter’s little girl. Harris will never cry at my grave as I did at his. I fear that as time passes, I will forget details of my child.
Opiate drug use ravaged my son. It spiraled out of control. What started out as painkillers ended with heroin addiction. You might think it can’t happen to you or your family; I thought the same thing, yet here I am. I could not have been more supportive or involved in his addiction. I could not have loved him one ounce more. He entered rehab three times in 2014 and wanted to be sober with every fiber of his being, and we supported him and cheered him on, while waiting breathlessly during the silence, wondering if the drugs were winning. It was hell to live in that turmoil, and heaven when we would get a text from him, saying he was okay.
The final time Harris became clean, he wanted this new life for himself. He was in a sober living house, he was happy, and he was safe. But, then he was ready to get on with life before life was ready for him. He would never have chosen to leave this kind of devastation behind. No one who dies from substance overdose would choose to leave this devastation behind. The pain our family feels is brutal. It never goes away, and it can’t be fixed.
Someone asked me recently how I was doing, and I told them I was trying to survive with a huge hole in my heart. How can one possibly go on after the loss of a child?
Substance Overdose – Moving Forward
A month after Harris’ death, my husband went back to work, and I finally got out of bed. I mourned my son deeply but realized that I have a very loving daughter, son-in-law, granddaughter, husband, relatives and friends left on earth to love. I have no choice but to move forward. I wrote a book about Harris and I looked for grief support and therapy. I found a wonderful grief therapist and joined an online group called GRASP, Grief Recovery after a Substance Passing. In fact, because there isn’t a chapter or a specific group to losing someone from substance abuse, I am starting a chapter of GRASP here in Houston.
My life is far from over, and I will try to live it as large as I can. This is how Harris lived, and I plan to live the same way, because I know that Harris would not have wanted it any other way.
He was not some comedy god; he was just a man/boy who loved all people and accepted them with all their flaws. His mission was to make the world laugh, and he did it well. He was loved by so many and left so many pieces of hearts behind. I miss that beautiful soul that was my baby boy with all my being.
If you have lost a loved one to substance abuse, please read the story about GRASP or contact Maureen about when the group will be meeting.