My life was forever changed on 07/21/11. My 19 yr old heroin-addicted son had moved back home 3 days previously. At the time he was 7 months clean from daily heroin use. We were hopeful, he had started to resemble the son I knew before he started abusing heroin. I did not know of the severity of this particular addiction.
The plan was for him and his girlfriend to get an apartment, get involved in a 12 step abstinence base program and to live a happy/healthy/productive life. Not too bad an idea, one that most “almost 20” year olds do every day. However, not most “almost 20” year olds are addicted to a drug that is unforgiving and unrelenting.
The morning on 07/21/11 I had gotten ready for my day shift job, glanced at the closed door where he was sleeping, and went off to work. This was a particular fearful morning for me, as the girlfriend had left Las Vegas the day before to pick up her things from her home 4 hours away. He was home alone for the first time in over 7 months.
My text message to him that morning had gone unanswered, that’s ok, he’s tired I reassured myself. The following 2 texts throughout the day also produced no responses, and my anxiety grew. Upon arrival at home, my heart felt a little lighter as I saw that his car was still at home. Entering the house on that afternoon, my stomach dropped as I noticed the dogs had not been fed, no water in their dish. I walked upstairs and timidly pushed the door open to his room. Time ceased to exist for me. I saw my sweet/gifted/brilliant/beautiful oldest son laid out before me… He was grey and his body cold to the touch.
Death is a tragedy, and when it happens to your son – it feels inhumane… A rip off. Life shouldn’t be like this, it’s unnatural. I was a single father who raised 4 sons, all I ever wanted to be was a “dad”. I remember watching a movie called the Patriot, in the movie Mel Gibson lost his son- I couldn’t grasp how a father could keep living after a tragedy like that. That was only a movie, now I had to live that reality- and let me say that it is way worse than I could have ever imagined.
As the following months turned into the first “angel anniversary”, a group of parents in my situation had explained that is the day our children got their angel wings, my grief took on different faces. I sat with 4 other people in my kitchen, and we talked about “helping” heroin addicts. But what would that help look like? We established a Non Profit Organization that had a mission of raising awareness of heroin addiction in our community and raising funds to help offset the cost of sober living for addicts newly release from treatment centers. Our first event was a community yard sale, then quickly hit the ground running by pounding on doors and raising our voices to ask for the disease of addiction to be treaters like the chronic, progressive illness that it is! We are privately funded, 100% volunteer driven and would welcome any support from the community. Please visit our website and make your tax-deductible donation if you’ve ever been affected by addiction.
Written by Joe Engle in loving memory of Reese Engle (09.14.81 – 07.21.11).