We're in a library. A man approaches. His eyes are soft and kind. And so sad. “They tell us to talk to our children about drugs—to warn them,” he says. “I was vigilant. I educated my son. When he began using drugs in his early teens, I did what I thought you're supposed to do. I immediately intervened. However, my son was hurting so bad emotionally that he pledged he'd use drugs, especially marijuana, for the rest of his life. Drugs became his savior. From that point on, I did everything I could to stop him. When his drug use escalated and his mental health issues became severe and persistent, I got him what I thought was the best treatment available. He saw psychologists, psychiatrists, and substance abuse counselors. What would you do if your son or daughter got cancer or another serious illness? This is no different. I took my son to the best doctors I could find, got second opinions, and pleaded with him that he could not solve his problems alone. I was optimistic that he could have a normal life. I was probably fooling myself. I was praying for him to finish college, marry his girlfriend, and pursue his career. We all know that sometimes cancer recurs. If this happened to your child, once again you'd find the best treatment possible, given your insurance coverage and financial resources. With addiction, recurrence comes in the form of relapse. My son accidentally overdosed and died. With cancer we know that we can do everything right, yet sometimes its victims die. It's the same with addiction. Sometimes whatever we do isn't good enough.”
So many children have died. So many people. Their parents and lovers and spouses and siblings and children come to see us. You can't imagine how many. As one tells her story, I look over at Nic. From across the room he smiles at me, his eyes clear. I'm flooded with gratitude that he's all right and with unbearable grief for this mother, whose child is gone. And guilt. Why did my son survive when so many others have been buried by their parents? Nic is so lucky to be alive. I'm so lucky to have my son. I look over at him, my beautiful child. Then I look into the other parents' eyes. I'll never forget them. I'll carry their agony and fury—fury at the disease of addiction and our disastrous system of mental health care, which failed them. I'll also carry their dignity and bravery.