The Empty Chair at Our Holiday Table
When you lose a child, there will always be an empty chair at the holiday table. Another Thanksgiving or Christmas he won’t be with us. Here’s how I cope.
The Patriots are back in the Super Bowl. Two great teams trying their best — just like millions of families with sons and daughters in recovery.
My family lives in New England and we are huge Patriots fans – we have lots to be excited about.
I’m the father of two sons whom I love very much and am very proud of. I believe my sons work as hard as professional football players do. Every day they overcome adversity and accomplish the task at hand. The ultimate prize isn’t a Super bowl ring, though. The stakes are much higher. The opponent they faced was cunning and powerful enough to exert a deadly grip. What was the serious struggle they both tackled? Substance use.
This has impacted our entire family. At times, my sons fought with all the strength and determination they could muster from their body, mind and spirit. They had treatment and support from friends and family. We stayed in their corner, believed in them and cheered for them.
Young people struggling with substance use and those early on their path to getting well need all the help they can get. As do their parents or primary caregivers.
Do you have a son or daughter who is struggling with substance use? I hope Super Bowl Sunday presents an opportunity for you to have empathy for your child. If you watch the game together, could you lead by example? Would you need to have alcohol there? Consider offering an alcohol-free beverage and have one, too.
Save any urges to argue with your son or daughter. Scream at the game on TV instead. You don’t need to get into a heavy discussion about drugs and alcohol (despite alcohol being advertised heavily during the game.) Call a time out if you need to remind yourself about what is most important to you and your family. (I know, sometimes, easier said than done.)
An opportunity might present itself to tell your son or daughter that they can always count on you and come to you for support, guidance or just to spend time together. Try to catch your child doing something good and let him or her know it. Share a fond memory, make his or her favorite appetizer or give a simple pat on the back – or whatever connection you both need to break the ice.
If you can’t be with your child, a brief phone call can remind him or her how much you care.
My wife and I chose to advocate for our sons when they could not advocate for themselves, especially concerning treatment. We helped them navigate what’s often a broken system of care. We helped to open doors to treatment, but once inside, they did all the heavy lifting. We remained engaged by trying to encourage and motivate them to get well and feel better about themselves. We chose to look at all the good inside them and to believe in them. We never gave up hope. We may have hated the drugs, but we never stopped loving our kids. Rather than detaching, I guess we attached with love. However, we did let them suffer the negative consequences of their actions. And I certainly cleaned up more messes than I should have based on what I know now.
Today they are fine young men with integrity and wisdom beyond their years. They are my heroes. I’m proud to say they have been on a good path for a very long time. For my youngest son, who is now 29, that means almost 10 years in recovery. And for my oldest son, almost six years. I have learned so much from them and my extremely supportive wife, who has been an amazing mother throughout it all.
This Super Bowl Sunday my family has a lot to be grateful for.
The more we encourage positive change in each other, the more lives can be saved. More families can heal. More young people can get well and go on to realize their tremendous potential.
GO, all you kids out there who are still struggling! We are here for you and believe in you!
GO, all you kids who are on a healthy path of recovery!
GO, all you wonderful, supportive parents!
Paul’s Recommended Reading and Resources:
* If you are concerned about your child’s drug or alcohol use, visit Get Help and call the Partnership’s Toll-Free Helpline to speak with a trained and caring, master’s-level support specialist about your child’s at 1-855-DRUGFREE (1-855-378-4373).