This was something that was tough for me to put into words. However, I tried my best to sum up something no words ever properly could. I wrote this for me, really…as a constructive way cope, I guess. It may be sad to read but I do hope someone who might stumble upon this finds hope and encouragement.
On November 30, 2019, my baby brother, Matthew, passed away of a drug overdose at 21 years old.
Yes, obviously it was the worst day of my life. Hands down. If you have never experienced death, I gotta be honest, it really is everything you would imagine it to be. Death was not something I had any prior experience with and for that, I was grateful. I used to think to myself, “I hope I never get a phone call from mom telling me someone died. I don’t know what I would do”. LITERALLY, I would think those thoughts. And whenever I thought about Matthew, I couldn’t help but to worry.
That night, our Friendsgiving (I hate this term) was underway and I got to play hostess. I find hosting to be so lovely. I have never been an organized person, much less a party planner and have never taken well to cooking. However, in the past year, I’ve tried my hand at the whole culinary thing and have found that I really enjoy it. It seems my friends enjoy it too. So alas, Friendsgiving was at my house and I wanted to make it a perfect evening.
After I had finished cooking most of my dishes, I took a quick break and sat down on my couch to watch one of my favorite movies, Monster’s Inc., because I love watching kid movies by myself. (Small joys are precious, don’t discard them.) I watched for a while until my friends arrived. I soon made another trip to the oven for a quick glance and my phone rang. It was my sister. Kailyn never calls me very much (and I don’t call her either… sorry Kay) so I was happy to answer and listen to what I thought might be a question about where her jacket went or if I had “accidently” taken her favorite makeup brush. I had.
I answered. It was my mom. She was hysterical and I immediately felt like I knew exactly what she was about to say. There was no question in my mind that it was about Matthew because, well, it usually is. She said he had (accidently) overdosed, was on his way to the hospital, and it was not looking good.
According to my husband, I fell to the floor. I don’t remember this. I only recall yelling, “Mommy, no…” into my phone, running outside, and crouching down on my porch, as my breathing became erratic. My body shook and I felt like I was floating. It’s phenomenal how quickly your body goes into shock. Adrenaline is a mighty gift from God. Without it, I don’t see how anyone could accomplish anything immediately post tragedy.
I quickly began to pray for peace. That’s really all that I knew to pray for because I knew that every outcome would bring deep pain to my heart and to my family. If he lived, an overdose would be severely damaging to his vital organs, respiratory system, or central nervous system. I didn’t want to think about death though…that was the worst case scenario and I would deal with it only if I knew for certain it came to pass. What’s miraculous was as quickly as a prayed for peace, it began to flood my body and I regained composure. I’m very serious. I stopped shaking and had the clarity of thought to pray a prayer I had hoped to never pray. “Lord, please let me know if he’ll be okay.” I repeated this over and over again, not expecting the Lord to actually answer it. How small minded I am….but I certainly didn’t want to expect God to answer just because I was desperate. He did though. I knew for certain He said, “He’s okay, but he may not seem ok to you.” Literally, I heard this. At first, I thought it was just me. Maybe I had thought this to help myself cope. But after each prayer, I heard the same thing. I kept hearing, “He’s safe.” So, I assumed Matt would live.
I went inside my house where a few of my friends where already gathered and told them what I heard. “I think he’ll be okay but he might not be physically ok. So, maybe he’ll be braindead. Or maybe he won’t be able to walk or something…”. I continued to spew out every scenario in which his body would be impaired. I don’t know anything about opioid drugs and their effects on the body so I’m sure I sounded ridiculous.
As I paced my apartment, my body was still but my mind raced. I felt an ominous pit in my stomach. I quickly arranged our meal on the counter, told my friends to begin eating, and told my husband I was going for a drive. If I were to receive any bad news at all, I needed to be alone.
I got in my car and began to drive. I’ve previously spoken about my love for driving. It’s therapeutic for me. There are not a lot of places in which you are alone with your thoughts for massive amounts of time. However, I’ve learned to enjoy the solitude. On any normal day, I would roll down the windows and blast my music at a deafening volume and try to sing as good as whatever artist I was listening to. (Free singing lessons, really.) That day though, I drove in silence. I hopped on the 101 freeway and ended up somewhere in Reseda, I think. I drove and prayed for about 10 minutes. I was simultaneously dreading and anxious for whatever phone call would soon come. As soon as I parked my car on some dimly lit street, my body still calm, my mom called me. I said aloud, “Well, this is it,” and answered earnestly.
There was no answer for close to 10 seconds. Then she spoke, her voice shaking.
“Matt didn’t make it.”
I’m pretty certain that’s all I said. I paused. Even in the initial shock, I instantly felt even more peace than I had previously. It was bizarre.
“Mom, you’re going to be ok. Mom, It’s going to be ok. Mom, listen, I’m going to pray for you right now.”
Her wails were loud and her anguish was tangible. I had never heard my mother like that. I mean, of course I hadn’t. Her son had never died before. It’s not something I wish to hear ever again. I immediately called my aunt. Her demeanor was similar to mine, both of us calm and quiet. I was surprised by this. This peace I was feeling wasn’t going away. We spoke for a moment, each verifying the other’s news, followed by a prayer. I hung up and began my drive home.
As I drove, my body went completely numb and remained that way for about 24 hours. I don’t recall thinking much of anything as I went home. I didn’t know what to think. My mind was just…blank. I proceeded to call my sister who was equally as hysterical as my mother. She actually frightened me. I prayed for her and quickly hung up. It was painful to hear her grief. Now, all I knew was I had to tell my husband and my friends, all of whom loved Matthew, that he was gone. There is nothing I have ever wanted to do less in my life.
I parked my car, walked up to the door, and entered my house. My friends were still eating and my husband was standing the doorway to our bedroom. I pitied them for being there, in the worst hour of the worst day. I remember looking around at them and smiling nervously. I thought it was odd that a smile could even appear. They asked what had happened. My thoughts were jumbled and I proceeded to break the news with hesitant speech.
My husband immediately broke out in tears. I went to our room and began to comfort him. He couldn’t believe I was comforting him and frankly, neither could I. All my friends remained silent for the rest of the night. And honestly, I couldn’t decide if I wanted to talk about it or just be silent myself…I really couldn’t figure out how to behave. Like, shouldn’t I be crying or yelling or something? But my mind was racing and all I needed to do was sit down and try to breathe. It’s true how you begin to think back on the things you wish could have been done differently; what you could have said or how much more of an impact you could made in hopes that the outcome could have been different. I walked to the living room and sat on my coffee table.
Everything became dreamlike. I felt like Alice, as she warily wandered around Wonderland, wondering if time was playing a sort of strange trick on her.
“Is this real?”
This was all I could ask myself for a few weeks.
My family now lives in Nashville, Tennessee so I had to get a flight, and fast. The soonest available ticket was for 8 a.m. the following morning. To wait 10 hours felt like an eternity. I yearned to be with my mother.
I don’t remember much of anything else that happened that night, other than falling into a deep sleep. What’s funny though is that for the weeks that followed, I despised sleep. It was exhausting to accept that I would forget everything for a night only to wake up and remember it all over again.
Morning came and honestly, I was such a mess in the airport and I DID NOT CARE who saw. I cried profusely the entire time. I saw onlookers staring, some with slight concern, most with curiosity. I saw one lady begin to tear up herself as we were waiting to board our flight. We landed, picked up our rental car, and began our drive to my grandma’s home in Franklin, a suburb roughly 20 minutes south of Nashville. I had dreaded walking inside the house the entire flight, which felt strange to me. Why would I not want to go in and see my family? I was aching to be with them. Of course, this had nothing to do with them and everything to do with accepting our present situation. As soon and I entered the home and saw my family grieving like I was, it was really…real.
As soon as I walked inside, it felt as though home could never be anywhere else. I slept on a blanket by the fireplace for two days, waking up to cry every couple of hours. We all cried together for days. My eyes were red and puffy for TWO. STRAIGHT. WEEKS. As horrific as it was though, it was the most bonding thing we could’ve experienced together as a family. In midst of heartache, we grew closer to one another and to God. Looking back on those moments, it’s incredible to see how much beauty can come from pain when you choose to see with God’s eyes.
I would not want to relive the the subsequent weeks that followed. They were tremendously, indescribably painful. There were quite a few moments each day in those first two weeks where I wanted to either pass out or throw up. However, even in the midst of such intense grief, we found hope and felt such peace, which I could never begin to adequately describe to you. It’s supernatural. There is no possible way us small humans could feel peace like this outside of the power of God. We all felt assured that Matt was healed and safe in the arms of Jesus.
This was BY FAR, the issue I struggled with the most. My baby brother battled with drug addiction for 8 years. With addicts, at least in my limited experience, there are brief periods of sobriety followed by extended periods of continued use. Their sobriety brings glimpses of hope for the future which can swiftly become muddled by the worry and fear for their soul/life when they begin to use again. It ebs and flows. Matthew, when sober, was the sweetest, most tender-hearted, gentle, funny, friendly, loyal, and lovable boy to have ever walked this earth. His views of God, the Bible, and morality were decidedly certain and he understood and believed in salvation. He claimed Jesus to be the only way to heaven one month before he died. He re-dedicated his life to Jesus while I sat beside him just one year prior. I’ve even learned things about him in the last month which only confirm His belief in Jesus. That is one of the greatest gifts I could ever receive.
I share this story not because I feel obligated or because I anyone to feel bad for me. Geez. No way. It’s inevitable for all of us. I only share this in hopes that someone might be comforted. If you know this heartache, you are certainly not alone. But even in death, there is life more abundant. There is endless hope for those who believe. I’m certain about this now more than ever.
As my aunt stated to me very concisely, sanctification is a lifelong journey. I believe Matthew was still early in the process, as addiction stunts growth. But despite his mistakes, I do believe he desired it. I believe be believed it. And I know he’s with Jesus because, well, He told me so. For this, I am grateful. I am so humbled and in awe of God’s grace, an indescribable gift to humanity. Even in the worst moments of our time here on earth, God is present and continually loving us, healing us, and giving us a reason for the hope that we have. If I’ve learned anything from this experience, it’s that, truly, His love will never fail us.
I can’t wait to see Matthew. And to see him with Jesus, healed and whole in his beautiful heavenly body.
Oh, what a beautiful reunion it will be.
“Christ has the power to deliver you from any sin and any bondage. I am living proof of this, and you need to hear that it can be true for you too. Jesus defeated the power of sin and death when He died on the cross and rose from the grave to reconcile sinners to God. The same power that raised Jesus to life is the very same power that still raises spiritually dead people to life today.” – my auntie, Cherie.
“May we rejoice in the sweet paradoxes of our faith, in which we cry while we rejoice, find sweetness in the bitterness, life in death, His strength in our weakness, His death conquering death!”