My brother died on November 29th, 2019, from a heroin drug overdose. MY BROTHER IS DEAD! Barely 30. Never lived his best life passed 18. And here we are…here I am— grieving through the wreckage he left in his wake. Twelve years of loving him so much and hating everything he’s done to himself, to my family, and everyone who ever loved him.
That’s what the mental illness of addiction does.
(Please note that this was written 2 weeks after my brother passed.)
Jason was chosen into our already family of 7 as a newborn baby (he would make us 8) abandoned in the hospital from his drug-addicted birth mother. My parents had already chosen his older brother to be a “Keels”— and Jason completed the tribe.
Because of Jason’s birth mom’s addiction, the possibility of him becoming a drug addict because of his not asked for pre-disposition was always in the back of everyone’s minds. And especially my parents.
I was six at the time and loved him deeply the moment he came into our home. I couldn’t believe that my family got to have a brand new baby brother. Addiction from birth or not, born from another mother or not, he was my brother, and I loved getting to be his big sister.
Growing up was odd in some ways with siblings who had problems due to their birth mom doing drugs while pregnant. Some chaos that now, as a mother myself, I see, wasn’t exactly normal. But it was my normal growing up, and frankly, I wouldn’t change it for the world. I didn’t know any different.
Jason was your typical “punk little brother”— he was the best and the favorite of the family. He was hilarious. Funny. Good looking. Loving. Cuddly. Prom King. Basketball MVP. Style on style. Loved Jesus. And a momma’s boy to the absolute max.
He rose to the top in everything he did.
Until he didn’t.
Jasons drug addiction was a slow start at 18—marijuana to start (which sounds peaceful at this point). And, like the mental illness of addiction does— his life became an avalanche of destruction, taking down the beauty around him with pain killers, heroin, alcohol, and meth.
I remember the first time I got the dreaded phone call that Jason had overdosed, and my mom found him—he was around 20. It was the first time I felt that kind of extreme panic that I might lose my brother. My husband and I rushed across town while he was rushed to the hospital, and honestly, we didn’t know if he was going to make it or not. But he survived somehow. And, being that he was an adult and didn’t have to go back with my parents, he left the hospital to do what drug addicts do, and we were left in pieces and at a loss. So, because we were all in shock, my parents, my husband and I did what all people do in this kind of situation—we went and got Chinese food at the nastiest restaurant around.
From then on, Jason was in and out of jail, on and off the streets, in and out of rehab, and clean here and there. The addiction was strong.
Jason would usually start to spiral around the holidays if he was in a season of being clean. One Christmas in particular he was in jail, and he wrote these letters with beautiful artwork on them—my dad carried them in his pocket and read them to us after we opened gifts because he was grieving that my brother wasn’t there. In the moment, it was depressing, saddening, annoying, and maddening. All of the emotions for me. It was the stark reality that my brother was single-handedly ruining Christmas, and he wasn’t even there.
I just wanted to go back to “the good old days.” But reality is often times, never that. And you don’t know you’re living in the “good old days” until you realize that you for sure as hell are not anymore at all.
As a sibling of an addict, I can tell you that there are a million conflicting emotions. I loved my brother and I wanted him to get it together so that he could be clean, and my parents could be happy again. I hated seeing my parents go through the ups and downs of Jasons addiction and having it affect their happiness and ability to be present. They always worried about Jason’s well-being as any parent would.
One day they would do the tough love thing with him. The next, they would be enabling him, and all of us siblings, plus friends and family, would give our two senses. But the truth is—he was and is their baby boy. They couldn’t win either way. Not with Jason. Not with us. And sometimes, not even with each other.
My siblings and I are all highly opinionated people. Sometimes we were mad…not only at Jason but at my parents. Because it affected every vacation, every family get together, every holiday…and everything else in between. Addiction does not affect just the one— it affects everyone. And it’s a horrible epidemic that my whole family had to see first hand for 12 years.
For years I worried about getting the phone call that he was dead. Or back on the streets. Or back in jail. Or had relapsed. I can’t count the number of times I cried in fear. I can’t count the number of times I reached out to friends for prayer for my brother to get healthy.
Addiction is misunderstood as a simple choice one can shut off with enough will power. And sometimes it is. But sometimes it’s actually a full blown battle that, unless you’re in it, you don’t have a clue how strong the pull is for just another hit — just another drink. I mean- I have a hard time saying no to french fries and chips and salsa— I can’t imagine having to fight daily in saying no to an addictive drug on a daily basis.
Addicts aren’t evil. What drugs do to people and families is evil. Satan is no fool. Catch them when their young, speak lies of abandonment and failure and a “never enough” mentality- a drug sounds like the quickest fix to take the pain away.
I know the torture was awful for my mom and dad. They had to make hard decisions…and often they were made day by day, and hour to hour depending on where he was with this addiction. I remember multiple times my mom calling because she had just kicked Jason out of the house in the middle of winter due to his drug addiction behavior, and he would be sleeping in the grass in their backyard with a sleeping bag. I can’t even imagine what that would feel like as a mom—I don’t want to know. To live with having to call the cops on one day to get him out of the house and the next, searching for him on the streets to make sure he is still alive.
You can’t tell an addict to get clean. Jason wouldn’t go to rehab unless he wanted to. He wouldn’t get help unless wanted to. He said and did crazy things, ruined relationships, ruined jobs..he ruined a lot. His addiction didn’t just affect him; it was the underlying trauma that we all dealt with as a family in our own ways.
And yet, we loved him dearly. We ALWAYS held out hope he would get clean for good and ALWAYS had in the back of our minds the reality that he could at any time, overdose and die.
You see, he did get clean for a few extended periods of time. Once for four years, and then another time for one year. The last year of his life was the first time I saw him genuinely enjoying life and being himself. He went on a family vacation, and we had the best of times. He was hiking with his girlfriend- living in a halfway house, had a full-time job, and was surprisingly healthy and fun to be around. Because when he is 100% sober, he is the most fun and goofy human in our family.
So, I got one last picture with him last summer, and it was at my grandma’s funeral. He was so happy. I remember clearly thinking that I am so glad I have this picture with him because…ya never know. And we didn’t know—that relapse was just around the corner.
Three weeks before he passed, he started losing it, making bad and highly irrational decisions. There is underlying stress that happened each time he did this. I tried to block it because I only had so much mental space to deal with this again and again and again. It was like a living nightmare. Watching him destruct. Watching my mom and dad destruct.
The morning he died was the actual nightmare I had prayed and prayed would never happen. It was Black Friday, I was on a business call—and my mom was blowing up my phone. At that moment, I had two very distinct thoughts—either Jason is dead, OR there is a Black Friday deal my mom wants me to jump on.
Over the years, these were the extreme and vastly different thoughts I would have every time my mom would call me on repeat. Every time my body would shoot up into a panic. And I remember one time, I couldn’t answer the phone—I was bawling. I was too afraid to answer because I thought something happened. And I think my mom was just looking for a cookie recipe or something. It was constant anxiety, stress, and the unknown.
So that morning, when I didn’t get off the phone with my clients, I just sent my mom a text and asked if everything was okay. She said, “no-everything is not okay. Jason is gone.”
What instant shock and horror I felt. I told my clients my brother died and I had to go. That was weird.
I stood there numb. I called my mom. She found him dead in his room—he was suppose to go to rehab that day.
To say I was in a total state of shock is the biggest understatement of my life. No matter how many times I prepared myself for this phone call, I was not prepared at all.
And then, panic attacks just happened again and again and again and again. Thank the Lord for medicine.
The flight back to Portland sucked. Being home with my parents and siblings was hard. Being home with my parents and siblings was beautiful. Going into the room in my parent’s home that he overdosed in was 50% miserable and 50% therapy. I wanted to look through his things- breath in his smoke-filled clothes and cry buckets of tears forever.
I cry because I miss him. I cry because I have missed him for 12 years. I cry because there was always hope in the back of my mind. I cry because of the constant unknown for a decade. I cry because of my parents pain of losing a child. I cry because I, along with my siblings, lost a brother. I cry because my family will never be the same. I cry because it was never the same the day Jason started drugs. I cry because my kids never really got to know him beyond his last year of life. I cry because I would keep fighting for Jason if he was here. I cry because I would rather him here. I cry because I look at that little boy in family pictures, as sweet as he was, as loved as he was…and wonder how we got here. I cry because it’s so unfair that he was born into this world with this kind of addiction.
The honest truth is, to the world we look at drug addicts and the homeless as an inconvenience. An opportunity to serve during the holidays so we feel good about ourselves. Gross misfits in society. Bums who can’t get it together. We see the actions and we forget they are human. With stories of their own, trauma, and thing’s in their life that have landed them in this spot in the first place.
My heart is broken. No doubt. My family is broken into pieces.
I want my brother back.
There is no lovely ending.
Except this: Jason did not die in vain. There were 1,000 plus people at his memorial service. Addicts. Recovering addicts. People my mom and dad helped save from addiction who now live healthy lives — people from his halfway house. Friends and community and church members who got to see a son, a brother, a friend, a boyfriend loved relentlessly regardless of his addiction to drugs. They got to see a true testament of grace—a family who loved and fought for Jason until the very end.
Jason was a human. Loved by his family. Loved by God so, so profoundly. And now we are all out of chances with him.
But, he is truly healed, living his best life with Jesus, and being drenched in the beauty and unrelenting, radical grace of God. He is loved deeply—even still.
Mark 2:17 “It is not the healthy who need a doctor, but the sick. I have not come to call the righteous, but sinner.”
Romans 8:38-39 For I am sure that neither death nor life, nor angels nor rulers, nor things present nor things to come, nor powers, nor height nor depth, nor anything else in all creation, will be able to separate us from the love of God in Christ Jesus our Lord.