On Aug. 29, I sat at my son's bedside and looked at his sweet face, remembering the child he once was; imagining his laughter and smile that would fill and light up the room. I remembered the big hugs he gave.
I watched as the machine moved his chest up and down rhythmically and sweetly, lulling me back to the memories of the days when he would run through the house with excitement over just about anything.
I remembered the time, just a month earlier, when he was drug-free and we spent the day together hiking and he said with so much joy, "I'm on top of the world, Momma."
I remembered the loving way he looked at me. I remembered the young man who would drop anything to help someone; the young man who held the door open for his mother; who sat at the bedside of his friend in the hospital when others turned their backs; who carried his friend up 15 stairs to take a shower because he couldn't walk; who encouraged others and lifted their spirits on a bad day; the son who called me to ask me to pray with him for a friend who didn't know Christ.
I remembered the tender, loving heart underneath that big laugh.
I remembered the son who hated to see me cry and hated more when he was the reason I cried. So I held back the tears, and I thanked God for this beautiful child.
I thanked God for this beautiful hand that I held.
I held my son's hand that night for the last time. I watched as his heartbeat grew weaker and weaker. Surprisingly, that wasn't the hard part.
No, the hard part was the last four years watching a disease consume my child; watching a drug turn my son into a machine that functioned only to replace the drug that was keeping it running; watching him so desperately try to fight it on his own; try to save his family the pain it caused; watching him die inside over the shame--the shame people heaped on him.
As I watched the last heartbeat, I let go of the pain that he suffered. I let go of the pain that I had suffered watching the drug take over my son's life. I let go of the pain of watching him cry over an illness that he couldn't control.
I let go of the memories of watching him desperately fight a battle that he didn't yet have the tools to win.
I let go of a child that never knew his worth.
Yet I mourned. I mourned silently deep inside for the time he would no longer have to find a way to keep fighting to live; the time that was taken away from that one lethal dose.
That one lethal dose that his addiction made him need more than anything else at that moment.
As I watched his heartbeat slowly fade, I let go of the pain and thanked God for the gift of the 20 short years I had with him. I thanked God for the gift of life that my son, through organ donation, was giving to others, as his last gesture of love, with the passing of that last heartbeat.
With that last heartbeat, I vowed to be the voice that he wanted to be; to be the voice he could no longer be; the voice that would carry his story on, as part of this fight ... this fight to end the stigma ... this fight to end the "opidemic."
Paula Cunningham, RN, is employed at Arkansas Blue Cross Blue Shield as the manager of Medical Policy Administration.
Editorial on 11/12/2018