Tuesday, February 4, 2014

Losing a parent to drugs - sometimes forever, sometimes just for now

When I read that Philip Seymour Hoffman had died, the only thing I could think of was: "Those poor babies."

I didn't think about his partner, or his parents, or the two friends who found him dead on the floor and will probably never fully process what they saw. I didn't mourn what could have been, and how his incredible talent will be missed. I didn't care about the details: the breathless timeline of his last hours, the needle found in his arm, the packets of heroin and used syringes scattered in the apartment. None of that mattered to me.

All I could think about were his three kids - Cooper, Tallulah and Willa - young kids, very young, but old enough to remember their mother's face as she answered the phone and heard the voice on the other end. Old enough to remember being rushed off the playground, where they were waiting for their father to come get them, and driven to his apartment building. Old enough to remember their mother's grief, the police cars, the faces and voices - strange and familiar, the crying and the crowd growing, gathering in the minutes following the arrival of the first responders.

Those three children lost a parent. A lifeline. A hero and a caregiver.
While other families watched the Super Bowl, they watched their life coming undone.

And when my phone rang on Monday morning. to tell me about a baby that came into this world just as Mr. Hoffman was leaving it, I paused.

It is never what you want to hear. You don't want a parent to lose custody of their newborn. You want to be able to go back in time - just like you do in the face of any tragedy - and change the course of events. You want these children - all of these children - to be spared the wrenching away of a parent because of drugs. And you want the parents to stop. Reconsider. Think a little longer and hang on a little tighter, turning towards the light and away from the dark vortex of addiction.

But it's not like that. You cannot explain away or rationalize the pregnant woman doing drugs in the early stages of labor. Or the dad getting his fix before meeting his kids at the playground. It's not rational. It defies explanation. And that is why there are so many children in this world who are missing a parent. Drugs break people, but more than that, they break families. They break hearts and spirits and lives.

As sad as it is that tonight I am holding another woman's child, a child who was given to me to be cared for indefinitely, I am reminded - constantly - that there is still a chance. That as long as this mother is alive there is a chance to break the cycle, before she breaks her daughter's heart.

Ella won't remember the time she spends with me - but I assure you her mother is feeling every second that passes before she can see her baby again. Tonight as I hold this little one in my arms, I am thinking of her mother. She is not lost. Not yet.

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