By Jeremy's dad, Jordan
January 29, 1990 - May 17, 2016
As you hold your first newborn child in your arms, there is nothing that can prepare for you for the overwhelming feeling of love that hits you like a ton of bricks. While you love your spouse, your parents, grandparents, siblings, and friends, it is not the same as the love you have for your child. You know, in that brief moment, that there is nothing in this world that you would not do to protect your child from harm.
As life continued, we saw Jeremy’s personality develop and grow into a beautiful, warm, affectionate, and loving little boy. Always there with a smile and a hug, he brought you joy each and every day. There was also a very adventurous side to Jeremy - one that needed to explore the world outside of the lines. He had a determination to do things his way; where, when, and how he wanted to. As much as we wanted to show Jeremy the right and safe path, he had to go down the road himself to see what was there - it was hard to convince him otherwise.
When our son Jeremy was not much more than a year old, he climbed out of his crib then out the doggie door and into the street. At the age of three, his grandmother saw him playing carelessly with a cup of water. As she directed him to be careful and not drop it, should it spill or break the glass, he gave a smirk and let it go. At the age of eight (after asking permission and being told no) he stuck an earring in his ear to pierce it himself. Jeremy dyed his hair at 9; got the first of many tattoos at 15; and had his first altercation with the law at age 16.
There was no holding Jeremy back. He was going on a journey that was singularly his but not unlike those of so many other kids in the suburban enclaves of Atlanta. He was involved in sports for most of his young life. When Jeremy reached middle school, his attention turned toward riskier pursuits. It was at this age he was introduced to another world, one more dangerous than a parent would ever hope for.
In his senior year of high school Jeremy was slowly in a downward spiral: we saw him less and less, he was becoming more and more belligerent, his grades were dropping, and he was very thin. We knew something was wrong and we knew we had to help him but did not know what we could or should do. We reached out to others for guidance. Jeremy was about to turn 18 and we felt we needed to make a drastic attempt to save his life. With the holidays approaching, we knew there was one night he was going to be home - Christmas Eve. That night we made one of the hardest decisions we ever had to make. After Jeremy went to sleep we had him taken from our house and sent to a wilderness camp, where he would be removed from all that had been pulling him down in hopes that he could see a different light. We came to learn that it started with pot, then cocaine, then prescription pills, and then heroin.
That was the first of many stints at different treatment centers; some were because Jeremy had no choice, others were his decision. At each stop Jeremy gained more and more tools on how to cope with his addiction. Jeremy touched people with his love, compassion and genuine warmth, and each time he came out looking like the son we knew and loved. After treatment, Jeremy lasted longer and longer between relapses. Jeremy always seemed to connect with amazingly compassionate people who took him under their wings, gave him a break, gave him a chance, and gave him hope. For all of those who were there for him when we could not, we are eternally grateful for their assistance in keeping Jeremy alive and moving forward.
As Jeremy was going through his journey, his mother and I were going through our own. We asked ourselves: “How can we survive this?” Fortunately, we found a tremendous support group in Families Anonymous. In the support group we met parents of estranged children, with kids in jail, or whose offspring were in the throes of deep addiction, but somehow were managing to take care of themselves and live their own lives. Without the support of this amazing group and that of our family and closest friends, I don't know how we would have made it through. I asked a dear friend, whose son had been through a similar journey, what she did to help him and herself - "I loved him through it" was her simple response. That stuck with us over the next nine years.
It is hard not to wonder: “What could we have done differently?” We know that, as parents, we did the very best we could at every turn all along the way. We have no regrets in this regard. There was always the thought that this could come to a tragic ending, but all along this journey we always had faith in Jeremy even when he had no faith in himself.
One time - that is all it takes. One slip. One needle. One bad batch. One very special life lost. At a time when everything seemed okay, demons were working in the background. Every day Jeremy fought a great battle. Most of the time he was winning the fight but all it takes is one time to lose a battle and the war is over. We can never truly understand what drives someone to use drugs of this nature - did he just want to have a good time or was he trying to escape from some pain that we did not understand?
As his parents, we knew that Jeremy struggled with anxiety, depression, and a lack of self-esteem. As his father, I saw the anger and frustration; his mother saw the deep sadness; but the world saw the best of him. Sometimes we think it would have been different had Jeremy felt about himself the way others felt about him.
The past year was one of the best we ever had. Jeremy seemed to be on a wonderful path this time. We finally enjoyed the perfect family vacation filled with laughter and love. Jeremy had his beloved puppies, Kush and Jamo, whom we are now certain gave him something to live for beyond himself. Jeremy caught a break and was hired as an apprentice to become a hairstylist in one of the best salons in our area. It was perfect for a young man who loved women, was creative, had a unique look that was fully accepted and most importantly, loved connecting with people. I was told the owners hired him because they saw the beauty in his soul - that is something they could not teach. Jeremy lifted the spirit of the salon in the most wonderful way. Jeremy was the one that brought folks together, the one that made it fun, the one that everybody wanted to be with. This was the son we knew we had. They say people are not as beautiful as they look, as they walk or as they talk. They are as beautiful as they love, as they care and as they share. In this light, Jeremy was truly magnificent.
Now that we have accepted his passing through this physical life, we surely know that his spirit lives on. Jeremy continues on in the thoughts and memories of those whose lives he touched with his unique and special light. We heard so many stories of how he changed people for the better. Jeremy showed us how to laugh and he showed us the power of a good, warm hug. He also showed us how precious life is and that we should never, ever take it for granted. I don't think we really understand how many lives we touch until it is too late.
We had to come to a place in our minds of how to deal with his passing for the rest of our lives. We know without question, that Jeremy is free from all of his worry, stress and pain. We know his spirit lives on and the spirit of him resides in those whose lives he affected in so many positive ways. As we talk to friends, they are not sure if they should bring Jeremy up in conversation. As we meet new people and they ask if we have kids, we were not sure how we would answer the question. We came to an understanding that we absolutely want to talk about him - that is how Jeremy stays alive and in our hearts. That is how we continue to feel him. A dear friend of mine told me how he always wished he could have had a son but was never able to have one - not even for a single day. We now focus on how fortunate we were to have had Jeremy for 26 years. We focus on the joy, the laughter and sweet memories he left behind. We focus on how lucky we are to have a magnificent daughter that is still with us. We focus on the amazing and supportive friends and family we have in our lives and we focus on all of the blessings we are given in each and every day.
As his sister, Riana so eloquently stated at his Celebration of Life Service: "The day that Jeremy passed away there was some strange weather that was persisting, as it was raining nonstop and I was over it but a best friend of mine told me to go outside and look at the sky. Once I looked beyond the rain, I saw the sky was filled with the most beautiful shades of blue and the sun was shining through extremely brightly. I realized this was a lot like Jeremy's life. If you didn't take the time to look beyond the exterior you might have only seen the rain but once you take the time to see beyond that, you would see a light that's shining so brightly it almost hurts. I am now certain that was Jeremy's way of saying ‘Hi,’ and assuring that he is still with all of us.”
Rest in Peace Jer-Bear, we will be with you again someday.