By Philip's mom, Kate
August 11, 1993 - April 24, 2019
Philip was a wonderfully smart, spirited, talented, passionate and loving man; he won people over wherever he went with his smile, kindness, and generous nature. He had charm and charisma that made for a period of great success in sales. His infamous beautiful head of hair, one of his trademarks, accented his blazing blue eyes and incredibly handsome face. He knew this, yet at the same time, he was quite humble.
Philip was known for his musical talent. What a gifted and amazing drummer; winning out older kids in middle school to be selected for the competition jazz band. I cherish the days when he'd come home from school and head immediately downstairs to play his heart out, as if he'd been waiting all day to do so. I recall his very accomplished drum instructor telling me, "He's scary good" and recommended him to a music school in NYC because he was exceeding Tom’s [his drum instructor] capacity to teach him.
Sadly, he never did pursue this path. When he veered, I knew he was in deep trouble.
Philip was loving; he valued and was committed to his relationships, particularly those with his grandparents, but none so much as with his younger brother and sister. He loved them so much, and I am certain he didn’t intend to leave them at such a young age.
Philip also had aspects of darkness, of fear, a vulnerable force within that pulled him towards roads he couldn’t navigate himself away from. There were two sides of Philip that just never quite seemed to resolve: his determination to meet a goal, and the fear of the challenge that was required to get there.
A dichotomy that cost him his life.
As we all know, dealing with addiction in the family is so difficult. Our story is like many.
Philip was genetically predisposed. Two of his uncles lost their lives to addiction. Over the years, we’d had many conversations about this, hoping, after he started “dabbling” as a young teen, he’d heed our warnings and concerns. His denial and opposition to our earlier attempts at intervening when we recognized that he at the very least was experimenting to the point that it interfered with his interests, his relationships, and academics, ultimately led to our decision to send him to a wilderness program followed by a therapeutic boarding school to finish out high school.
Following his return home, he completed one year at an arts college. He wasn’t very committed to it, and instead, made the decision to leave school and find a job, all the while continuing to get high (certainly spending earnings on weed) but succeeding at his sales job, evidenced by being promoted to manager in pretty quick fashion.
We were hopeful that this would keep him on a straighter path. It didn’t. He’d lose one job after another, or quit, never being at fault. His behavior became more erratic, he never seemed to save any money, but was able to seemingly afford a shared apartment with friends. At this point, it was clear he was failing in nearly all ways and after some months, moved back home. He confessed to opioid addiction and wanted help.
He started treatment with an addictions specialist after a harrowing weekend of withdrawal. He willingly saw her regularly and began daily doses of a suboxone- like medication. In spite of urine tests and regular use of the meds, he found ways, we learned, of getting around these interventions. At some point, we had found bottles of clean urine under his bed. Apparently an addict can buy clean urine. And an addict can become so consumed by this disease that he will begin stealing treasured objects from his own family to sell for drug money.
Philip was slipping away more and more, and it was evident that this strategy wasn’t working. Ultimately, after much consternation, he agreed to an inpatient rehab. And here’s where the system totally failed. Insurance allowed for only a 21 day stay. The rehab itself was disorganized and I certainly questioned the care he was receiving. We had limited access, his outpatient treatment provider couldn’t successfully connect with staff for two weeks, but at least he was safe. All we wanted was time.
I had a long visit with him after his first week. My boy was back. He had gained some weight, gone was his grey pasty complexion. He was beautiful. His eyes sparkled again. He was engaged and talkative for 4 hours. We talked about his addiction openly and honestly. He seemed so committed to a better life, to steering clear from this horrible drug that was ruining his life.
I expressed to him, shortly before the end of the visit, that I was afraid he was going to die.
“I won’t. I promise”, he said.
We know that a 21 day stay is insufficient. We surely know that a discharge plan to a partial program that meets 3 half days a week is an absurd discharge plan for an opioid addict. The original discharge plan to an intensive outpatient program, 5 full days a week, was denied by our insurance carrier.
Philip was dead a week and a half after discharge from inpatient rehab.
The pain of the grief, the anger at this system that seems set up to fail the addict and their families, is almost too much to contain. To provide such insufficient treatment, to force a patient back out into the world after 3 short weeks to life as he knew it with the exception of a ridiculously absurd discharge plan is essentially condoning a death sentence.
We families somehow have to live every single day with the “what ifs”, the “if onlys” as we grieve the loss of our children whose lives were cut off way too early, and somehow we have to continue on, living with this all too consuming pain that maybe, just maybe, could have been averted.
If anyone of our stories can help another family somehow, then perhaps my son Philip’s life, any of our deceased kid’s lives, could live on through death with some greater meaning.
Given that the opioid epidemic has all but disappeared in the midst of this pandemic and that today marks the one year anniversary of Philip's passing, I would like to share a piece I wrote:
Philip in the Pandemic: This Ain’t No Jamaica
My son, Philip, died of an accidental opioid overdose 9 days after being discharged from an inpatient rehab. He was 25.
The dreaded one year anniversary is closing in on me.
Only two months ago, but what now seems like a whole lifetime ago, my two younger kids and I were planning a get-away trip to Jamaica. To be far away on this dreaded anniversary; someplace as far removed from anything that feels like our now new “normal” lives without Philip.
Never did I imagine that our April 24th getaway would melt into a mere fantasy. That instead, this day will be spent trapped in our house, with no possibility of escaping the horrific memory of the saddest day of our lives.
In the midst of any loss, it’s so important to have structure, familiar routines and predictability- to serve as anchors in the otherwise uncharted waters of this grief. Waters that can, without a moment’s notice, create emotional mayhem and tumult. Waters that no parent should ever find herself in.
Our world becomes upside down. Nothing is as it’s supposed to be. My son was to outlive me. Not the other way around. The grief sometimes renders me unable to retain a thought. To find a word. To carry out a sequence of actions. The safety and familiarity of my work, my home, spending time with cherished friends, these knowns have been my comforts, my life rafts.
In the midst of this pandemic, such familiar routines and structures and knowns are gone. Now, I must think about how and where to grocery shop. Where the f*** can I find toilet paper? Do we have sanitizer? Have we all washed our hands repeatedly throughout a day? What side of the street should I walk the dog on if someone else is coming my way? Can I take appropriately distanced walks with one of my newest friends, Fran, a major life raft, who also lost her son to addiction, who gets me and gets “it” as few do? Our weekly walks had been a godsend.
The everything's we take for granted are gone.
What world is this??
Now, there are so many unknowns. Nothing is safe. Nothing’s a given. Sometimes it can feel so terrifying. I see how anxious and afraid everyone is.
But I don’t think anything will ever be as frightening for me, as it was for years, living with the terrifying reality that I could, and in fact did, lose my child to addiction. The white knuckling it for years. Dreading the most awful of awfuls. Watching my beautiful son fade into the haze of addiction.
I often wonder how Philip would have managed this quarantining if he were still alive.
Would it have saved him? Would it have extended his drug free cleanse from rehab? Would it have made his death at all less likely? Or would he have maintained the invincibility of an addict...”I’m not going to die”, he told me at rehab. “I promise”.
Nothing is as it should be.
In some crazy way, my grief is one of the most familiar things to me. It sits with me day and night, like a smothering caretaker not letting me out of its sight. Like everything else that makes no sense, the worst emotional pain imaginable is now what connects me to my son, and it is there where I find a familiar comfort. Philip in the pandemic.