23. A Mother’s Promise to Her Son

23. A Mother’s Promise to Her Son

From Chicken Soup for the Soul: Find Your Inner Strength

A Mother’s Promise to Her Son

Not everything that is faced can be changed, but nothing can be changed until it is faced.

~James Baldwin

It was 6 a.m. and I had just tightened the laces on my running shoes when I found my twenty-year-old son Ian dead in his bedroom. My cries for help were heard two blocks away.

The night before the funeral, I couldn’t sleep. I feared that when the sun rose I would not be able to bury my son. Everyone wanted to know how Ian died. We said we were waiting for the toxicology report. But we knew. His doctor told us to say Ian died of an aneurysm or a heart attack. But that was a lie.

Ian was a good kid — a promising college student with everything to live for. He was bright, athletic, popular, and handsome. He made an unhealthy decision to use drugs, but I was not ashamed of him. I would not bury him with a lie. Then I had a vision about speaking out. I woke my husband and said, “Larry I want to speak out. If this is happening to us, it’s happening to other families.” Larry immediately agreed. So the next morning we buried our beloved son Ian and spoke the truth about the cause of his death.

They say the truth will set you free, and I believe it. Once I made the decision to be honest about Ian’s addiction, I became the strong one at the funeral. I held many young girls in long black dresses in my arms, and comforted the sobbing boys, now looking more like men. Their grief left me even more determined to devote myself to ending the silence surrounding addiction.

There was so much to learn. I received scholarships to attend courses on addiction and researched drug abuse on the Internet. Once I felt ready, I had to decide where to begin. Armed with a wealth of information, I approached Dewey Amos, principal of Norwalk High School, Ian’s school. As we sat with a box of tissues, talking about Ian, Dewey and I decided I would tell Ian’s story to his students. I gave my first presentation at Norwalk High School and I continue to share Ian’s story across the country to students, parents, educators, law enforcement, and at state and national conferences.

The night Ian died, Sunny, our family Beagle, climbed four flights of stairs from Ian’s bed to mine and tried to wake me, but his message was undelivered. Ian had told me something before we went to bed and I was having my first deep sleep in a long time: “Mom, I want to see the doctor in the morning. I need to take care of my problem. I need help.” But then Ian went back downstairs and used the drugs one more time.

Years later, I was sitting on my deck with Sunny and my friend. I looked at Sunny and said, “If Sunny could talk, he would have a lot to say.” That pivotal moment is when I decided to write a book from Sunny’s perspective about Ian’s story and reach children and parents in a very different way.

Sunny was Ian’s best friend and the pulse of our family. I wanted Sunny’s Story to be a compelling drug prevention book detailing the bittersweet life of our dog, who needlessly lost his best friend to drugs. Our family pet and narrator, Sunny, was the keen observer of the damage done by drug use to his young master, Ian. He tells a heartwarming, but tragic story, beginning with meeting Ian at an animal shelter and ending in a futile attempt to save Ian’s life.

Since its release, Sunny’s Story has been read at dinner tables across the country, in schools, as part of our drug prevention programs, and as a stand-alone book for children of all ages, parents, teachers and professionals in the substance abuse field.

Sometimes it is still hard to believe my son has died. He was only twenty years old. Although, I don’t have all the answers, I believe I have a mission to fulfill. Someone said I have a lot of work to do before my long and healthy life ends. And at the end of my life, I will have accomplished what I know I have been put on the earth to do.

I made a promise to Ian the day he died to do everything in my power to prevent this tragedy from happening to another family. I established The Courage to Speak Foundation, Inc., a nonprofit organization dedicated to “saving young lives by empowering youth to be drug-free and encouraging parents to communicate effectively with their children about drugs.” With teams of prevention professionals, we developed The Courage to Speak drug prevention programs for elementary, middle and high schools, and a course for parents to keep their children safe from drugs.

I never thought this would happen in our family, but it did. Addiction crosses all age ranges, economic and ethnic backgrounds and races, and I will never stop speaking out until I see changes in our world.

~Ginger Katz

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