Certain times of the year are harder than others for those that have lost a loved one. For some, it’s the month they left, birthdays or holidays, but what I’m finding out about myself and my journey through grief is that August is the toughest month. It doesn’t have a significance attributed to Hagen’s life, but it, to me, is the glaring reminder that he isn’t here. Obviously, I miss him daily, and obviously I’m aware of why he’s gone, and throughout the year I try my best to raise awareness and spread hope, but August sucks for me. I struggle daily to hold back tears. Why would a month that prior to 2019, was just hotter than H-E-double hockey sticks, have such an effect on me? Because, although every day is Overdose Awareness Day for me, August 31st is when the rest of the world is paying attention too. From the first to the end of that miserably hot month in Arkansas, parents and advocates internationally are talking about “it”, and sharing their personal stories, and each story, while slightly different and personal, all sound the same. They all sound remarkably like my story. Like Hagen’s story. It’s during that month that the number of lives lost become more than just faces and names.
My boys used to do the most obnoxious thing. If I had a bruise, they would almost always push on the bruise while saying "you have a bruise!" Let me stop here and say they got the snot knocked out of them, mostly out of reflex because until they pushed on it, I could forget it was there because it didn't hurt. That's what August is for me. I have a bruise. I know it's there. It's somewhat painful the remaining 11 months of the year, but Overdose Awareness Month pushes on that bruise and says "oh look!" causing me to bleed purple. I'm aware the rest of the year of my loss, and even though I'm active in the grief and recovery communities, THIS month I feel not only my loss but the loss of others. By nature, I'm empathetic, and while that empathy is a gift that allows me to love on the hurting, in August, it's sensory overload and the balance that I maintain with my own loss and the grief that comes with it is tipped.
After my daddy went to Heaven this past February, I, being the big sister and oldest, tried to faithfully check on my younger brother and sister. It was during a checkup call to my brother, that surviving a loss was simplified so beautifully. My brother, who is a cut up 75% of the time, spoke profound words that resonate within me to this day. All I said was “how are ya, Bub?” He explained that grief is simply taking all those memories, emotions and love you have for someone and locking them in a precious museum in your mind. That museum is covered floor to ceiling and on every surface with the life you lived with that person. Some people never leave the museum, and others drop in from time to time to reminisce and smile, or perhaps cry, but they don’t stay. They lovingly lock the door until it’s time for the next visit. We choose what we do with that museum.
I’m supposed to be the one that has a way with words, but he described to me perfectly how I chose to deal with the loss of my son, and less than a year later, how he was choosing to deal with the loss of our dad.
During August, in every beautiful face I see of someone’s someone lost to overdose, I see Hagen. In every story I read, I’m reading Hagen’s.
They are all Hagen.
Hagen. Hagen. Hagen.
During August, the museum, which otherwise I only occasionally visit, becomes a revolving door because every loss is my loss. On any given day, off the top of my head I could list for you the names of one hundred people who are no longer here because of an overdose with a fire in my belly to fight until not one more person dies. But in August, they are all onename, Hagen, and emotions and tears threaten to put out that fire.
Maybe it’s because that’s the month that leads up to THE DAY, when stigma be damned, we are going to remember our loved ones for who they were, and scream to the world that they mattered. That they were more than the demons they fought and they are certainly more than what the world thinks they are. They were loving, intelligent, witty, charming, compassionate, talented and they mattered. They impacted those around them in ways they cannot be measured. They lived. And they continue to live through the lives of those they touched.
Overdose Awareness Day will not bring our children and loved ones back, so is it really for us? We are aware daily that they aren’t here and why we now have our museums. It is the day the world glances in our direction, but does not feel our pain or recognize the strength it takes to stand up and say “an overdose took my child”. That strength comes from a place we wish we didn’t have, and we do it so that you will realize that if we lost ours, you, one day, could be standing with us.
My son, Hagen, lost his life to an overdose. At his worst, I fought beside him. At his best, I celebrated with him. He taught me how to celebrate. And in the in between I had hope.
Because I am Hagen’s mom, I stand to fight for others, your child included. He taught me how to fight.
Because I am Hagen’s mom, I celebrate recovery. He taught me how to celebrate.
Because I am Hagen’s mom, I will not let hope die. Whether he meant to or not, he taught me how to truly have hope.
Because I am Hagen’s mom, I’ll take August poking my bruise, and make myself dizzy in that revolving door, because that is what Hagen would expect me to do. More importantly, it’s what my Savior expects me to do.
To each person hurting, I feel your pain and I’m praying. To each person that has survived an overdose, I am so thankful you’re still here. To each person that cannot identify with a word I’ve written, you are so very blessed. And so am I.