A year ago, my twenty-year old son Maxwell had been kicked out of a residential treatment program he'd been in for drug addiction and mental illness. He was bi-polar. He had lived with and been kicked out of three different family member's homes before that, and none of his friends were comfortable keeping him. When he used, he would become psychotic. And no matter what we did, he could not stop using. On the coldest day of January 2014, he became homeless.
We scrambled. We panicked. Max's Grandpa found an organization that would pay the bill to have him placed in a sobriety house for a week, and then, as those funds were running out, Grandpa worked with the Harford Office of Drug Policy to secure funding for Max to be placed in a locked-door rehab on the Eastern Shore.
I remember the day I drove him out to Chestertown. It was Wednesday January 22. There had been an amazing snowstorm the day before. Max slept most of the way there, the medicine he was taking made him really sleepy. Snow swept across the road, great gusts of blowing white. It was beautiful.
When I checked him in, they told us that he could have visitors in ten days, on the following Saturday. They wanted all of the patients (the intake officer was careful to never call them inmates) to have a full week of adjustment before seeing people from the outside again.
I returned a week and half later with Jennilyn, and was surprised that the other people gathering for the visit were all bringing great big bags of food. I mean, a LOT of food. Chips, cans of dip for the chips, sodas, boxes with finger food, cupcakes, candy, cookies. I believe one person was bringing a wings platter. We had, like, part of a chicken nuggets order from Chik-fil-A, I felt totally outclassed.
After we got to see Max, he told us that the staff had made an exception, since the following day was (duh!) the Superbowl. Usually, visitors were allowed to bring a sandwich, or a take-out order from a restaurant, but for Superbowl weekend, visitors were allowed to bring enough food for the residents to have a great big party. Something to celebrate sobriety.
When he came back home from rehab, we thought things were going well. The momentum of the year seemed like it was going to get better. Then we lost Max in July. It was a horrible shock. We have missed him so much. I still weep whenever I hear the recordings we have of him singing, with choirs or with "The Music Man" cast.
I've been thinking of a quote lately. Elizabeth McCracken wrote, "Grief lasts longer than sympathy, which is one of the tragedies of the grieving." Last July, we were surrounded with Max's friends after his death. Hundreds of them turned out for his memorial, and stayed for hours, hugging us and sharing stories of his life. But in the months since, the visits have trickled to a stop. I find myself wondering how the friends are doing, wishing they'd stop by, just to say hi. Every time I hear from someone else who misses Max, who loves him, I can physically feel the burden lighten on my heart. There is a huge chasm where he used to be in my heart. All the anger I ever felt at his bad choices, all the sorrow at his pain and suffering, all the joy I ever felt when he succeeded, it's all just a deep hole now. So when I heard about that contest, it visceral transported me back to remember that drive to Chestertown, that visit, that party he was expecting the next day. I remembered him, felt his absence, and wept. I decided to apply. I told them the story of Max, and then concluded,
"If you awarded this party to us, I would invite them all over. *ALL* of them. The kids he sang with. The guys he went to AA and NA with. His housemates and caretakers in the residence program. The people he was in "The Music Man" with. If they'd come, I would rent out a hall to fit them all. Just to see them again, to see Max reflected in their eyes. I would insist they enjoy the day, that they enjoy the food, and that we celebrate the memory of Max. I would hug them all, over and over again, look them in the eye and tell them how much I love Max. We would enjoy the game, and the party, all in memory of Max."
And seriously, if I win, you're all invited to come by and give us a hug.