‘Hi Mom, I’m home, wake me up for school at 9, ok? I love you.’ I looked right at him. ‘I love you too, Alex. Get some sleep, it’s late.’ Off to bed we both went.

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“My son, Alex Philip Killoran, was born December 7th, 1985. He came early on Saturday, despite being due by cesarean section on Tuesday the 10th. Even then, he was making decisions for himself. He was a great baby, sleeping through the night at 2 weeks old. His brother considered him a Christmas present. He said, ‘I always wanted a brother, and I got one for Christmas,’ and that was that. He was an easy child to raise, although he loved to play by himself and we found when people intruded upon him during those times, he would get upset. But he also loved his older brother and followed him around, mimicking his every move, and always trying to get our attention with funny antics.

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Even back when he was little he wanted to be the center of attention and loved an audience. He wasn’t afraid of anything and was a dare devil. He would sit on the swing set and swing so high I was sure he would go right over the top. He liked to make the whole set jump from the ground from the force of the swing. He would just giggle. He climbed to the top of our tree near the curb out in front of our home, hanging onto the swaying branch at very top. He climbed it all the time, but this was way too high. When I begged him to come down, yelling he was going to fall and break his neck, he replied, ‘Only when you say I’m the king of the tree. Say it, Mom!’ ‘Alex, you are the king of the tree.’ In sheer desperation, and through clenched teeth, I screamed it. He came down and hugged me and said, ‘See mom, I didn’t break my neck. I just touched the sky.’

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He loved adventures and would go bug hunting in the field behind our home. He found a snake one day and picked it up and said, ‘Hey mommy, can I keep this little guy?’ We eventually agreed the field was a much nicer home than we could ever give him. That is probably the last time I said no to any creatures we had as pets. He had a turtle who he would put in the basket on his bike and road around with him. One day the turtle jumped out and he ran it over accidentally and it cracked its shell. He was heartbroken. A trip to the nature center and we found out he would not live, so they took the turtle from us to take care of with the ‘other’ turtles until it was Tank’s time to go. He cried for days, until he found out the neighbor didn’t want his guinea pig anymore, and then we inherited Hamlet. He was an animal lover from the start. One day he found a baby bird by the sidewalk that had fallen from the tree. He insisted his dad climb the tree and return him to his nest, although we told him we weren’t sure the momma would take him back. His wise little self said, ‘What momma wouldn’t want their baby back?’ Off Mark went, climbing the tree to the nest. His heart was always in the right place.

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Alex liked having Adam for a big brother. But he said, ‘I WANT TO BE BIG.’ So when Audra came along, he was happy. He was more in awe of THE BABY more than anything. He found it necessary to be involved with everything when she was first home. He wanted to feed her, change her, help bathe her. When we put her in his old crib, he got a little upset. He had been in his big boy bed for about 3 months, so we just thought it wouldn’t bother him. She was home for about a month when we went in one morning and found him sleeping in the crib, Audra pushed into the corner, both content as could be. We just sat there and laughed quietly and then woke him up. I thought for sure he would want his crib back, but little did we know why he was in there. We told him, ‘Alex you know that’s Audra’s crib now, right, you have a new bed, remember?’ He just shook his head and in all seriousness said, ‘I know momma, she was just lonely.’ We were flabbergasted.

Both him and Adam shared a room now and he had the heart to think she might be lonely because he had Adam for company at night and she was all alone. Those moments in time stand still and I recall them like they were yesterday. He loved to try to make her laugh and would bring her stuffed animals and make funny noises while he tickled her with them. One time I saw Alex and Adam looking at Audra in her bassinet and giggling. I heard them, so I quietly went into the kitchen to watch them. Alex then said, ‘Look Adam, when you poke her, she moves.’ I could not help but laugh myself. Then a moment later, she started crying and he was saying, ‘Shhh, shhh’ and then he started to sing his favorite song he would always ask me to sing to him; ‘You are my sunshine, my only sunshine, you made me happy when skies are gray.’

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He was such a sweet kid, and I sometimes wonder, when did he start to change into a man that needed drugs to be happy, when he had such a great childhood filled with love?

I look at pictures and try to imagine WHEN the change took place in you that you had to turn to drugs to feel NORMAL. Or that life bored you so much that you needed the drugs to get by? To this day, I can’t figure it out.

When it came to school, Alex either liked it or disliked it. He had a way about him, something that made him irresistibly cute and honestly, he was smart. When he went to school he was also very vocal and would tell you what you didn’t want to hear; no holds barred for him. He would say ‘THIS IS SO BORING’ and that didn’t sit too well. He also was a quick learner, but this was a drawback. When he hit junior high, one teacher actually accused him of cheating because he did his math test so quickly and only got one wrong, and didn’t show his work, so the teacher gave him an F for the exam. WELL, that didn’t go to well with his momma, so off I went to the school to talk to the principal and the teacher. She explained the dilemma, that she had to see his work to be able to tell him where in the process he got the wrong answer. That much I understood, so I could see her point of view. But the problem was that Alex said he did the math in his HEAD and didn’t write his process out, and she was sure this could not be possible, therefore he had to have cheated. So I made a simple request, give him another test now, alone in the room, and we would see how he did. She asked him to show his work, and so he said he would. After a half an hour, she looked at his exam in front of the principal and Alex had ALL the 20 math problems correct and showed the work to all of them, none of it making any sense to her, but he did show the work. So they struck up a deal. As long as Alex pulled 85% or better on his tests, she wouldn’t ask to see his work, but in trade she wanted him to tutor the other students who were having problems in math. He said no, but he would help her correct papers or find the mistakes on them in the process area and circle them for her.

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At this point in school, Alex also started to believe that since he was smart, he didn’t have to try. He would do mediocre work to get by, and that was that. He became a lazy student. An average of a B was OK with him, and C’s occasionally in school, whatever got him to pass the class was all he was concerned about; and this continued into high school and college. Many arguments ensued that he could do better, we knew it was possible because we KNEW Alex was smart, but we argued to no end. We became satisfied that as long as he passed, we had really no complaints. What also was terrible was that not one teacher ever really challenged Alex. He did not have any teachers that were mentors to him nor saw the promise he had of becoming a real asset to this world. But I did. I saw so much potential and it irritated me enough that I became resentful of the school and their teachers.

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Audra was very involved with school and she knew her education would give her a brighter future. Adam just got by, but knew his future was not going to college. He was thinking the military. Alex never saw that, and I am angered by that at times. How could such a genius just slip through the cracks? Why couldn’t just ONE teacher have said something to Alex to let him know his brain was a blessing and that his education was important. We tried, but I also needed the school to try. This is probably one of the biggest regrets in my life; that he didn’t see a future nor have a career goal to reach for. I should have fought harder or even had him tested. He did have one college teacher state he could do WHATEVER he put his mind to; and he liked archeology. He found this area to be exciting, challenging, and the traveling involved would keep him busy. The idea that he could possibly discover something and make a mark in history just blew his mind. It still was a vicious circle for Alex though, one he never won. He had no patience and found that half the classes he needed to get this degree were frivolous to him. Again, too much, too little, too late. But I will always remember her for making a difference in his college days.

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The first time I ever heard anything about drugs wasn’t even from Alex, it was from Adam. He was in his first year of junior high and came home and asked me what a Mary Jane was. At first, I was astonished, but I could see the concern in his eyes. He explained to me how someone in his class had asked him if he wanted some, and how the conversation was during lunchtime. I think the part of motherhood that everyone fears hit me that day. My heart broke knowing his childhood had just ended and the teens were officially here, and all that comes with it. The pressure of wanting to belong, not sticking out by being so different, yet wanting to hold onto the person you liked being. Now he is going to want to fit in even more. I wanted him to feel like he belonged, because I remember what it felt like not to. But how do you tell your son about marijuana? I still can’t believe I had to have this discussion with him at the age of 13. As for the conversation, I left it up to his dad. I had already handled the birds and the bees because he wouldn’t do it, so I had the upper hand on this one. I do know Adam got the information he needed, and I didn’t hear him mention it again. But I won’t lie, there were plenty of times he came home smelling of it later in high school and I never questioned it. I wasn’t going to be a hypocrite and say his father and I hadn’t smoked when we were younger. We sometimes are so stupid to turn away from things we know will cause confrontation and ensue to an argument. I wish now I was stronger back then; as strong as I am right this minute. Maybe life would be different, but I will never know.

When we started fall of 2011 and all its holidays approaching, I thought it would be very sad for friends of ours whose son had committed suicide a few months earlier, so l sent a card with our heartfelt sympathy, and sadly moved on with our lives and our own troubles. This year was getting harder and the problems bigger. We were struggling as a family. You see, we had found out Alex was abusing alcohol and drugs. One day during this time I found myself crying and Alex walked in from work at the same time. He asked me what was wrong and I told him what I was feeling and how sad I felt for the family since Thanksgiving was around the corner. I told him straight out, even knowing the troubles we were having with him, ‘Alex, nothing in this world, whatever obstacles or problems you have, nothing is worth taking your life. PROMISE me you will never do it, PROMISE me!’ He was very upset and put his hand on my shoulder, ‘Mom, I would never do that to you or dad, I love the family way too much.’ I looked straight in his eyes and thanked him, and I truly believed him; still do to this day. I felt hope for him and I held on to that. I put him at the READY part of his road in life. I always put in my head a READY, SET and GO for my kids and their lives and goals. We took him to a therapist, a doctor for prescriptions for anxiety and depression, and we monitored these meds. We also watched who he hung out with and the times and places he went.

His brother came home for Thanksgiving and said he thought he was doing better but still felt there was something he was hiding.

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In January, Adam called just to talk to him and see how he was doing with school, work and life. Alex told him he was feeling a lot less anxious and had he known the antidepressants and anxiety meds would have helped him that much, he would have gone on them long ago. He was doing well in school and told me he wanted to take more classes for archeology. The family all had their own doubts of his progress, but I backed him all the way. I could so see him traveling and searching for treasures and discoveries. This was quite a big step and I was feeling his race for life was back on. He was on the track and taking it slowly, but back on the track to READY and SET. Those boulders rolling down the hills weren’t blocking the roads anymore, they were rolling all the way down the hill. At least I thought so.

The next weekend, we loosened the reigns and gave him more freedom from living by our rigid rules. Only later would we realize what a mistake it was to let him waver from the rules. Adam came home for Valentine’s weekend and spent some quality time with the family. Alex didn’t want to go to dinner with us, but he did spend time with Adam and friends at the bowling alley later that evening. Then Adam headed back to his home for school.

A week later, he went out with some friends. Although I have been told it wouldn’t have mattered, his old ways were back, and he had hid them well from us, even getting picked up by a friend of a friend, one who was on the ‘watch list’ as I called it. I was up later when he got home. ‘Hi Mom, I’m home, wake me up for school at 9, ok? I love you.’ I walked over to him and looked right at him, ‘I love you too, Alex, get some sleep, it’s late,’ and off to bed we both went. He was home and safe, planning for school the next day. He had his work clothes cleaned and laid out for later that night. When I went to wake him for school, the moment I saw him and touched his arm, I knew he was gone.

Needless to say, he never woke up. My son died at the age of 26. He smoked a joint laced with heroin and died in his sleep. His brain just stopped telling his body to breath. Audra was home and she was a nurse. She was so distraught that he could not be helped. It was too late. She screamed out of frustration and anger. She ran out the room and I could still hear her crying out; it was gut wrenching.

The phone call to Adam; telling him the brother he had seen the week before, was gone, was the worst thing I’ve ever had to do in my life. At first, he thought gone meant he didn’t come home and had spent the night out. When I said, ‘No Adam, he died in his sleep last night,’ he dropped the phone and I could hear him saying, ‘NO, NO, NO, over and over.’ Thank goodness he was with a friend because he picked up the phone and asked rather harshly, ‘WHAT did you tell him?’ I was then apologized to, and assured he would stay with him and later get him to the airport to come home. Adam blamed himself for not moving back home. I reassured him we couldn’t watch his brother 24/7 and this was out of our hands now.

His father was getting gas in the car and was coming into the house as the police and ambulance arrived. He was shocked and in disbelief. He had to sit down and tried so hard not to cry, but broke down when his brother called. I’ve only seen him cry 4 times in all our years together. The birth of our children and when his dad passed away. My heart hurt. Physically I could feel the pain. 

Our son’s race in life was over that quickly. He never got to the part of ‘GO!’ We were devastated. All our hopes, his hopes and new dreams and adventures had vanished. I was angry, so angry. I couldn’t change the fact his own hand had put the drugs in his body, but his ‘old’ friends had aided him. They knew we were trying to help him, and they didn’t care. They turned their backs on us and helped our son get drugs. I was crushed. What kind of people would do this? That’s when it hit me, addicts. The idea that he was getting better was just not true, he was an addict. I wanted to hurt someone for aiding him, and then I realized I wasn’t giving Alex any of the blame. I was still angry, and I felt hate inside me. It made me ugly to the people around me. I could not hold onto it. I knew if I did, I would never be able to return to the good person, friend, mother that I was. I only knew I would forgive, but NEVER forget. They know who they are and they have to live with what they contributed to; my son’s death. Alex himself, he knew the dangers, but never could he have imagined it would cost him his life; his own READY, SET AND GO was changed forever. We grieved, but I found it easier to celebrate his life rather than to mourn his death. In all of this I had found blessings. My family and friends thought I was crazy. What blessings can you possibly find in this horrible experience? Well, I was there the day he came into this world, and I was there the day he left. I didn’t get a phone call in the middle of the night. He came home and said, ‘HI MOM. I LOVE YOU.’ My son isn’t missing, he wasn’t killed and he didn’t suffer. Yes, I have many blessings.

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

I wish I can say others are not walking in my shoes, but there are so many that have passed recently, the numbers are astounding. WHAT in the world is happening? I have to try make a difference in this world. So be it, I would tell others of our personal tragedy. They have to hear it from the real people, the survivors that are not only surviving in pain, but having to learn to LIVE with it. There’s the loss of all that was. And then there’s the loss of all that won’t be. It’s that part of life that seems to drive us crazy.

In my mind he is still just 26. And all that happened in 26 years is what I hold onto. It’s what I treasure. I don’t think of what age he would be today. I don’t think of where he’d be in life or where he would be living and working. I don’t go there. There’s no sense in torturing myself. I’ve learned to appreciate all that was, and I hold dearly onto those memories.

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

To those who have just suffered the loss of a son or daughter, a friend or relative; if they do the same, eventually peace comes instead of tears and heartbreak. It takes time and effort but it does come. I KNOW. And with peace comes relief. A part of me hated myself for feeling relief. But I no longer worried about where he was, who he was with and when he’d be home. He was home. He was where he started. A gift from God.

I have trust in this. You need to believe in something; work with something. Maybe it’s God, your own destiny, your instincts. Just trust yourself. Know and believe they’re safe where they are. You must trust yourself and move forward. No matter how hard it hurts, move forward. Take baby steps. You’re not leaving them behind; especially if you are carrying them in your heart. They will be right there with you.

I know he was an addict, but no one has ever told me I did my best. And even now, I myself know I did, but I needed confirmation. Life forces you to go on living. And joy returns whether you feel you think you deserve it or not. It may take a while, but it comes. I am so strongly committed to sharing our story. I have not made my son’s death a secret. I have to keep talking about him and saying his name because he can’t. And his story has to be told. A lesson needs to be learned from his death.

I wish every day I could change what happened to me; what happened to our family. But, I can’t. I will always be the mother who is living without her other son.

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

Twenty-six years seems like a short time for some, but not for me. Mark and I had helped a boy grow to a man; one who was generous, kind, a true friend to all he knew. He had a great sense of humor and was such a free spirit and believed anything was possible. Some even envied him for being just who he wanted to be. He did not conform to what society thought he should do, and he liked the idea of being one of a kind. He was loved, and he knew it, and he said it to others. Adam tells me he just misses having a brother. That feeling of coming home and knowing he’d be there to hang with. He no longer had a brother to call and share news with. Thank goodness he has great friends who stepped up and stayed by his side. They called and stopped by and kept him company. It was hard because he still had to go back and finish school. After the Marines and using his GI bill, he was getting the education he needed for his future.

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

Audra actually worked through her grief by throwing herself into school and work and talking to friends and myself. She stayed busy. One day she corrected me when I said it was my fault for letting him go out. She grabbed my face with her two hands and looked right into my eyes. ‘He let us help him as much as we could. He didn’t let us in. Don’t ever blame yourself. You loved him despite everything, and that’s not wrong.’

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

Yes, I will always miss my son Alex; his race for life has ended, but his finish line just moved from earth to heaven. I think it is a great and fantastic finish line to reach. I hope to reach it myself one day.”

Courtesy of Terry Killoran

This story was submitted to Love What Matters by Terry Killoran of Sterling Heights, Michigan. She has been writing about her grief after losing her son on her blog. Submit your own story here, and subscribe to our best stories in our free newsletter here.

Read about the creative way this mother has helped heal herself after losing her son:

‘My son died at the age of 26. He smoked a joint laced with heroin and died in his sleep. He had a college class that morning. He had his clothes washed and ready for work that evening.’

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