To My Heroin-Addicted Daughter on Her Birthday, with Love and Gratitude

dcp_6285My daughter Jillian turns 33 today.

I’m at that point in life where you tend to look back a lot more than you look forward, and what floods back to me now is a mélange of feelings – joy, certainly – but also the pain of having a child who succumbed to heroin addiction.

Joy, mostly because she is still around. She is in recovery now, and has been for a long enough time to give me real hope that she is beating this. But with heroin addiction, it’s always one minute, one day, one week, one month, one year at a time. And so, the painful moments encroach.

Countless nights over the years, I lived in chilly fear of getting a phone call at three o’clock in the morning, or a visit from a somber-faced police officer asking me to identify the body. I could hardly begin to imagine such a horror, but I braced myself, grinding my teeth and staring at the ceiling on those nights when she went missing for a while. Parents of addicts know well this particular blend of helplessness and agony.

And then she would call, and everything would seem to be all right again, and I would breathe and cast a glance skyward and murmur, “thank you.”

When Jillian was born, I lifted her and rocked her instinctively in my arms. I was admonished by a nurse, who envisioned me dropping her. Not in a million years would I do that. Her tiny fingers grabbed my hand. I told my mother about it, and she said, “And she won’t let go of it for about sixty years.” Would that it would be so.

The sweet times of shopping for a First Communion dress and making pizza pies out of sand at the big sandbox in Portage Park blend into the struggles of the teenage years, when Jillian’s drug experimentation began.

It’s difficult to express the heartbreak of seeing your daughter in a prison jumpsuit, brought out in handcuffs to face the judge on a criminal charge that happened out of the desperation of buying the next fix. It’s equally difficult to describe the joy of having a two-piece band in the Bahamas sing “Happy Birthday” to your daughter on a sixteenth birthday trip:

These days, Jillian opens up about the overdose close calls she has had, the blackouts, the infections from dirty needles, the not knowing where she was, the sickness, the brushes with the law, and the earnest attempts at rehab. She is surviving.

Look skyward: “thank you.”

For her birthday, Jillian asked for a gaming system for her son, my grandson -- nothing for her. She is feeling that primal drive that parents have to provide for their children while doing without themselves. It's a leap of maturity for Jillian, a good sign.

I wrote Jillian a song a while back about the joy and fun she has given me as my daughter, tempered with the awareness of fast it all goes:

Happy birthday, Miss Jillian.

Call if you need anything.

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