From Antonia Rolls – “The legacy from my son is sorrow, love, courage and gratitude.”

I have lost my son. I lost him many years ago, while he was still alive. I kept hoping that he would come back, that I would find him again, that somehow he would have the will to leave the drugs and drink behind, but he could not.

The months before he died, he seemed to wake up, and look around him at the world he had created for himself. I thought, “He is coming back, there is hope.” We talked from the heart, and he admitted he had drink and drug problems, as if I did not know, but until that point, he denied it all. Despite falling over in the street, despite running into the traffic screaming and trying to take his clothes off, despite all the calls to the emergency services from members of the public terrified of his strange behaviour, my son did not agree that he took drugs and drank alcohol. Even after a short stay at my house once, when I uncovered five empty litre bottles of vodka hidden in his room, he said they must have been someone else’s. Even when I had to ban him from coming home and block his number because I was frightened of him, he said he didn’t drink and take drugs. “I’m in control,” he said, when patently, he was not.

A week before he died, he came to stay, bringing his partner. Somehow, in the chaos and squalor of his life, amidst the dirt and darkness of his flat, with the overflowing loo and broken windows, the months of dirty crockery in the sink and the piles of old rotting food under foot, someone came into his life and wanted to look after him. A miracle, I thought. Another lost, lonely young man, who had been where my son was, stepped into his life and tried to help. A miracle, I thought, a miracle. Now I know there is hope.

But the darkness of addiction is not so easily put away. The years of increasing dependency on substances and drink wove a powerful, destructive, paranoid and lonely blanket of hopelessness around him. Sometimes, he remembered that he was more than all this, but the pull of the drugs, the intense need for more and more, addled his brain and his body, so that at 29 he was like an old man with Alzheimer’s. Until his partner took him in hand and cleaned him up, he would not wash or change his clothes for months. He would sleep where he fell and forget to eat because the vodka was all he wanted.

For a long time I did not know what I was seeing when he began to spiral out of control. It began in his teens. He was lonely, he was different, he was gay and didn’t want me to know but I did know. And I didn’t care, but it seemed to be too much for him to make public. This was why bringing his partner home for a week just before he died was so wonderful. Not only that he had found love, but that he saw that we all only cared that he was happy. It blew his mind a bit, and I know it made him happy. As happy as someone who was falling further and further into the darkness could be.

When I found him on that Friday in February, on his sofa in that dark and lonely flat, dead and cold, his bottle of vodka next to him, a used needle on the table, I knew the crazy was over. The worst and the best had happened. His life was over and he was gone but he had escaped the torment of living and had become free of pain forever.

My beautiful son, so troubled and so different, had left the mayhem of his life and had gone where nothing and no one could hurt him again. Sitting in his flat with him before the police and ambulance came, I thought that the darkness that had become like a suffocating fog cutting out all the light had got his body and his mind but it had not got his soul. He had gone the only way he felt he could and left this world. The darkness could not and would not follow him. It had lost him, and he was free.

The paradox is that I miss him so much, but also the madness is over. I don’t fear calls from numbers withheld or from numbers I don’t recognise any more. I do not have panic filled days and nights when he is found overdosing, or nearly dead in a squalid flat, or when he is frightened for his life from shadowy and vicious people that know where he lives. He is completely safe and beyond all that.

We gave him such a wonderful funeral. We had to wait until he was released by the coroner, and his inquest is still ongoing as I write. I don’t have a death certificate for him yet. But we gave him such a send-off, he came back in his coffin to spend the last night in my house with his family, and all the friends and people who wouldn’t make a church funeral came to say goodbye. After his funeral the next day, we drove to the cemetery in the beautiful Sussex Downs and buried him next to his grandmother and uncle. As we arrived at the cemetery, a storm of such ferocity blew up that we could hardly stand in the wind and rain. We all thought it was his way of saying goodbye. It was utterly biblical.

So now, what do I have? I have the memory of a beautiful, troubled soul who was with me for just 29 years.

I have the joy of all the times – and there were times especially towards the end – when he and I truly saw each other. I caught a glimpse of his soul, and he told me he loved me. I am grateful for the hard lessons he taught me. I believe that after the dust has settled when we have lost someone we love, we can see the gifts they left us. I am just beginning to sense the gifts my son has left me, and they involve love, and courage, and learning not to judge, and understanding that though love is important, it cannot save. My son left this earth through a door into such brilliant brightness and I like to think that he did not fully close that door behind him. Sometimes, I think I can see him in my mind’s eye, on the other side of that door, smiling and well and whole in the most wonderful rehab that nothing on this earth could match.

The legacy from my son is sorrow, love, courage and gratitude.

If you’d like to follow Antonia or read more of her work, visit her website here.

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