Family

children • education • parents
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Family

Peace Like a River

March 13, 2018 by

Last July, Patricia and I lost our son Kenneth to a drug overdose. He was thirty years old.

Ken was always more full of fun and nonsense than our other kids. He had a vibe I’ll call “sunshine,” and was loved by his friends and most everyone he met. Apart from his joyful disposition there was nothing too unusual about his first twenty years. He had wishes and expectations similar to many teenagers – until he developed a mental illness which forever changed his life, and ours.

Ken had been away from home for several years, but after his diagnosis he returned and lived with us at Woodcrest, a Bruderhof community in New York. Prior to his homecoming he had been put on a regimen of helpful but personality-altering drugs. When he came home we noticed that he was different in many ways, showing obvious signs of what was going on inside. He felt this difference and struggled with it. Over time these struggles intensified. With help from professionals and friends we tried to support and accommodate our “new” Ken, but it was tough for him to accept help and special attention. Eventually, hard as it was, it became clear that our only recourse was the local psychiatric unit.

Image of author's son blowing up a balloon

Over the next years Ken was in and out of the hospital many times. It was a place of refuge for him – a safe haven where he was always received with great warmth and care. Otherwise, he mostly lived at a group home among many people like himself. There he continued to be a friend to all, and like a son to the manager of the home.

Ken wanted to go forward in life, but attempts at employment didn’t work out, and he failed out of the local community college. We visited him occasionally, and other members of our church who lived nearby reached out to him as well. There were good times – times of connection when he would share something of what was going on in his life – but there were also times of deep fear and uncertainty. We were often at a loss about how to meet Ken’s needs; any kind of pressure to change him or his situation didn’t work. Prayer became crucial as we held on to hope for him.

During the last ten years of his life, Ken was tempted and troubled. It was difficult for him to deal with thoughts and feelings he didn’t want. The medication he was on caused him to be unfocused and confused. He saw and heard things – fearsome things – which he confided to us several times.

But through it all, he kept some semblance of faith, in a higher power and in himself. This showed itself in letters and phone calls when he would talk about coming home, getting a job, becoming more disciplined and focused, or honoring us more as parents.

Image of Kenny shoveling snow

Towards the end Ken became frustrated with life in general, and temptations began to gain the upper hand. He moved out of the group home into a more independent setting. He slept a lot; too much. Away from a protecting environment, he became vulnerable to badly intentioned people he hung out with. One afternoon Ken overdosed and never woke up.

We had known Ken was at risk. It was something we had carried with us, had learned to live with. At times this brought anxiety and fear. But on hearing the news of Ken’s death we somehow felt secure, strengthened by the outreaching love of our fellow church members and of Ken’s friends, especially those who had lived with him and cared for him during his last years.

We had sung the hymn “It Is Well With My Soul” many times before, but after Ken’s death it finally made sense to us. We felt grief and pain, yes, but also an intuition that God knows – even when “sorrows like sea billows roll.”

Looking back now, we see that Ken never lost his “sunshine.” A year and a half before his death, he wrote us the following, remembering his childhood in one of our British communities. It’s a testament to what was in his heart during the last chapter of his life: “…just know that I do remember being back in Darvell and know that I confide in a feeling that I cannot describe to you and that no drug can bring to me….”

Ken had never forgotten the peace of his childhood, and he took this feeling with him into his final battles.

His life was far from perfect. We’ve also made mistakes, and have sometimes lacked love and understanding. But our hearts have been stretched by the fact that Ken has now indeed come home. We visit his grave often and feel the closeness of him, of the spirit of Jesus, of peace like a river. This peace is the only true hope for our family, our church, our country, our world.


Bob and his wife, Patricia, live at The Mount Community, a Bruderhof in Esopus, New York.

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  • He described his childhood at Darvell as idyllic, & did tell me that his childhood was probably better than most of those who live in the outside world ( like myself). I will never ever forget the double rainbow we experienced together at the hospital; that too was much better than any drug.... I am forever blessed that God gave me an opportunity to share in Ken’s joys & also that God trusted me to be there during his dark periods. I will forever wonder why I was only allowed to be s part of his life for a month; but “ God’s plan, not mine”. Love you both!

    Jennifer Sikula
  • Thank you so much for sharing the story of the loss of your son. My son Jason passed away on May 22,2017 from a drug overdose. I could relate to a lot of the things mentioned in your blog . Peace & Love Kathy Moretti

    Kathy Moretti
  • Thank you Bob for having the tremendous courage to write this. You are so right that Ken never lost his sunshine. That sunshine was Jesus. Jesus also is the only one who can ever understand what Ken went through because he went through it too when he sweated blood in the garden of Gethsemane. Mental illness does NOT define a person--only Jesus does. Also remember Psalm 139. Lots of love to you.

    Esther
  • I am so sorry for your loss! Drug addiction is a terrible thing....God bless you all, and God Bless your sons' soul...He is happy with our Lord!

    Bonnie Clark