The Fruits of Our Labors

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The hardest thing I have ever done ended today with the most difficult phone call I have ever made: telling my niece that her brother, my nephew Alex, died last night of an accidental overdose, at age 27.

Alex’s life was never easy. As an infant, he had a cry that was already raging at the world. I had never heard that kind of cry from a newborn before, and it made a lasting impression on me. So much so, that when he started getting in trouble as a 12-year-old, my partner and I decided to take him into our family to see if we could get him through adolescence in one piece.

Bringing him into our family was hard on everyone. For the entire first year he lived with us, I could not leave him in a room alone with any of my kids for more than five minutes. If I did, someone would be crying, something would be broken, Alex would have hurt someone or completely disrupted the scene. It was like having an infant in distress—a 13-year-old, raging infant in great pain who couldn’t see past himself to think about anyone else. My children suffered a lot so that Alex could have a stable home life for those years.

Raising Alex was where I discovered the greatest coping mantra ever. Much of the time living with him was simply unbearable, and I could not have done it if I’d thought in terms of there being five more years to go, or four more years. Instead I told myself, “It’s only three more months.” Three months was a length of time I could endure, and repeating that every day got me through all six years of his stay with us.

Alex was very bright and could be quite charming—especially if he was the center of attention. He was hyperactive, and we thought about whether to get him tested for ADD. In the end, we thought that with a history of addiction in his family, he would be better off not taking Ritalin as a teenager. Maybe that was the right call, maybe not, but in the end it was the prescription drugs that really kicked him down the stairs.

His middle school principal once told me, “It’s the smart kids that figure it out eventually. The ones who aren’t smart usually don’t make it.” That consoled me for several years, thinking that because Alex was so smart he’d get it together. It turns out that intelligence has very little to do with it, nor does morality. Alex had a very strong sense of right and wrong, but his self-destructive streak was simply stronger, and he didn’t learn to control it in time to really live.

As I finish writing this, it dawns on me that I never sang Alex the song I wrote for him, back when he was 17. In spite of all our struggles, there were times when I felt a deep connection between us, and those moments were like gold. One evening as I returned home late from something or other, the lines of this song came to me in an easy flow. I’d always meant to sing it to Alex when we had a good moment alone together, after he was out of the woods and doing fine. I never did, and now I never will. Here is a recording I made of “Take Wing” four years ago.

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Last night’s may have been the last 2 am call from the Sheriff that I will ever get—may it be so. But this is only the beginning of all the days when I will think I see Alex in town, then realize it’s someone else. Every time I see a bright, handsome kid bouncing down the street like he’s got the world in his pocket, it will always look like Alex to me. There is no good reason that he should be dead today. It’s a damn tragedy, and I don’t know how you live through tragedy like this. Maybe by thinking, “It’s only three more months,” then he’ll be back. Yes, that’s the ticket.

27 thoughts on “The Fruits of Our Labors

  1. Maggie

    My heart goes out to you. What a brave thing to have done, what a hard and challenging and risky and important thing to take on. What a sad way for it to end.

    Sending many blessings to Alex for gentler, easier journey to whatever’s next for him. Many Blessings of ease and grace to you and to all who loved him, for gentle grieving, for sorrow and for healing from sorrow. So much love to you.

  2. T. Thorn Coyle

    I remember him practicing drums…

    Alex, may you find ease and happiness. You too, Anne. Love and blessings to you, Rose, and your whole family.

  3. Macha

    Anne, I’m so very sorry and saddened by Alex’s sudden, tragic and untimely passing. May he be at peace now and may you and yours be sustained by love and memories.


  4. Marya

    My heart goes out to you and your family, Anne. So many unanswerable questions and such grief. May Alex be at peace now.

    Go gently.

  5. Jonathan Soffer

    Dear Anne,

    I cannot fully express my sadness on hearing of the death of Alex. You made heroic efforts to try to save him, and his death is tragic for his entire family, and for those of us who care deeply for you. Our hearts are with you.


  6. Pandora O'Mallory

    My love, my love, my love.

    May you all be blessed. May you be well. May you be happy.

    May there be peace, and joy, and comfort.

    For the living. And for the dead.

  7. Marjorie Favuzzi

    Oh, Anne. My heart hurts for Alex, you, and your family. Raising him to a man took so much courage, energy, and tenacity.

    May you hold tight to those moments of deep connection that you had with Alex. They were REAL. Your song captured that hope for him amidst the struggle. Though the darkness of addiction claimed his body, I pray that his love and light will be with you today and always, even through the shadow of grief.

    Wishing you grace, one breath at a time,


  8. Corey Hitchcock

    Anne-What a great grief. I am so sorry for your loss of this troubled and troubling but so loved spirit. You saw Alex with your heart Anne, and loved his abundant, if not always easy, expression of life force. You gave him a great gift and by the beautiful song you sang, he gave you one too, just not an easy one. My nieces are also troubled with ADD and other difficult issues, and I know first hand it is not always easy to find a way to help. Much love to you and your family. Corey

  9. rabbit

    I’ll tell gannie. and I’ve had that call. and my heart goes out, out out to you. always, r

  10. Karen

    Oh Anne – such sadness. heart and hugs to you and all. Candle will be lit for Alex.

  11. Sabina

    I am so sorry for your loss, Anne. You did all you could for Alex, and could not have averted his untimely and tragic end. May he go from love into love. My thoughts are with you at this difficult time.

  12. Bob Thawley

    aah, so so sad. my heart goes out to you and to all your beautiful extended family, who also endured and held and loved so much. thanks for the gift you gave him and the community and for your bravery and generosity and clarity, deep respect and gratitude. Your love and gift will carry him on his journey.

    love and blessings to you and to Rose, we will hold him in our remembrance, as well this season.

    ~ Bob

  13. Hecate

    May the Goddess guard him. May he find his way to the Summerlands. May his friends and family know peace.

  14. Barbara

    Such sad news to learn. My thoughts are with you and Rose. It was such a generous, hopeful and courageous act that you and Ross took to bring Alex into your family.

  15. Bambi

    Dear Anne,

    Although I don’t know you personally, we’re connected through the dream community and reading your post deeply touched my heart. Your love for Alex, and that of your family, reminds me of this quote, “Be kind, for everyone you meet is fighting a great battle” by Philo of Alexandria. We never know what each others pain is, but we can always hold each other in light, compassion and kindness.

    I send my love and prayers to you and your entire family. Blessings to you all, Bambi Corso

  16. Neil Kelly

    Hi Anne,

    I think I met you long, long ago, and you knew my mother Sue way back in dream group days. I just wanted to let you know that I have been thinking of Alex since I heard this tragic news. I was in school with both Rose and him, and remember Alex close to the way you’ve described him in the above letter. He was troubled, as we all know, but I also have flashes of days when he and I connected, or just had a laugh about something ridiculous. It’s been years since I saw him last, but that school photo of him is exactly the young man I knew. I am so sorry this happened and just like everyone who has said such nice, loving things, he is in my thoughts, along with you and Rose.

    May he find his way to tranquility in his passing.

    With all of my heart,
    Neil Kelly

    Anne Reply:

    Neil, thank you so much for your kind note. Of course I remember you, and Sue, and your sister as well. It is a great comfort to know that his old friends still remember him and have good memories of Alex. Please give my best to your mom. I will tell Rose you send your best.


  17. Betsy Hall

    Oh Anne, You know that this rips through me on so many levels. I am enraged at the loss of one more of our strong young sons. I am brought to my knees reading all you write and will hold you deeply as I know you’ve help me. Let me know if there is any way I can listen, bear witness. Namaste, betsy

  18. Barbara Linn Powell

    Dear Anne,

    Such sadness! I am grieved at the loss! May he be at peace, and may his memory be a blessing. Love to you, and Rose and the whole family.

    Barbara and Rob

  19. David and Laurel

    Dearest Anne,

    A distant memory fills my saddened heart and mind. In 1989, or perhaps in 1990, members of our family gathered on our back deck, the structure Betsy had designed. Alex appeared quite taken with Alicia. I don’t recall if she read to him or simply chatted. How beautiful young children are.

    Innocence then. Tragedy now. My expression of sorrow seems so inadequate.

    You did all you could, all anyone could. May inner peace find and comfort you–comfort all who grieve for the loss of Alex.

    With love,
    Aunt Laurel & Uncle David

  20. david lukoff

    thanks for sharing your story and alex’s. you were there for him then and also now. i deeply appreciate your caring nature. may alex find peace and you heal as well.

  21. Diane Baker

    Anne, just the other day before I’d heard this news I was remembering Alex; how you and Ross took him in, and how I thought this was the bravest, kindest act I knew.
    And so shortly after I had those memories comes this dreadful news.
    I fear that good people doing their best for Alex was not enough.
    When I saw him living with you I saw a young man who had found shelter.
    Alex relished being a part of your family. I am glad that he knew real love and acceptance, even if he could not be healed. Blessings on you, my dear friend. Diane

  22. Victoria

    Beloved friend and teacher, my heart opens widely at the knowledge of this grief and loss for you-tears flow and I have only gratitude that you have been so courageous, generous and strong in your love for Alex. Your beautiful, healing song- so clear and full of hope- and the act of welcoming this restless son into your heart and home, demonstrates the power of always believing in the possibility of balance and love. My prayers are with you and your family.

  23. Chas Clifton

    Such stories are so hard to deal with. Are some people just born broken? Don’t beat yourself up–it sounds like you did all that you could.

  24. Barbara Hirschfeld

    Dear Anne,
    Thank you for your words and also the song you wrote to Alex!!
    Oh when Oh when…
    that song is haunting, now, isn’t it?
    You did a really good thing raising Alex, and Lyra and Bowen also.
    My love to you and your family,

  25. Cari Ferraro

    dear Anne,
    We don’t know each other though we sometimes travel in the same communities. I love your blog because you are such a good writer. Yesterday in the very middle of my qigong practice I thought of this post about your beloved nephew and suddenly let loose a deep weeping from way inside. I admire you so much for trying to help him. But I also know, having one like this myself, that sometimes even your best efforts may not make a difference. Still, we keep trying, because we love and because we must. A good therapist told me once that perhaps these children were given to us to raise because we were strong enough people to do it. That helped me so much during all the “you must be a bad parent” judgments that came our way during the teenage years. Then they grow up and you think they are out of the woods, but they aren’t really. They are always in the dark woods and all we can do is shine our love on them whenever we get the chance, and have hope and faith, and try not to worry too much, and pray some more. I am so very sorry for your loss. You are a brave and beautiful soul, Anne. And so was Alex. Sometimes we forget in our own struggles how much they are suffering inside too, that they are doing the best they can but that their demons are so much larger than we can imagine. Thank you for writing about it. It helps those of us still in the trenches, just to know others have this kind of struggle in their lives, and how they cope. I just wanted to let you know I am thinking of you and your family at this dark time of year and wishing you some rays of light.

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