Message in a Fawn

Do you feel like you did everything you could but still lost your loved one to substance use disorder? Do you think you abandoned him or her in the one most critical moment of need? Does it overwhelm you with guilt and shame?

While my head might repeatedly tell me these tales, my heart is finding this is not the case. I have a little fawn teaching me this lesson on the angelversary of my son’s passing.

On this morning, exactly five years ago, my son Brennan’s overdosed body lay lifeless and alone in a retreat center bathroom. My body had woken up at 4 a.m. with a terrible feeling of sorrow for my son, but I did not know where he was or what had happened.


Today I am sitting on my deck and the sun is rising over the housetop. Not six feet away is a sweet little fawn. She is curled up, hidden among the lilies and hostas, all alone. No mother anywhere to be seen. Why did that mother abandon her darling Bambi? What was wrong with her?


Fortunately my friend Kay had told me, a few years after she lost her own son to suicide, that a fawn was left alone on her lawn for a couple of days. Kay made some calls and learned that does often leave their babies hidden somewhere so they can go feed. This is normal, natural, instinctual behavior. They can only do what they know how to do. Could she lose her fawn? Sure. My house is surrounded by homeowners with large dogs. Will she? Not likely. Does have been doing this for millennia. Yes, some come back to find their babies are forever gone, but clearly not all do, or there would not be so many deer. Their behavior works for the majority.


Our behavior with our loved ones would ordinarily have worked. The problem is, the drugs now available are not normal or natural. Our bodies are not designed to consume them, yet somehow many of our loved ones got trapped in the lies that these substances would be cool, would help them feel better, would help take away their pain. Instead, their pain was multiplied, and so has our own.


If you hadn’t lost him or her on that horrible day, it probably would have happened on another horrible day. The addiction overpowers every other consideration.


If you loved your dear one—and clearly you did, or you would not be grieving—then you did enough.

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