I was not yet sound asleep, for as any mother would do, intuitively I had one ear honed to the anticipated sound of my son’s returning footsteps. He tiptoed in to let me know that he was safe, home at last. As he put on my bedside light, he gently asked me to look into his eyes. “I want you to see that I’m OK, that I’ve been good. I love you” – big hug, a huge smile – “don’t forget to wake me for work in the morning.” I slept peacefully that night, not realizing that my son’s endearing words would be the last I would ever hear him say.
Before I tell you how our son died, I would like you to know how he lived. Perhaps then you will understand and accept that what I’m about to tell you can happen to any family. Whether you are financially secure, live in a comfortable home, or bestow all the love and support you can, has nothing to do with it. And, you are not alone.
Our son Dan was a kind soul and very sensitive to the needs of others. He could not pass a homeless person without stopping to chat with them, offer them food or many times, a place to stay. He grew up on a small island where everyone looked out for one another. Dan would often hitchhike from our long country lane to the nearby town. He would eagerly engage in conversation with strangers and locals alike, along the way. He was interested in so many aspects of life. Love came to our son at age 17; a bright, attractive young woman who was as devoted to Dan as he was to her. The laughter they shared still echoes in my mind.
Dan’s happiest times were on our farm where he would spontaneously invent fun things to do with his brothers. His characteristic dry wit was endlessly entertaining. He was truly every parent’s dream child – affectionate, insightful and considerate.
Dan was simplistic at heart, content in the companionship of animals and nature. He was especially fond of fishing and had a lifelong dream of working on a commercial fishing boat. Then in July 2004, Dan realized his dream when he obtained a two week job as a deckhand on a tuna expedition to Oregon. He was only 16 years old and the job was gruelling. With only the Captain on board, Dan would work a demanding 18-20 hours a day on the high seas, far from home and isolated from companions. Little did we know then, that Dan’s passion would lead to such tragedy.
When he returned from that trip his demeanour began to change. At first we dismissed the changes, attributing it to his experience on the boat and being away from his family. Then one day I began noticing that my spoon supply was depleted. I started to pay closer attention to his behaviour, looking into his eyes for any signs of distress or deceit. But whenever I confronted Dan with my concerns he would simply dismiss them and deny any wrongdoing
It was on Mother’s Day 2005, that Dan finally confided in us. He cried as he told us of his secretive drug use. He had become addicted to crack cocaine. He explained that his dream job had turned into an unforgettable nightmare. At night on the fishing boat he would be so exhausted that he didn’t have the energy to fight off the demon Captain, the man who was SEXUALLY ABUSING him. The torture had gone on for the entire two weeks of employment. He said at one point he just wanted to jump off and swim to shore not caring how far away it was. He found himself reliving this horrid experience over and over again, telling no one for 10 months. Drugs had become his vehicle for escape and coping. His tremendous fear of this controlling monster led to his refusal to press charges. Dan wouldn’t elaborate on the abuse he suffered and refused to talk about it ever again. We sensed the deep fear Dan was experiencing, sensed that this evil man had threatened our son’s life if he ever he divulged the abuse.
By this time I had become a fully-fledged codependent. When he thrived I thrived, when he was high on drugs, I felt a complete failure as a parent. Why couldn’t I, FIX HIM?
We brought in an interventionist who not only educated us on the pitfalls of addiction – it is a disease, is progressive and can be fatal. The counsellor persuaded Dan to go to rehab. He lasted five days. Dan continued the downward spiral until heroin overtook him. After numerous promises to seek further counselling and attend narcotics anonymous meetings, Dan finally entered rehab again in March 2006. This time he did it. The entire 28 days. But in a final meeting with his counsellor, he adamantly stated “I’m only 19! I just can’t give up having a few beers and the occasional toke with my friends.” His counsellor and I looked at each other knowing full well that to be clean and sober meant having nothing. We were both worried but remained hopeful.
The ensuing months were a roller coaster ride of high energy and optimism about his future, to the deep despair of severe depression. Dan would hide out in his room where I knew what he was doing but could do nothing. He was ‘binging’ – maintaining a constant drug induced state. Several days would pass when I would rarely see him. Then he would resurface, acting as if nothing had happened, and determined to face life full on.
At nineteen, he was a handsome, blond, blue-eyed young man with a solid yet lean build. For three weeks before his death, he was a joy to be around, simply loving his new job working as a prep cook in a local restaurant. It was the first time in years that he was truly excited, energetic and full of chatter. I felt his heart surge with pride when he was recognized by his boss for his innate ability not only for his creative performance in the kitchen but also for keeping up with the hectic pace. We felt there was hope for him at last.
On August 27th, 2006 I went into his room to spread the curtains to allow the sun’s rays to brighten his domain. I called out to him. Normally Dan was easy to rise but that day the air had an eerie stillness and I was answered by a disturbing silence. As I turned to look at Dan my heart froze. Panic seized my entire being as I dialed 911. In what seemed like an eternity I performed CPR to try to revive my precious son, and then my home was suddenly swarming with ambulance attendants, first responders and police officers.
It took 33 days for me to receive the verbal coroner’s report. It took over seven months for the coroner’s written report to be delivered indicating that cocaine had stopped our son’s heart.
Two of Dan’s counsellors had written reports of the abuse and had sent them on to the police; however, our son refused to press charges – OUT OF FEAR. The most powerful weapon for a sadistic, sexual molester is to instil a fear so great in the minds of the innocent that it paralyzes them from acting. This Captain of the fishing boat, this man whom my son trusted, had threatened to kill Dan if the abuse was ever exposed. Without Dan alive to cooperate and disclose to the police what happened we were told that we hadn’t a hope in pressing charges. The man who so violently took our innocent son’s soul is allowed to sail the high seas in freedom. There is no doubt in our minds that this sexual deviant will take another young man’s soul and extinguish the life within. Yet, we could do nothing.
I know that our son was an innocent victim of not only the disease of addiction but of the sickness of this sexual predator who inflicted great pain, suffering and tragedy to a young, trusting boy’s life.
I know Dan didn’t mean to leave us. I know he tried so hard to beat the habit. He deserved more, so much more of life.
In writing this story, and in honour of Dan’s life, we hope that you will find the strength to overcome your fears and write to us. Share your story with us, because you need to know you’re not alone. Hope for a better future lies in our hands.
Marilyn, Dan’s Mom