At the Philadelphia Airport, I was waiting with my husband and our five-year-old grandson for our flight back home to Los Angeles when my cell phone rang. I didn’t recognize the number and almost didn’t answer. It was a young woman’s voice. She said her name was Lindsay and that she was calling from the drug rehab where my daughter was being treated. Why was she calling me? Didn’t she know I hadn’t spoken to Jaime in months?
Jaime’s incarceration, her stay in rehab and our taking over the parenting of her son threw me into a tailspin. The last thing I wanted was to talk about my daughter. Our hands were full.
Stu and I had been there to help parent Brady since his birth and took over full-time when Jaime began using, again. It was a constant struggle acting as parents while Jaime, no longer in our house, attempted to parent from afar whenever the impulse hit. Going to jail and then court-ordered rehab, she was forced to get sober. But after 10 years in and out of drug use, we had lost hope.
“I’m so sorry, Lindsay, I swiftly answered. “Right now I have very little to do with my daughter. If Jaime needs something, could you please call her sister, Tracy?”
She said she was aware we hadn’t had contact, but Jaime had an accident in the bathroom and she wanted to give me the number of a woman to call at the hospital.
“Oh, God,” I said under my breath. “What now?” Instead of feeling compassion for my adult daughter, all I felt was bitterness. What a burden she is—we’re at the airport, for God’s sake!
Jaime’s probably requesting I come see her or bring her a nightgown or some random personal item. Jaime certainly could have had the nurse call Tracy for those items but my daughter, famous for using the guilt card; most likely figured this was one way she might convince us to come see her.
I asked Stu to take Brady for a snack, that I needed to make a phone call and would fill him in later. After finding a quieter place to sit in the airport, I dialed the number I was given. The woman—I assumed was a hospital nurse—politely explained that Jaime had passed out in the shower, cut her chin and was brought to the hospital that morning by the paramedics.
“Please forgive me,” I interrupted, “but we’re on the east coast at the airport so there’s nothing I can help you with.”
I know I must have sounded hard and uncaring but I was so tired of all the years of addiction, manipulation and drama and was almost relieved we were out of town. I just wanted some peace.
“I must apologize,” the woman said. Then she paused. “Because you’re out of state, I have to tell you what has happened.”
Just as she was about to continue, a flurry of people entered the airport gate where I was sitting. The woman was very soft-spoken and it was getting noisy. I asked her to hold on a moment while I moved to a different location so I could hear her better. Luckily, I found another gate where no one was sitting and got back on the phone. The woman resumed speaking.
“The paramedics informed me that after they picked your daughter up, she kept
passing out in the ambulance.”
“It could be drugs,” I interjected. “My daughter’s been in a court-ordered rehab and she might have relapsed. I haven’t seen her in a long time.”
“I’ll make a note of that,” the woman responded. “Since you’re out of state, it’s my obligation to give you this information.”
There was an uneasy silence. I could barely make out what she was saying. Her words seemed muffled.
“We did everything we could,” the woman quietly said, “but we couldn’t revive her.”
What? What is she saying? I felt like my sense of hearing kept breaking up, as if I was going under water and out, again.
“She expired at eight thirty this morning,” the woman apologetically said.
I began to shake uncontrollably.
“What? What did you say? Are you saying she’s…gone?”
I could hardly speak through my trembling and my tears. People began trickling into the gate area where I was sitting so I cowered into a corner, cradling the phone tightly to my ear.
“How?” I managed to ask—my voice cracked.
She said she didn’t know. Because Jaime was alive when she arrived at the hospital, an autopsy would need to be performed to determine the cause of death.
“I’m a nun,” she caringly said. “I’ll stay on the phone for as long as you need me.”
People in the airport were staring at me and I couldn’t stop crying. Holding the phone to my chest, I was trying to process all of this. “I can’t believe it, I can’t believe it!” I kept repeating out loud. “She can’t be gone…she’s gone?”
Trying to compose myself, I put the phone back up to my ear, thanked the nun and told her I needed to call my children and find my husband. “I’ll be all right,” I told her.
She said to please call her when we got home. I hung up and called my youngest son, Josh. He could hardly understand me through my hysteria. Because of all of Stu’s heart issues, he logically thought something happened to his dad. Josh was in shock but I think he said he’d call his siblings, Tracy and Adam, or else I did. I can’t remember…
I worked my way to our gate where I found Stu and Brady. My husband took one look at me and knew something was very wrong. Brady was on the floor playing with his cars. Fortunately, I could pull Stu aside without Brady noticing. When I broke the news to him, Stu didn’t get emotional. He said he wasn’t shocked or surprised—just terribly sad.
How I sat on a plane for three thousand miles, I’ll never know.
Brady was looking at me, confused.
“Why are you crying, Mommy?” he asked.
Stu replied that Jaime was very sick and mom was upset.
We’d explain to Brady what really happened to Jaime when we got home.
I was numb.
But, now it was real. We were mommy and daddy in the truest sense— grandparents raising our grandchild.
Losing a child and raising a grandchild was never part of the plan and neither was addiction. Throughout our 10 years dealing with this baffling disease, we gained many life-altering lessons. We learned it wasn’t our fault, about tough love and about living our own lives even though chaos surrounded us. We discovered we were stronger than we ever imagined when we courageously asked our daughter to leave our house—that we’d care for her beautiful heartsick child. We became educated about play therapy and spirituality and
building stability for this amazingly loving little boy.
I will always wish my daughter had been a healthy mother and was still alive. There isn’t a day that goes by I don’t think about what if? Ironically, soon after her death, we found out Jaime had lied about remaining in rehab for her own good. She had planned to move into the same sober living home where she previously used without getting caught. It was also very close to our home and to Brady. When she passed, it was our belief God said “enough” and blessed us as Brady’s permanent parents.
This is my story, but it is typical of the tumult and tragedy that addiction brings to the addict and the addict’s family. Grandparents raising grandchildren is a growing phenomenon in our country mostly because of illegal drug use, alcohol abuse, unmarried teen mothers and our shifting economy. My husband and I have been cast into a shockingly large demographic. It is estimated that today there are close to 10 million grandparents raising grandchildren.
Our friends call us saints but we are just doing what needs to be done. Frankly, we are the lucky ones. We have each other and the resources to comfortably raise Brady. Not every grandparent is so fortunate. This includes having access to the right professional support to guide our way.
For example, Brady’s play therapist said for us to keep nothing secret and to make Brady’s history part of his life. That way, there would be no surprises and he’d grow up healthy. We’ve listened and it has paid off. Brady is a happy, well-adjusted little man.
One afternoon, 6-year old Brady came home from school. Apparently, his classmates were having a discussion about moms and dads because Brady took me aback with his question.
“So,” he said with his hands on his hips, “what are you, my stepmother or what?”
Clearly, his friends were throwing terms at him trying to figure out who I was.
“No, Brady, stepmothers aren’t related to the children; and you have my blood running through your veins.”
He looked confused.
“Brady, I’m your grandmother; and because I take care of you, I’m also your mom. You have two in one!”
“How about Dad?” he asked.
“The same thing,” I replied, waiting for his response.
He got a very serious look on his face.
“So, let me get this straight,” he self-assuredly re-capped. “In real life, if Jaime were still my mom, you’d be my grandmother. But because she took drugs and couldn’t do it, you’re my mom?”
“Yes,” I replied.
Brady stood there very pensive. Then a smile of recognition came on his face.
“God made a good decision.”
Lynne R. Gassel is a first-time writer, as well as an artist and singer. Her recently published book, “FIFTH CHILD –The Turbulent Path that Led to Parenting her Child’s Child” can be found on Amazon.com. The author lives in Southern California with her husband and 9 year-old adopted grandson, Brady, and can be reached at fifthchildblog.blogspot.com.