Suffield Observations

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Getting Through the Unpassable

Andy Sauer

Towards the edge of our yard is a stream surrounded by brush and trees that cuts us off from a tiny strip of our property and access to a farm road.

Last summer’s drought dried up the stream and provided an opportunity. I blazed a path through the stream bed to the farm road, this time without sinking my mower into the mud. The two sides of the property were connected. I just had to build a bridge for the evitable flow of water.

Do I know anything about building a bridge? No. There are a couple of bridges in the neighborhood that I have long admired, including a gorgeous one that stretches more than a hundred feet. My neighbor caught us admiring it one afternoon, and we had to admit to having bridge envy.

I was just planning to buy the lumber when the world abruptly stopped.

My son died.

Caleb was a recovering opiates addict, who had been free of it for six years. The road to recovery was bumpy, but the past year had been good to my son – he had gone back to school, fell in with a solid group of friends, finally discovered what he wanted to do in life (besides play guitar) and found a girl his mother and I thought could be The One. For so long we had lived on hope, but now we dared to bask in the promise of the future.

Then, on a Sunday night, he was gone.

There is a long, documented history of shame when it comes to families with addicted loved ones, as if some lapse in love or discipline created the private hell they are forced to endure. The immediate reaction is to circle the wagons tightly and let no one in until the fight is done. We thought Caleb had won, but addiction never quits. We will never know the hows and whys of what happened, but the battle was over. It was time to un-circle the wagons.

When people die, a standard obituary has the name, age, home, list of family members and, usually, cause of death. But when a person succumbs to drugs or alcohol, some families, if they choose to print an obituary at all, will be vague on the details. “He died unexpectedly.” “She died suddenly.” Even when the fight is over, the shame lingers.

As a family, we agreed we had nothing to be ashamed of. We were proud of Caleb’s recovery and his life. A relapse is a realistic aspect of any disease, and addiction is a medically proven disease. If we were going to shell out $600 for an obituary, we were going to lean in to the truth, come what may.

The response was overwhelming. People we had not heard from in 30 years reached out. Complete strangers sent their condolences. The love, compassion and honesty expressed in the hundreds of calls, cards, messages and food, sustained my family through the most difficult time in our lives. We will be forever grateful.

Photo provided by the author
Caleb’s Bridge

A few mornings before my son’s memorial service, my wife was walking the dogs and noticed a couple of people at the edge of our yard on the new path to the stream. It was our neighbors putting the finishing touches on a bridge. They had read the obituary and organized a sort of “bridge-raising” to get the job done in days. They even put a plaque in memory of Caleb.

The bridge is beautiful and clearly better than anything I could have ever built. We hung a gift of wind chimes a friend from church gave us over the bridge. When the wind blows and the light comes in at the right angle, it feels utterly ethereal. My wife crosses the bridge every day with the dogs.

The once inaccessible part of our yard now provides a feeling of love and serenity.

And, it helps.

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