Tom McLaughlin

A former history teacher, Tom is a columnist who lives in Lovell, Maine. His column is published in Maine and New Hampshire newspapers and on numerous web sites. Email:

Monday, June 29, 2015

Long Time To Pass

Carrying Ryan in his backpack
I now belong to an exclusive club no one wants to join: parents who have lost a child. “I cannot imagine how you must feel,” say other parents not in the club. Neither could I before it happened but I knew it would be awful, and it is.
What happened wasn’t my worst fear, but close. I feared our son might die alone, and he didn’t. He lingered in the ICU for nine days. During the first five he was in and out of consciousness, knew all his loved ones were with him and had the Last Rites. There’s nothing for me to fear anymore, but sadness and grief have taken fear’s place. Those two will be with me, and my family, a long time I think.
I don’t know which is worse but fear had become familiar. Addiction is a terrible thing, debilitating for the addict, but also for his family and for everyone else who loves him. It’s a progressive disease and a fatal result was inevitable unless he could stop, and he couldn’t. Ten years ago I joined a 12-step group for families of alcoholics and it helped me cope, helped me live with the fear and anxiety. The program reduced but didn’t eliminate those two crippling emotions. Now there are two more with which to wrestle.
With his hamster

We buried our son’s body last week but I know his spirit survives, and I will see him again when my own body finally gives out. That knowledge is a comfort, and will it ultimately trump both sadness and grief. He passed peacefully, even if life offered little peace during his last years. He has eternal peace now. I know that, but sometimes I forget and have to remind myself that he’s in a better place.

Our family was open about what caused Ryan’s death. All of us contributed to his eulogy which my wife bravely read at his funeral mass with me standing beside her. Having done three eulogies in one year, the last being one for my brother at which I got very choked up and could barely get through, I didn’t think myself capable of doing one for my own son. While we were both thinking of whom to ask, my wife declared she was going to deliver it. I told her that morning I believed I could find the strength to do it, but she said no, I want to, and she did. We were all proud of her.

As a columnist for twenty-two years, editors have tried to influence me to write more about this or that, but I’ve always written about what was most on my mind any given week — except my son’s addiction. Very often that was what I thought most about, but I’ve never written about it until now. Readers of the newspapers in which this column runs know my son died because his obituary appeared in their pages, but other readers around the country don’t know. Hence, this piece. 
My wife and I are helping each other through this ordeal and I’m grateful to have her. Our children and our grandchildren help too. While we were sitting next to our son’s coffin tearfully listening to the priest’s homily, our four-year-old granddaughter, Lila, came into our pew to hold our hands and console us. She helped enormously. When days later I thanked her, she said: “Friends are supposed to help each other.”
Before Ryan died, we had been at the hospital more than a week consulting with doctors and other specialists. Most of another week was taken up with funeral arrangements. People in our church community and friends in the wider community were sympathetic and solicitous. Everyone in our immediate family gathered pictures to display at the reception in our church hall following the burial. Assembled pictures of Ryan were both endearing the heartbreaking to look at. People hugging me and expressing their condolences triggered more tears. It’s going to take a long time to wring them all out but, as my wife the therapist says, “If you can let it flow, you can let it go.” And that’s the goal, isn’t it? I have to let him go.
I’ve had some practice with that. I’ve had to let go of my obsession with his addiction. My program teaches the “Three Cs”: You didn’t cause it. You can’t control it. You can’t cure it. I had to love and support my son as he struggled for all those years. Thirteen times he went into treatment. He had stretches of sobriety lasting several months, but always slipped back. He was much harder on himself than we ever were on him, and now his struggles are over.
Knowing I won’t be able to talk with him anymore this side of heaven makes me miss him desperately. It’s going to be a while before that longing diminishes to bearable levels, but with God’s help, I’ll make it. When it gets hard I have to consider all the good things in my life, and there are many.

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Anonymous Anonymous said...

My deepest, most heartfelt condolences to you and your family.


6/29/15, 11:58 AM  
Blogger Geneva said...

That was a beautiful tribute. There are no demons in Heaven. Ryan is now experiencing the joy that was at times so elusive for him on this earth. Thank you for your openness and honesty.
Peace to you and Roseann and all your family.

Geneva Barker

6/29/15, 12:55 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

That was a brave column Tom.

6/29/15, 1:20 PM  
Blogger Desiree Thompson said...

So sorry for your families loss!!

6/29/15, 1:43 PM  
Anonymous Lizz Tinder said...

Dear Mr McLaughlin,
Thank you for sharing this heart-wrenching story in such an open, thoughtful and beautiful way; it is so brave. I hope that writing it has helped you as reading it has and will help others. I am not in that exclusive club and grateful that I am not, but so very, very sorry that you are. I am not sure which words, if any, would offer consolation. I do hope that you know, however, there are many, many of us out there who will be keeping you in thoughts and prayers. My heart reaches out to you and Mrs M.
With love from a former student

6/29/15, 2:11 PM  
Blogger samiamvegas said...

That was beautiful piece about Ryan. I love the pictures. I hope you find some peace knowing he is no longer hurting.

6/29/15, 2:16 PM  
OpenID bc64a9f8-765e-11e3-8683-000bcdcb2996 said... in, just... here
It's all I got.

6/29/15, 2:18 PM  
Anonymous Greg Benton said...

A powerful testament of faith, strength and courage Tom. An example for us all. PAX.

6/29/15, 3:37 PM  
Blogger ardelle ballou said...

RIP Ryan you will be missed by alot prays to the family Mr. McLaughlin this is a beautiful piece sorry for your loss

6/29/15, 3:37 PM  
Anonymous Susan Reeves said...

I am so sorry for your tremendous loss. And you have a wonderful way with words. Thank you for sharing.

6/29/15, 4:05 PM  
Anonymous Kelley Thurston said...

God bless you and your family Mr. McLaughlin. I cannot imagine. I remember your history lessons well. I think this is one.Praying for you and your family. Peace...

6/29/15, 4:11 PM  
Anonymous Greg Thurston said...

Tom, you've expressed yourself very well. I'm terribly sorry for your loss.

6/29/15, 4:32 PM  
Blogger Bill Edmunds said...

Outstanding words, Tom. A great and honest tribute.

6/29/15, 5:39 PM  
Anonymous Christina Vierra said...

Mr. McLaughlin,
Thank you for sharing such a brave and beautiful tribute to your son, Ryan. I am so sorry for your precious loss. You and your family remain in my heart, thoughts, and prayers.
- Christina (Osborn) Vierra, a former student from what seems like a million years ago

6/29/15, 5:56 PM  
Anonymous Sharon Chamberlain-Blau said...

My heart felt sympathy, addiction has taken so many!!!!May Love and Memories surround You All!!!! I remember Ryan as a young boy, beautiful face and spirit!!! Praying for Your Family!!

6/29/15, 6:08 PM  
Blogger Sam Stone said...

I'm so sorry for your loss.
Thank you for sharing from your heart with honesty.
I'll be praying you and your family.

6/29/15, 6:12 PM  
Anonymous Nancy said...

I am so sorry for your loss and so sorry that your son had the disease.
He was lucky to have such a wonderful family that loved him through it all.


6/29/15, 7:09 PM  
Blogger Cassandra Wright said...

Ryan was an amazing person inside and out even while battling some serious demons. I'm so sorry for your family's loss and I will keep you all in my thoughts.

6/29/15, 7:33 PM  
Anonymous The Vachowski Family said...

That infectious smile, the adorable little boy who grew up before our eyes along with our children. This is how we'll remember Ryan. We hope there will be tranquil days ahead for you and your family.

6/29/15, 7:36 PM  
Blogger kimberly elliott said...

I'm so sorry. Since my cancer diagnosis a month ago I've come to hate that phrase--"I'm sorry" but it means so much for people to reach out and give some sort of comfort and as such, I'm getting better about accepting the comment. So, my saying sorry to you is the best I've got in a time when you'r pain goes beyond those words.I cannot imagine all you've gone through over the years--all you'r son has gone through. I hope you can take comfort in his knowing he was surrounded by love both in life and in death. My best, Kimberly Elliott

6/29/15, 7:56 PM  
Blogger Cheryl Buzzell said...

May your love and relationship with God and your family help you through this difficult time! May God be with you!

6/29/15, 8:34 PM  
Blogger Susan E Moody said...

Mr. and Mrs. McLaughlin,

I know I am old enough now to be considered a peer, but since you are people who's kids I babysat, you will always be the "grownups" in my mind...

My heart aches for you and your loss. I will be praying for you all as you adjust to this "new normal" as another writer and mom who lost a child calls it. May God's peace enfold and comfort you all.

In God's Great Love,


6/29/15, 8:54 PM  
Anonymous Karen Bacchiocchi said...

Thank you ,Tom, for telling your story. I know that the meaning of our lives will be made clear to us someday. Our deepest sympathy for you and your family.
Karen Bacchiocchi

6/29/15, 9:05 PM  
Blogger AMayo said...

Thank you for sharing your story. May God bless you all. Your son was so lucky to have your unconditional love and support.
-Amy Mayo

6/29/15, 11:08 PM  
Blogger nicole tichenor said...

Dear Mr McLaughlin
I wish you the best with with your grief i know how hard it is to see a loved one struggle even harder when they die i watched both my parents struggle and one lose... I wish you the best

6/30/15, 1:28 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

I am sry for your loss. You were my history teacher. And I knew your daughter I did not not know your son, though. I think he was younger. High school was a long time ago. I can relate, I had a addiction myself I struggled for many years. All though I have been clean and sober for many years it still haunts me. And I am reminded everyday the importance, of my recovery, and my journey. I will pray for you and your family. I know this is hard, loosing a child. You will be in my prayers. And he is with God.

6/30/15, 2:02 AM  
Anonymous Norm Desjardins said...

I share your family's sorrow; We share the loss of a son. My Andrew survived two double lung transplants before an unidentified cancer in the second set sent him home to God. We do our best to be thankful for the good times, and I think it's Gods way to let us stick most of the bad in a place where they rarely surface. I'm thankful for that.

6/30/15, 4:48 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. McLaughlin, I'm so sorry for your loss. Ryan was always a smiling, wonderful, funny person to be around in school, and while we didn't keep in touch, it's still heart wrenching to hear of his passing. Much love to your family.


Alicia Gillis nee Burbank

6/30/15, 7:08 AM  
Blogger sonya stevens said...

I dont know your pain but I did watch my father go through this pain. Most people never knew my brother too had a really bad drug problem. We truelly believe that is what lead to his suicide. The pain i feel while reading this can't be discribed. I am so very sorry for your pain. may you find peace knowing that his suffering and pain are now gone. The addiction issue is something many don't talk about. But is effects so many! Bless you for being able to write this!! My heart goes out to you all through this time of great heart ache. Please know you are a great dad and family.

6/30/15, 8:19 AM  
Blogger C.S. Thompson said...

Dear Mr. McLaughlin (Liz Tinder called you that too- I don't think any of your former students could think of you any other way!) I am so sorry for what you are going through. May you find as much peace as there is to be found. - Christopher Scott Thompson

6/30/15, 8:57 AM  
Blogger Horselover said...

Dear McLaughlin family - We are sending our condolences for the loss of your son, Ryan. Losing a child is every parents nightmare, a dream that many of us would not want to become reality. Addiction is a terrible disease and one that, as we know, is not easily treatable. I hope that you and your wife find comfort in knowing that you did all that you could have done for your son. We hope that your faith will help you through your pain and please know that all of us will keep you in our prayers. We wish you peace in your heart and soul and we hope that Ryan will be at peace as well. Sincerely - AnnaMarie, Tim, Ian and Verity Cushman

6/30/15, 9:16 AM  
Blogger susanthe said...

Dear Tom,

I'm so sorry for your loss. Addiction is a terrible thing - snuffing out the life of a promising young man and devastating your family and your community.

There is no rhyme or reason for why some addicts are able to get clean and others aren't. It breaks my heart that your son wasn't able to stop. Sometimes people just can't - no matter how much they want to.

Let your family and friends love you through this. And don't second guess.

Susan Bruce

6/30/15, 9:56 AM  
Blogger Ian Valentine said...

Mr. McLaughlin and family, I am so sorry to hear about your loss. I remember having you as a History teacher at Molly Ockett and have followed your article as much as possible since middle school. I do remember Ryan, although he was at that time quite a bit younger. I do remember him positively though. I have children of my own, and while they are still very young, could never imagine what you and your family have gone through. God Bless. -Ian Valentine FA alumni 1997.

6/30/15, 10:19 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Mr. McLaughlin, may I send you hope for days that will pass quickly, and your sorrow to diminish as time goes by. I cried when I read your article. prayers to you and your family. Charles and Elizabeth Wiesemann

6/30/15, 1:13 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

To Tom and your family,

Thank you for your courage to share this story with us. I needed a good cry today, and a reminder to appreciate our mortality and limited time on earth. Your wife must be a strong women to give the eulogy as I'm sure that it was very hard to do. May you and your family find peace in condolence that Ryan is in a better place.

God bless,

6/30/15, 2:01 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Thank you for sharing Tom. I had no idea. It takes so much courage to pour your heart out as only a wonderful writer can, especially during such loss. I so wish it had been a happy ending. Please know my thoughts and prayers will be with you that you may find comfort and a certain kind of peace in the days to come.

6/30/15, 2:56 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Very sorry to hear of the loss of your son. Your article about him was beautifully written.
Lindy Largey Simonds

6/30/15, 6:21 PM  
Blogger Steve said...

This is a brave and heartbreaking column, Mr. McLaughlin. I hope you and all who were fortunate enough to call Ryan friend or family find peace.

6/30/15, 6:41 PM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

My brother died just before Christmas of an infection that could have been handled but because of his stubborn attitude something he knew he could handle turned out that he couldn't. It was years ago but there is not a Christmas that goes by that I don't think of him. They get easier with God's help but our earthly cravings make it slower than I would have liked it.

You have done a big first step in your column. God bless you and your family and you will all be in our thoughts and prayers.

6/30/15, 9:20 PM  
Blogger Rose Decesere said...

My sincere condolences to you and your family....Rose Decesere

7/1/15, 7:41 AM  
Blogger Edward Parsons said...

So sorry to hear, Tom. I've been there myself, if you remember.

7/1/15, 10:30 AM  
Blogger balanceleah said...

I am saddened that you have joined the club of parents whose children have died Tom. As you know my daughter, Katelyn, as well as my step son, Aaron, (whose deaths were 39 days apart) got me membership into that club.

I must say that I never felt I 'lost' them ~ after all I did not misplace them. I know where they are.

Blessings to you and your family!

with love,
Leah Mason

7/1/15, 2:43 PM  
Blogger George Fogg said...

Now I understand the delay in your blog. Condolences to you and your family. You are an amazing writer and have touched us all with your splendid views. God Bless you and yours!

7/2/15, 7:34 AM  
Blogger Tom McLaughlin said...

Thank you everyone for your kindness. My wife and I are dealing, one day at a time.

7/3/15, 7:31 AM  
Anonymous Katie Rienstra Pruiett said...

My prayers are with you- Grief does come in waves- Having lost my mother 20 years ago to Breast Cancer- I still find my self at times weak. Losing Alicia- By John Titus helped me a lot. Alicia Titus was murdered on 09/11/01 when United 175 hit the Twin Towers. She was a Flight Attendant. I do believe though, that "Death is not an end- rather an opportunity to fulfill a life of higher use".(Emanuel Swedenborg)

Just want to also add- Thank-you from a former student.... I spent 20 years being miserable in Corporate America (Telecommunications)- but I am now following my heart and will have my teaching certification soon.... thank-you for being a Great Teacher!

4/24/16, 5:05 PM  

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