Yesterday I told a kid that his only living parent, his mother, died. I have been working with this individual for a year and a half, he’s one of few kids that I have known and worked closely with for my entire involvement in the criminal justice system. I met him when he was 13. I’ve spent time with him in juvenile detention, at school, at behavioral health treatment centers, in his home, at bookstores, applied for jobs, went to the gym, and, of course, have had countless conversations and visits with his mom.

I put my hand on his shoulder as I watched his face go from happiness that I was visiting from out of town, to confusion, to sorrow when a member of his support team told him his mother had passed. I had my hand on his shoulder while he wept as he spoke with a relative on the phone who was weeping as they consoled him from afar. We listened to music, played video games, and went on a walk where I told him about grief. I explained to him how people may try to say comforting things that actually come across as painful and hurtful, how people may look at him funny, or talk weird to him because they are avoiding making anyone feel uncomfortable, and how people may not talk about his mom without him talking about her first. We shared memories about his mom, he processed despair that both of his biological parents are now dead, and I checked if he was going to try and hurt himself throughout this process. He shrugged.

See, this kid has survived watching his parents drink themselves to death. He himself has survived hospitalization for suicide attempts. Yup, plural. Three, to be exact. He does not believe in a higher power, he does not have a source of hope for his future, and he feels disconnected from everyone except… His mom. He found motivation to do well in looking to his mom. He found comfort in talking to his mom. His mom told him that she loved him. He was working (successfully) on his sobriety for his mom. And she’s gone. I am terrified that soon he will be, too. You see, each day – scratch that – each hour this kid is still alive is an answer to prayer.

I don’t have a happy ending to this one, folks. He’s still alive, and that’s solace enough for me tonight.


Parents are designed to support and guide

To love and protect, care and provide

Their journeys begin in hospitals and crib-sides

First steps, giggles, chubby legs and a first bike ride

Their children’s accomplishments fill them with pride

They love and they give and, eventually, they die.

Being in parent’s arms should make one feel fortified.

Yet sometimes horror and misfortune collide.

Some parents make children feel petrified

Does a parent’s childhood ridden with abuse make that justified?

There is no test that makes you certified,

So maybe we can just call it misguided?

The stories I have heard would make anyone mortified

I wish there was a way to purify

Make right, reverse, remove pain, and provide

A reason for hope, to fight, and to change tides

So I will pray and petition, press in, and open wide

My heart and ears and fiercely stand by the side

Of each child I meet regardless of social divides

And let them know it’s okay to cry.