by C.J. Couvillion
(Baton Rouge, LA)
A recent conversation after receipt of Stephen’s full autopsy report went something like this with my Mom Lucy. “Hey, Mom, we got the cause of death from Stephen’s autopsy report. He died from drug intoxication,” I said to her as we drove from her home to mine, a 2-hr journey through Louisiana’s finest back roads. She looked at me with a question on her mind and said, “What kind of drug”? “Heroin,” I said, swallowing hard and looking straight into her eyes. She looked away, paused for a while, shrugged her shoulders and said, “Oh, well, maybe he had a prescription,” as if to say hopingly that his death was not as an illicit drug abuser, but as the sweet little boy whom she and Frosty my Dad taught to kill birds from the back porch of their Cottonport, Louisiana, home with a BB gun at the age of 6. After all, Stephen was her only grandson as well as my only son. She prefers to believe that he died from his heart ailment, pure and simple, not as a drug addict. A heart ailment is much easier to explain, and doesn’t draw criticism from behind your back, or give you cause to be ashamed. And in a way, my Mom Lucy’s preference is ours as well.
Stephen will always be that little boy in our minds and hearts, not the drug addict. And, quite frankly, I believe that is part of the problem. We want to look away from the bad and see only the good, but unfortunately when we do that, we see only half a picture of reality, the good half, but the bad half has not gone away, it is stuffed into our unconscious and comes out in our dreams, perhaps as nightmares. It is only after we look reality fully in the face, that we can deal with the little boy of 6 who learned to shoot a BB gun with his grandparents in Cottonport, who grows up to die in Philadelphia at 29 from cardiac arrest associated with heroin intoxication. That is the reality; it sucks but that is what actually happened to Stephen.
That is the way his whole story must be told.
Several times Kathy has reinforced with me this “whole story” concept regarding Stephen. It usually has gone something like this, “He wasn’t just a drug addict. He was a loving son, and a devoted uncle, and he loved Christmas, and worked with orphaned and abused children at Volunteers of America.” And she is right. He was all of those things to us at one time or another. And again, I think that is the problem. We live life linearly, bound by time, progressing forward from child to adolescent to adult to old age. I like to think that God does not see us that way at all, since He is not bound by time and space, but is timeless. I like to believe when he “sees” us He sees the whole, from beginning to end, not in a straight line but all at once. Philosophers and theologians define this attribute of God as omniscience or all-knowing, meaning that God is fully aware and possesses inherently within Himself all there is to be known about this universe, all knowledge whether past, present or future.
I like to think that God did not just see Stephen “the drug addict” die from cardiac arrest associated with heroin intoxication, He saw the little toddler who loved his big sister Sarah, He saw the 6-yr boy old who loved to shoot a BB gun, He saw the Tiger Cup Scout in his little blue uniform, He saw the 7-yr old boy who dug deeply into a jar of pennies and came up with 99 of them on his birthday at a KOA campground in San Antonio, Texas, He saw the Magnolia Woods Elementary School 5th grader with his science fair project on bees, He saw the bushy haired middle-school kid who jumped fearlessly from the rocky cliffs of Lake Tenkiller, Oklahoma, into the cool crystal clear water below, He saw the angry, confused 13-yr old boy who was diagnosed as having an “identity disorder,” He saw a high school senior who began to use marijuana and drink heavily, He saw a brilliant high school artist, He saw the high school graduate diagnosed with a leaking heart valve, He saw the college freshman who adjusted poorly to moving away from home, He saw a college drop-out, He saw a 23-yr old man invite abused children to his birthday party, He saw a college graduate, He saw a brilliant high school social studies teacher, He saw a loving uncle, He saw a scared-out-of-his-mind 26-yr old man undergo an 11-hr open-heart surgery, He saw a patient become addicted to pain medication, He saw a Houston social studies teacher crack under the strain of drug abuse, He saw a grandson witness his grandfather’s dying day-by-day in his parent’s living room, He saw a grandson drink his grandfather’s pain medication, He saw a drug abuse patient who got kicked out of a drug abuse program, He saw a 28-yr old man finally admitted to a good graduate school, He saw a 29-yr old man planning to get married, He saw a 29-yr old man in congestive heart failure, He saw a brilliant African-American Studies graduate student at Temple University who died too soon. God saw all of these “Stephens” die from cardiac arrest associated with heroin intoxication on April 25th, 2010, in both time and in eternity.