WRITTEN WITH PERMISSION
You are 12, you are settling into middle school, and just trying to figure out what life is all about. The next moment, your family brings you to St. Jude to spend time with your brother with no explanation. Within a few days, you are taken down a hallway where your parents sit you down and tell you that your brother has terminal cancer. The question comes, “Is he going to die?” Even though you know the answer to the question, you sugar coat it as much as you can to guard his heart. There sits Collin with tears in his eyes not knowing what to say or how to walk back in to talk to Trey.
Bravery or confusion?
During Trey’s illness, Collin and Trey spent a lot of time together. I know that Collin cannot recall that time, but they watched movies, he slept in Trey’s room, they played video games, and anything Trey was invited to do, Collin went also. But during the process of the illness, we failed to keep Collin informed on Trey’s condition. As a mother, it is just inbred in us to protect our children, even if it is from what something we knew was inevitable…death of his brother.
After Trey’s death, we thought it natural to seek counseling for all of us since we had just experienced one of the most painful events a family could fathom. To our surprise, Collin did not respond to counseling. There wasn’t a question in the book that he would answer. You were not going to crack Collin Erwin and he let you know it. Not only did he not respond, but he began to act out at school and bring home poor grades. Since I lost my father when I was a senior in high school, I was not totally surprised at his reaction to Trey’s death. Because of this “kindred spirit”, I felt on some level I could relate to Collin and help him open up to me. I’m his mother, after all. Even though my heart was shattered, I knew Collin was hearing me on some level.
Heart or head matter?
We continued to seek counseling for Collin because we knew he was also dealing with knowing he would be a St. Jude patient for the rest of his life since he also carries the P-16 gene – until we hit a wall. That wall was anger. I thought to myself this was normal. Collin was angry because Trey was gone and this is the normal progression in the grief process. I knew anger and I’m an expert at this grief process, of course. Then came the outbursts, the anger against Trey, words I didn’t understand, words that hurt, things that Trey did before he died to hurt Collin. Trey wasn’t perfect and they were normal brothers. But they never got the chance to bridge that gap of teen years into a friendship of protection and unconditional love. At the age of 12, for Collin, that relationship was cut off.
Over the years I heard many angry words about Trey, church, God, and family that I just knew were not in the sweet heart of that little boy I once knew. But now he was 16 and bigger than me and could get in a vehicle and drive away with his anger. The anger turned to depression accompanied by many hours of sleep, days of sleep. There were some days I could look into his eyes and not even know the boy I was looking at. He was a young man that didn’t care about himself or life.
On the evening of January 31, 2016, Collin and I had been having our usual elevated conversation. I was trying to be the rational parent and have a conversation with a teen that was angry. Once they are angry, they get angrier. Without going into the details of our conversation, Collin admitted to drinking since he was 13 after Trey died and that at this point he had nothing to live for. I saw the signs earlier, but I just could not catch him.
Parents, you cannot have a rational conversation with an angry teen. Give.It.Up.
That same evening I made a call to our pediatrician and he told me to take him directly to Lakeside. We arrived at Lakeside at 11 p.m. Collin admitted to the counselor at Lakeside that he had thoughts of harming himself, so by law they had to keep him. At 4 a.m. on February 1, 2016, he was being transferred to Parkwood Hospital in Olive Branch, Mississippi, because Lakeside did not have any beds. I did not know at the time what a blessing God was providing. The EMT who transported him by ambulance recognized our name and said that he went to school with Trey. At that point, I wanted to crawl under the gurney. I then understood how Collin felt being confronted by someone bringing up Trey’s name at a time that you just did not want to talk about him.
It was hours before he was admitted to Parkwood. All this time we sat together in a small room not talking. His body was contorted in a chair with his hoodie pulled so far over his face it reached down to his neck. He wanted to disappear. Jay was at work and could not be with us. No one knew where we were or what was going on. I was exhausted, as was Collin, and I was questioning every decision I was making. My heart sank as Collin had to remove his belt, his wallet, and all his belongings to turn them over to me. He walked out of the room and left without a word or a glance back at me. I did not know when I would see him again. I wanted to reach out to hug him, but I knew he would push me away. I told him I loved him. He would not look at me.
During this time, Jay and I did a lot of crying and re-evaluating. I cried out to ministers at several churches who had been there for me in the hard times. Many stepped up and wanted to go see Collin but Collin was not allowed visitors. It was a very lonely time for us. We knew that Collin blamed us for where he was and what he was going through.
I spent the time when I was alone praying through Collin’s room with worship music playing very loud. I prayed in his bathroom, over his bed, in his closet, over his walls, and I prayed satan out of his room. I did this for many, many days. I prayed Ephesians 6:12 over him. “For our struggle is not against flesh and blood, but against rulers, against the powers, against the world forces of this darkness, against the spiritual forces of wickedness in the heavenly places.” I screamed at satan repeatedly, “YOU WILL NOT HAVE MY SON OR MY FAMILY!”
I also prayed Psalm 30:1 and where the word “me” was, I inserted Collin’s name. “I will exalt you, Lord, for you rescued Collin. You refused to let Collin’s enemies triumph over him. You are not willing to give Collin up to his spiritual enemies, Lord. You aren’t willing to let Collin go. You will fight for Collin and complete the Victory in Collin.”
I relented over the many days I had NOT done this over the last four years and how maybe we would not be at this point if I had been faithful in praying over him. We had been praying for four years to see a change in his anger…and here we were.
You can ask anyone that has been to our home, these scriptures and many others are taped in my personal bathroom on the wall…my war room.
Collin spent the next three to four weeks in group and one on one therapy. He was in therapy classes with kids that did not have parents or kids that parents were not coming to see them or were incarcerated. We had approximately three opportunities to see him. During one of those sessions, he told me that he hated Trey and would never forgive him for the things he did to him. His anger spewed like a hole in a pipe that had burst. As a mother, my heart was broken. I felt like a failure and that there was no healing for my boy or our family.
Lord, where are you? I’ve been crying for you! Is this what Collin’s life has come to? Where did we go wrong?
Because of Collin’s anger, Parkwood recommended long-term care. Our insurance only covered a certain amount of time inpatient, but they would cover until the end of April for outpatient care. Collin drove to Parkwood every day after school and attended therapy from 5:30 to 8:30 Monday through Friday. We attended family sessions on Tuesday evening, which were not always successful. Finally, at the end of April, Collin learned to use his coping skills when he felt anger, and agreed to follow a program set up by Parkwood and by us as his parents. His grades began to come up and Kristy Krotzer became a part of our daily life at CHS as we made sure he followed the rules we set for him to follow. If he did not follow the rules, he would return to Parkwood as inpatient (no drinking, go to church, do your best at school, take your medication).
We felt like we had a new lease on life. We thought we had a start at a new family. Collin had admitted to manipulation in therapy and using us by lying to get what he wanted. Parents, they become masters. Therapy for a few months doesn’t always cure all that ails the heart, mind, and bad habits. Anger doesn’t just run away. It’s like sin, it creeps in suddenly and will wreak havoc in a family or relationship before hearts can heal. So many times I wanted to say, “Do you know what we are going through, do you know what my son is going through?” But let me back track a little bit about anger. It’s not LIKE sin…it IS sin. I was angry too. Angry at the people that had given my boy alcohol and their parents, angry at the friends that weren’t running to our door to rescue us. But only God can rescue a sinking ship of sin.
May came along and Collin was able to finish his sophomore year and pass all of his subjects. We were sweating a couple of subjects. I cannot praise Collierville High School enough for how they integrated Collin back into school after him being out for a length of time. I also want to take this opportunity to say to parents who are dealing with kids who are drinking. Do NOT be naïve to think they are not doing it under your nose, even while you are at home. Seek help. Believe it or not, insurance will only require you to pay the co-pay. You could be saving your child’s life. Seek professional help. Do not think you can handle this on your own. Jay and I will admit now, it’s the best decision we ever made, yet the second hardest thing we have ever done in our life, walk out and leave another son. I will NEVER forget what the counselor told us after with left our first inpatient session. She said, “You go home and don’t worry about Collin. We will take care of him. You pray and strengthen your faith. By doing so, you will be strengthening Collin.” I fell in her arms crying telling her that is what I needed to hear. She repeated, “We will take care of Collin, you take care of your faith in God.”
Collin and I went to Oasis which is the Central Church youth camp at Panama City Beach the end of June. Many during that week were saved, getting baptized, and re-baptized. It touched my heart deeply as I heard so many stories so similar to Collin’s. I distinctly remember during the counselor meeting as we were praying, I fell to my knees and began praying out loud and begging on behalf of Collin. I prayed for God to touch his heart. I talked to his counselor and knew that Collin had shared his story of Parkwood for first time with the friends in his room. That was a big step for him. We left Florida without Collin checking a box on a card or being re-baptized, or professing any kind of change in his faith. But I knew he was rejoicing in his heart over the changes his friends had made. There was a smile on his face. He was talking to adults. Most of all, he took a picture with me.
On July 13, Collin called me at work and reminded me that Jay and I would be gone on vacation over Trey’s 20th birthday. My mind began to reel very fast with the thoughts, “Why does he care, why is he bringing this up, this is odd, okay what does he want?” He went on to say that since Jay and I were going to be gone, he talked to Tim Few (one of Trey’s best friends) and they decided they wanted to get matching tattoos. I said, “WHAT? You’re not getting a tattoo! You’re only 17!” He went on to say that he decided he wanted to get Trey’s birthday and his signature. I began to cry and I asked him, “Why, all of a sudden, do you want Trey’s name permanently on your body?” He said that he had just been thinking about him a lot. I told him he would have to do better than that. He said he just had to move on and like I had said in therapy, Trey was gone and there was nothing he could do. I said I had to talk to his dad and we would talk. I hung up the phone in shock.
I talked with Jay and he agreed we needed to know more of Collin’s heart. Jay was not totally against it and neither was I. Collin and I talked the next day. I said to Collin, “Collin, you have spent the last four years with your mantra being how much you hate Trey. How can it change so quickly?” He repeated what he told me the day before. He just decided it was time to move on. I said, “Collin, I have to ask you, not as a counselor, but as your mother, have you forgiven Trey?” He said, “Yes.” I said, “What I am worried about is once the tattoo is on your body and you look in the mirror, your anger with Trey will resurface and you will not know how to handle it.” He told me he would. I said, “Okay, what are you going to say when someone sees the tattoo on you?” He said, “I’m going to say that’s my brother’s birthday.” I played devil’s advocate. “Why do you have your brother’s birthday tattooed on you?” Collin replied, “Because he died when I was 12 and I was confused and it caused me to have a lot of mental problems and it reminds me I’m all better now.” I began to cry and told him I’d take it. Jay agreed.
Forgiveness and acceptance.
Why are we so surprised and in doubt when God answers our prayers? We had been praying for Collin for four years and Collin had finally come to the point of acceptance of the place where he would put Trey in his life. We are such an instant gratification society. We wanted Collin to have instant healing, grieving, no anger, and check the box on the re-dedication card. As parents, we have to remember to not put our kids in a box. They do not fit a mold and will not always check a box, go to a four-year college, or make A’s and B’s.
One thing Collin and I did talk about the day we went to get the tattoo was the part God played. He said, “I know you want to think this is about God but it’s about Trey.” I said, “Collin, I’m not saying this is about God and I think it’s great you think it’s about Trey, but you have to realize that you would NOT have a change in your attitude unless God had touched your heart.” Collin’s face began to get a little red. I said, “It’s okay to admit that God did something in your life. It doesn’t mean that you have to go announce it to your friends, but your tattoo will be your testimony and you will need to learn to tell it.” We have talked more about developing how to tell his story, because he definitely has one!
Collin has led a lonely teen life. He has been judged by his peers and Christian adults. What is important for Collin to know, he has a safe home where he is loved and NO ONE, NO ONE has walked in his shoes. And until now, people have not known the road he has been walking. And still…many have not lost a brother and have to go to St. Jude in October to make sure his tumor markers are normal and his MRI is not showing any signs of cancer.
Yes, I ask you. Walk in his 17 year-old shoes and hold to your faith without anger or questions. Our children are NOT perfect and Collin WILL mess up, but what I have told him and all of his peers, the beauty about God’s grace and mercy is His forgiveness. Please tell your child there is forgiveness with our Savior. We are not promised tomorrow. Are you concerned about approaching the subject because you are afraid of what your Christian friends might think? What about the nights of worry where he will get the next drink, marijuana, or will it be pills. From what I am told, it is everywhere.
Collin still has road to walk. But he will never be alone because he has his family and most of all, he has Jesus. We are blessed by our boy and know he is destined for great things. One day, he will understand tough love as a parent and I encourage you to exhibit tough love if you are experiencing satan’s darts in your teen’s life.
Continuing to pray for strength for our boy and his story.
There is forgiveness and He has calmed the angry seas.