Ten years after Joe's death, grief and a message endure

  • Article by: AL SICHERMAN , Star Tribune
  • Updated: November 7, 1999 - 10:00 PM

Ten years ago, on Nov. 8, 1989, my column appeared not in the Star Tribune's Variety section but on the newspaper's front page. "Dear, dear friends," it began. "This isn't going to be easy."

In that column I told readers about the death of my 18-year-old son, Joe, who fell from his dorm window after taking LSD. Today, the Star Tribune is reprinting the column; I think its message is as relevant now as it was when it first appeared.

Joe was a funny, normal kid who made a bad choice, and I wrote the column to show that the horrible things we read about in the newspaper could happen to any of us -- that real, normal people, who have regular lives, full of laughter and hope, are only a lapse of judgment away from tragedy.

I received thousands of letters and cards when this column was first printed, and many more in the long years since. I cannot begin to say how deeply I have appreciated that kindness and support. One note was different: It said, "You wouldn't have written this if it was alcohol."

Of course I would have. It makes no difference what drug it was. Joe took something that seriously impaired his judgment, and in an instant it cost him -- and his friends, and his family -- more than he ever could have imagined.

Alcohol accounts for far more such tragedies than does LSD, and if I were writing this column now I would not make it so focused on the specific drug that was the agent of Joe's death. It isn't about LSD; it's about how a simple bad choice can have a horrible outcome -- an outcome whose terrible permanence most people, by the grace of God, cannot fully comprehend.

In sharing this story again, I hope it will give other parents and kids an opportunity to talk to each other about drugs and alcohol -- not across the generation that separates them, but through the bonds that unite them, and with a heightened awareness of the fragility of our lives.

Hug your kids.

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